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Strengthening Institutional Responses: Learning & Reflections

Oct 12, 2022, 10:38 AM

Learning & Reflections from the conference: Strengthening Institutional Responses: Exploring Intersections of Child Protection, Immigration and Criminal Justice to Better Support Caribbean and Latin American Youth in Canada


The Rights for Children and Youth Partnership (RCYP) and Toronto Metropolitan University hosted the above titled conference from August 16-18, 2022. The conference was designed to engage practitioners, researchers, and youth about the intersecting systems of child welfare, judicial services, and immigration systems.


As partners of the RCYP, CWICE was invited to participate in the conference in several ways. In the months leading up to the conference, my colleagues Danielle Ungara and Natalia Valencia participated on the advisory panel to help plan the conference.  CWICE was also invited to participate in a panel and present a workshop.


In August, I had the opportunity to join the multi-sectoral panel, Understanding Intersection of Child Protection and Immigration, as a panelist. We discussed the various ways youth experience the intersection of child welfare, judicial, and immigration systems.  I also joined my CWICE colleagues Fatima Mukai and Natalia Valencia in providing a workshop for conference participants.  


Many of the conference participants were staff from legal service organizations, social work students and academics, staff in child welfare, and settlement organizations.  We shared the work of CWICE, including our service projects, data, examples of cross-sector collaboration, consultation services, research, outreach, and policy consultations.  In general, we spoke about CWICE training and services available to child welfare agencies in Ontario when they are navigating unresolved immigration status issues, unmet settlement needs, or border-related issues.


Through our work, CWICE interacts with multiple sectors and views this collaboration as key to positive outcomes for clients. However, the absence of collaboration is also what creates additional difficulties for those trying to navigate multiple systems.  We acknowledged there is still work that needs to be done to have more successful and equitable outcomes that support children and youth.  We wish to thank the participants who engaged with us in discussion and shared their interest in our data related to citizenship and immigration status.  We also heard questions about gaps in the implementation of federal citizenship legislation that supports children applying for citizenship and we heard there is a need for CWICE thought leadership nationally.


During this conference, it was highlighted several times that there is a gap between child welfare, immigration, and youth criminality – and that currently, CWICE is one of the few that is attempting to bridge this gap. Since then, I’ve reflected on the dialogue and the feedback that CWICE is making a major difference in the sector and in the lives of those in need of CWICE’s services. I believe it is our focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion that makes our work so impactful.  Often when navigating complex and intersecting systems individuals are often treated as objects in a process rather than a person. CWICE focuses on centering the individual, elevating their voice, and we all strive to understand their story, to better understand how best to aid them. In looking at the full context of a youth/family’s situation, taking into consideration their immigration status, family dynamic, past history, and so on, CWICE coordinates services related to immigration needs and works with child welfare agencies to develop a road map for the youth/family.  By tailoring services and honouring the uniqueness of our clients, CWICE is able to prevent individuals from falling through cracks in and across current systems.


As a conference panelist, workshop presenter, and participant myself, there are several additional moments that stand out to me to mention. Firstly, Nicole Bonnie – CEO of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies - mentioned the work of CWICE, how it relates to child welfare redesign, and that our specialty in supporting children/youth with precarious status helps youth find a sense of belonging and identity in Canada.  I also heard the Understanding Intersection of Child Protection and Immigration panelists emphasize the importance of considering marginalized and oppressed communities, and how the design of current systems may mean individuals experience more barriers when navigating the intersection of these sectors.  


Overall, throughout the three days, my colleagues and I were pleased to hear how often it was remarked by participants that CWICE services are vital to building capacity across the child welfare sector. This gave me a sense of the scope and impact of our collective work, as well as importance of the work of CWICE.  It also validated our own view and experiences that the work of CWICE needs to be expanded.  There is still a lot of work that needs to be done for these systems to work more cohesively. Annual gatherings such as this conference must continue, as the communication across systems needs to be further improved to better assist the families, children, and youth in our communities across Ontario.


We understand the conference team will be releasing a summary document of shared learning from the knowledge exchange which occurred in person in August, and we look forward to promoting that information once released later this fall.


About the author:


Rosario Elmy is an Immigration Specialist in CWICE. She has been working with Peel CAS for over a decade, across various departments including Family Placement, Case Conference Facilitator, Community Engagement Presenter, Syrian Refugee Response Project, and has been in the Centre of Excellence (CWICE) since its inception. Rosario has a background in Marriage and Family therapy and school counseling; and her current work involves partnering with many regional, provincial, national, and international organizations. Rosario identifies as bilingual and bicultural.