I am a forever learner; intellectual honesty, critical thought, anti-oppressive practice, and social science research are values and tools I carry with me; they allow me to gauge and employ my curiosity alongside making social change in the world. Choosing a master’s level placement with CWICE was an easy choice. I’ve taken many classes on immigration and international social work practice within my BSW and MSW. I’ve also worked with refugees in Toronto’s homeless shelter system. My MSW thesis (in progress) focuses on LGBTQ+ refugees and therefore, CWICE was a perfect fit.
CWICE works at the intersection of immigration and child protection – a range of practice areas such as direct service to youth and families, internal and external research, advocacy, and capacity building through education. I spent my time conducting internal research surrounding their CWICE certificate program that consists of eight modules. An impressive, all-encompassing education series that captures the complexity of Canada’s immigration system and the practice of child protection. This series sharpens the skills of child protection workers not only within the province of Ontario but across Canada. If you’re looking for a quality education on immigration, this is where you get it.
CWICE is relatively new and is tasked with building the practice from the ground up since 2018. In my opinion, this has provided space for the CWICE workers to think critically, creatively, and with care as they constructively work through the logistics and build their own capacity. In placement, I came from a position as both an insider and outsider as I work in Advice and Assessment but was at best, only vaguely familiar with CWICE’s practices and the workers. It was within this context that they welcomed me with open arms into this novel experience.
In reflecting on my placement in CWICE, I came across many critical learning moments.
From attending team meetings to one-on-one supervision, I witnessed ethics, humor, dedication, and creativity. I remember attending a meeting where the agenda included a touch base on the team's culture. They discussed their values, ethics, and group rules that guide their team dynamics and the practice. These were not simply quick dotted points but thoughtfully reflected on references that speak to the social processes needed to build something new, deal with upcoming conflicts, and provide a pathway to building rapport. Of course, there were conversations woven into this about favorite places to eat, insider jokes, and sharing of our lives – the “vibes” were great.
It was obvious to me that they knew taking care of one another and the work environment was also part of the work. The child protection system is going through significant changes with prevention and anti-oppression being the guiding frameworks. In my view, to really implement these frameworks, we need space not only to think critically but to construct and materialize it. Creating an ethical structure around group practices, ongoing education, and the health of staff keeps minds sharp, accountable, and fosters a sense of community; the results of this are decreased harm and increased creativity around supports for families. The complexity of immigration demands this. CWICE showed me how this can be done within child protection.
Research Skill Development
Another important piece for me was the skill development around research skills. I have taken many research classes but have never been in a role to produce this for an organization. My field instructor, Claudia Obreque, proposed the idea of a report on the CWICE series attendance. This idea expanded and I began to look at almost three years of data for the CWICE certificate training program. From the beginning, Claudia trusted me to organize, interpret, and write the findings from the data. We consulted twice a week for two hours at a time where she provided me with guidance. This initiative was ambitious and I now realize the amount of revising and editing involved in producing any type of report – especially one for an organization mandated with immense responsibility. The intellectual labor is under acknowledged and in doing this work, I gained deep insight into how research is produced within a non-profit setting.
As I worked through the project, I reflected on how powerful data and research is. Data and analysis tells us the state of our working environment and what needs to be changed; it also tells us the need for investment into expanding resources. This is the advocacy element of producing knowledge.
A cornerstone in carving out equitable practices is to be able to measure and contextualize Peel CAS staff engagement in the training. I felt like this was important because immigration is a complex process and it is directly linked to family safety and therefore, child safety. It opened my eyes to how much work needs to be done in providing support to families dealing with immigration struggles – especially, as we are living in a globalized world that is politically and economically precarious, facing a climate emergency, and ever growing geo-political conflict. The future of social work and more specifically, child protection will be to radically shape immigration as a practice because migration is inevitable. If we want to foster child safety, this is imperative.
I could not have conducted the research without attending the CWICE training series myself. For all sessions, I was an active participant. These series are deeply engaging as they break down the layers and scenarios that arise in the immigration process for families. My interest was in immigration and I assumed I knew a fair deal of information – but I was wrong – just as many have voiced during the sessions. For example, I learned about how different immigration status can shape the access to and allocation of government resource. I also learned about how the need to collect information and understand migration history and status is very important as many children in care had previously not had these processes appropriately addressed. Upon exiting the child welfare system as an adult, they then face massive barriers to integrating into Canadian society. Even in the context of an investigation, not understanding immigration status impedes our ability to access resources which support the parent and therefore, directly affects the child-parent relationship.
In my view, this training series utilizes a critical approach that treats participants as active co-constructors of knowledge. The trainers provide references and frameworks, for example, how to deal with the denial of a refugee claim, but pose questions to the participants in ways that prompt critical reflection on our social positions, lived experiences, and the variety of intersecting bureaucratic processes that remain hidden to us as Child Protection Workers. These questions also expand our awareness of how we may take our own processes and procedures within CAS for granted. Being comfortable with how things are in our role as Child Protection Workers can be a barrier to dealing with complex issues such as immigration – especially when immediate concerns for child safety may not appear to be linked to migration history or status.
The training series was holistic and provided up-to-date research, statistics, and theory. In discussion with the trainers, I saw how much work is going on behind the scenes in CWICE to create this program. It involves taking on multiple roles such as an educator, advocate, front line worker, and leader. It involves negotiating multiple roles at once as the audience for the program is diverse.
A term I learned from the team was “political acuity.” This is a centerpiece in how they orient themselves throughout practice. From my understanding, this means to navigate with diplomacy and be sensitive to the socio-political realities of practice and the audience. It means to successfully integrate anti-oppression with diversity, equity, and inclusion practices in the development of leadership skills in immigration.
CWICE engages a range of stakeholders in regards to its direct service provision, advocacy, research, and training – this is why political acuity is significant. I witnessed this first hand in the way that trainers engaged participants in the training series. I also observed this in an outreach presentation delivered to Ukrainian families arriving in Canada. The sharpness, critical thinking, and creativity is truly a unique power of CWICE. It’s admirable and provided me with the motivation to build further on my own leadership skills through this concept.
My takeaway lessons from this experience cannot be fully encompassed in this reflection. But what I can say is that I truly valued every moment in this experience. I cannot thank my placement supervisor, Claudia Obreque, her manager, Danielle Ungara, and the team, enough. The time was short and ambitious given that I produced a sixty page report in two and a half months – a vision reached by the ongoing assurance of Claudia and I am very proud of it. CWICE can definitely provide opportunities that speak to the macro and micro levels of social work practice for future students.
I also think that CWICE has the potential to transform immigration in Canada, not only through child welfare but through every institution. Building partnerships, producing research, and increasing capacity all take a proactive stance. The future gives us no choice but to take a sharper look at migration if we want to imagine and create a more cohesive, democratic, and socially just world.
About the author:Corey Rowe is originally from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia and moved here to Mississauga, Ontario in 2015 to further expand his horizons. He is currently working as a Child Protection Worker in the Advice and Assessment department at Peel Children’s Aid Society. He holds a Human Services Diploma from Nova Scotia Community College; BA in Community Studies/Psychology from Cape Breton University; BSW from York University; and is currently an MSW candidate at York University. His interests surround the LGBTQ+ community, immigration/international social work, workplace/labor issues, and mental health.