Better Data, Better Decisions, Better Outcomes for Kids

Making the right decisions is vital when it comes to child welfare; that's why this researcher has worked for decades to collect the right data.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

Barbara Fallon is invested in making sure we make the best possible decisions for children and families.

“One of the biggest challenges in child welfare data or child protection data collection is that there’s an absence of it,” says Fallon, who is professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and Associate Vice-President, Research at the University of Toronto.

“So although we have information systems that review case files, it’s very difficult for us to aggregate it in any meaningful way.”

A lack of data is a problem if society wants to be able to draw on evidence to improve the way we make decisions. Fallon has made a career out of bridging that gap.

“The studies that I work on really give an overview at the front end of the system: who comes through our threshold, what happens to them in terms of our service dispositions,” explains Fallon.

“Prior to 1998, there’s no good data around the children and families who are identified to a child welfare authority, whether or not they transfer to ongoing services, whether they place a child in out-of-home care. So in 1998, the first National Incidence Study was conducted. I was a part of it and really since then we’ve replicated the study I think now four times — the most recent one in 2019. And in Ontario we have done the studies in five-year increments since 1993.”

These studies are a huge step in the right direction, but there is still much more that needs to be done — not just for children in the system, but for families that are disproportionately harmed or separated by child welfare services.

Even as Canada’s residential school system was being dismantled, Indigenous children continued to be forcibly removed from their homes and communities by the child protection system. This surge in overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the system that started in the 1960s is called The Sixties Scoop, but it continues today.

“We have inequity in this nation with respect to the drivers of child maltreatment, and certainly colonialism has left pervasive need,” says Fallon.

“Some of the data, particularly in 2008, were used to inform the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, where there was a finding that the federal government had actively discriminated against providing child welfare services on reserves.”

The choices made deeply impact children, families, and communities. The lasting legacy of these decisions makes it incredibly important to get them right.

“I was a kid who was adopted. I was, you know, in foster care until eight months, and I had great parents and family and friends certainly throughout my life,” adds Fallon.

“But you know I think as I get older, I’m very conscious that someone made a great decision for me. You have to get it right because this is about children, and we work in service to children.”

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