Study reveals English-speaking Black children more likely to be reported to Montreal youth protection

Researchers at McGill University have found that English-speaking Black children are more likely to be reported to youth protection compared to white children, as well as compared to the Black children overall in Montreal.

Research suggest language barriers create added risk factor for children and families who don't speak French

While a previous study has found that Black children in Montreal are roughly two times more likely to be reported to child protective services than white children, new research suggests that rate is even higher for English-speaking Black children. (Francis Ferland/Radio-Canada)

Children in Montreal who are Black and Anglophone are overrepresented within the child protection system, according to a study recently published in the Children and Youth Services Review. 

While previous research has found that Black children in Montreal are roughly two times more likely to be reported to child protective services than white children, a study by McGill University assistant professor Alicia Boatswain-Kyte suggests that rate is even higher for English-speaking Black children — they are about five times more likely to be reported than white children. 

"We need to pay particular attention to this group of children because they are a double minority," she said. 

Study author inspired by her years as social worker

Boatswain-Kyte said her study was inspired by her years of experience in the field as a social worker. 

"The actual reason why I decided to do my dissertation was to kind of deal with some of the frustrations that I felt," she said. 

Though she said she still admires what social workers do, she believes more support is needed for families.

"Particularly for the English-speaking Black community, they don't necessarily see themselves reflected in the services available to them at the CLSC. They might not seem themselves reflected in some of these institutions," she said.

"I saw at what point they needed support. I saw at what point they were doing the best that they knew how, the best that they could for their children."

 Alicia Boatswain-Kyte, an assistant professor at McGill University, spent years as a social worker and her experience spurred her to study disparities in the system. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

Boatswain-Kyte said until now, there has been minimal research looking at child protection services for English-speaking Black Montrealers. Previous research has looked at the Black community as a whole, and didn't divide children based on their language. 

She said children who are Black and speak English are not only overrepresented in reports to child services, but also as their case progresses through the system. Compared to white children, they're also more likely to have their cases go to court, and to end up being placed with another family.

Boatswain-Kyte used anonymized data from a Montreal agency to follow children's cases over time, between 2002 and 2014, until the children either aged out or their file was closed. 

"The disparity is ongoing," she said. 

The reality of being a double minority

It's a reality that Stephen Hennessy confronts on a regular basis, in his work as a psychoeducator, working with children and families in Montreal. 

He said it's especially difficult for immigrant families, who arrive in Montreal as both visible minorities and linguistic minorities. 

"It's just the reality of a double minority. I think there needs to be special attention given to families in those situations, especially those who are new to this country or this province." 

He said those parents might be speaking their second or third-language when they communicate with schools and government agencies. That factor can often lead to breakdowns in communication, and ultimately contribute to cases being escalated. 

Hennessy said he worked with one family, new to Canada, whose children were removed and put in foster care after accusations about their methods of discipline.

While in foster care, one of their children ended up falling into a neighbour's pool and drowning. 

"Instead of teaching and educating [the parents] and trying to help them figure it out, they removed the child from the home for safety reasons and the child ends up dead," Hennessy said.  

Root cause for disparity remains unclear

Boatswain-Kyte said while there's a lot of focus on preventing the mistreatment of children, there's also a need for continued support after child services gets involved.

Though she said it's clear there's disparity, it's hard to figure out what is causing it. 

"Methodologically, it's very difficult to determine what specific factor it might be," she said. "Being Black, in addition to being Anglophone, in addition to living in a situation of social precarity — all of that kind of interplays in a way that makes these families more prone to maltreatment concerns."

According to census data, she was able to see that Black families are generally parenting in "greater hardship" compared to white families, meaning their circumstances — such as socioeconomic status and family dynamics — often put them at a disadvantage.

Boatswain-Kyte said more research is needed. 

"Our failure to document, monitor and implement policy to address these disparities is a form of anti-Black racism," she said.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.



Jaela Bernstien is a Montreal-based journalist reporting on news and current affairs. She has covered election campaigns, criminal trials, riots and natural disasters, and even once explored an ice-age cave.