The Youth Protection Agency of Quebec has revised its adoption registration form for parents and no longer allows them to explicitly indicate the preferred race of their child.
The change came after a Montreal law student argued the practice was unconstitutional and essentially made it harder for black, brown and Indigenous children to find homes.
Dominique Lebrun, who studies at the University of Montreal, said the form had “no other basis” than to exclude children of color from social services.
“I think it had no place in the process,” Lebrun said.
Until recently, this process included an application form that asked potential adoptive parents to describe the type of child they wanted, including age range, gender, health status and race.
For race, parents only had to tick one box from several options, including white, black, mixed race, Asian or aboriginal.
In Quebec, there are two ways to adopt a child in youth protection.
Regular adoption is when the biological parents or legal guardians of a child consent to the adoption process.
Mixed bank adoption is when a child is considered at high risk of being abandoned by their parents and is placed in foster care as the first step towards adoption.
For Lebrun, asking parents which race they prefer is particularly problematic for mixed bank adoptions since, until the adoption process is complete, these foster families are paid by the Quebec government.
“I just felt very disturbed that people could literally exclude [children of colour] of their demands, especially when acting on behalf of the state. They are paid to be foster families,” she said.
“The state was actually allowing discrimination to occur through its formal process.”
WATCH | Lebrun explains why parents specifying the preferred breed for the child are wrong:
In the new revised form, the checkbox is gone. Instead, parents are asked the following questions:
- Would you accept a child from a different cultural or ethnic background than yours?
- How would you prepare for the cultural needs of the child?
The form also asks the parents to list the positive points as well as the different challenges they think they will encounter if they are entrusted with such a child.
Historically, Black and Indigenous children have been overrepresented in the province’s child welfare system.
Stephen Hennessy, an educator who works at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal and specializes in child and family mental health, says a lot of harm could be done to children if they are placed in homes that are not equipped to deal with their cultural realities.
Screening parents, in that sense, can be a good thing, he says.
“I would rather you be upfront and say ‘that’s not what I want’ than take a child and then further abuse or harm happens,” Hennessy said.
The intention was never to discriminate, according to the Ministry of Health
Last year, Lebrun presented his master’s thesis on the subject to the province’s youth protection agency, known in French as Director of Youth Protection. She highlighted the discriminatory effects of this system, such as creating “two separate queues” for children in need of foster care, she said.
In a statement to CBC News, the Department of Health said the head of the child protection agency was concerned about the findings of the thesis and has assembled a team to review possible changes to the form.
“The working group concluded that the wording of certain questions on the registration form could indeed lead to ambiguity,” said Marie-Hélène Émond, spokesperson for the ministry.
The spokesperson also said that child protection officials have the best interests of every child at heart – regardless of race or ethnicity – and that there was a logic behind each of the questions in the form.
“The goal was never to discriminate against any child or family based on race or color,” the spokesperson said.
The office of the Minister of Social Services of Quebec, Lionel Carmant, is satisfied with the changes made to the registration form.
Lebrun, whose thesis sparked the change, says the revised listing isn’t perfect but it’s a step in the right direction. And while she understands the importance of leaving children with the right parents, the previous way of doing things was unacceptable, she said.
“The moment you have a practice that is unconstitutional, you are legally obligated to find an alternative,” she said.
“I think if there’s a state agency that shouldn’t discriminate against [children of colour]it’s probably youth protection.”
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