Toronto, ON, July 23, 2020:
Following the news of the tragic deaths of 11 Indigenous children connected to Ontario’s child welfare system, with three ‘in care’ since the start of the pandemic, Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO) joins the call for urgent and immediate action by governments to address the health needs, especially the mental health, of Indigenous children and youth.
We are disappointed to see a lack of acknowledgement and action on the preventable deaths of these 11 Indigenous children from the Ontario government which oversees the system in which these children were involved. Reporting from APTN has found as many Indigenous children in care have died in four months as over a two-year period. Previous data has shown suicide is the leading cause of Indigenous deaths involving child welfare. Prioritizing the health and safety of vulnerable children must be a top priority during the pandemic to prevent further harm and disproportionate negative health outcomes.
Indigenous families have faced multiple systems of oppression over generations, and Indigenous children are over-represented in the child welfare system. Without access to appropriate supports, these children experience poorer health outcomes, including poorer mental health and higher incidence of suicide and mental illness. Countless reports have documented the systemic problems and presented recommendations to government.
Systemic anti-Indigenous racism is a child and youth mental health issue. There is significant and urgently needed action on dismantling colonial legacies and anti-Indigenous racism which persist to this day across health and social service sectors including child welfare, youth justice, and mental health and addictions. We are committed to advocating alongside and supporting Indigenous leadership for their communities to get essential health care that is appropriate and responsive to Indigenous cultures and traditional teachings – and to significantly reduce the number of Indigenous children in the child welfare system.