As a mother, Professor Barbara Fallon says some of her research findings on child maltreatment in Canada “are hard to look at.” But as a researcher and an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, she knows that studying the problem is the first step toward finding solutions.
“With children, we’re talking about very small windows of opportunity to change the trajectory of their development,” she says.
Working with a team that includes CIS principal investigator Professor Nico Trocmé of McGill University and Professor Bruce MacLaurin of the University of Calgary, Prof. Fallon has helped to produce dramatic evidence that Aboriginal children are over-represented in the child welfare system. The 2008 study showed that “only 6% of children 15 years of age and under in Canada are Aboriginal yet 22% of children in the child welfare system are Aboriginal,” says Prof. Fallon.
These findings have informed the child welfare policies of provincial, territorial and the federal governments as well as international human rights bodies. They have been featured in reports to the United Nations, the Auditor General of Canada and the Senate Committee on Human Rights.
The findings were also influential in negotiations of a national funding formula for First Nations child welfare agencies. “The study was used to argue equity, and the funding formula did change,” says Prof. Fallon, though she believes it didn’t go far enough.
The CIS shows that most harm suffered by Aboriginal children is caused by neglect and an absence of supervision as opposed to physical abuse. “These children and their families have many, many challenges in their lives and they have been systematically discriminated against with respect to child welfare funding and education,” says Prof. Fallon.
“By dealing with oppression and systemic discrimination, it is possible to positively influence human development.”
Dr. Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and herself a member of the Gitksan First Nation, has described CIS data as invaluable.
“We need it to legitimize our concern about our kids leaving our communities and to better understand our own circumstances,” says Dr. Blackstock, who did her PhD at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.
Prof. Fallon also feels personally invested. “I think about these children and families a lot. They really need advocates. The way I can be the most effective advocate is to use my research skills.”
The Child Welfare League of Canada acknowledged Prof. Fallon’s outstanding investigations into child abuse and neglect by presenting her with its 2009 Research and Evaluation Achievement Award.