Newsletter: Busy June 28th? Help us plan a collaborative journalism project focused on child welfare

In my last newsletter I asked whether you know of any Indigenous psychologists doing parenting capacity assessments (PCAs) in B.C. Many of you responded.

I heard from a grandmother whose daughter is fighting to get her toddler out of care; she’s just learned about PCAs and she’s concerned because she’s heard they can be “quite brutal” and discriminatory. A family support elder wrote to say that regardless of who’s doing the assessment, “the thing is it’s still a non-indigenous assessment.” And a retiree who works in a voluntary capacity to improve “family support and court decisions for young children at risk for or in care” suggested I check out Peter Choate’s research — which proved extremely valuable.

I hear from social workers, lawyers, academics and parents — and I take all of your letters to heart. Your feedback informs and strengthens my reporting, so please, keep writing (and forgiving my sometimes slow replies).

In reporting my latest story about how psychologists are using culturally-biased tools to assess Indigenous parents, I learned:

  • Indigenous parents aren’t the only people concerned about PCAs. Last month, Canada’s national psychology organizations called the situation “dire.” Their new report, Psychology’s Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, found that “assessments that are completed with Indigenous clients are likely to be culturally biased.” See the report for their recommendations.
  • While B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development doesn’t keep statistics on how often PCAs are used, experts across the country say when they are used, these assessments carry a lot of weight in court.
  • Some experts say all psychologists should be able to manage their biases to fairly assess any parent in any context, but others disagree. “We lack the tools, training, understanding of culture, and appropriate recommendations to consistently provide meaningful helpful psychological assessments to Indigenous Peoples,” the Canadian Psychological Association and the Psychology Foundation of Canada wrote in their report.
  • Alberta-based scholars Dr. Peter Choate and Gabrielle Lindstrom say, “PCAs done on Aboriginal peoples using Euro-centric models of family and assessment should be discontinued.” Choate’s written a stack of papers about the biases at work in these psychological assessments and he and Lindstrom cut right to the chase in their 2017 paper, Parenting Capacity Assessment as a Colonial Strategy.

On a related note, yesterday the Supreme Court of Canada found that prisons have been using biased assessment tests on Indigenous inmates for years, resulting in longer, harsher incarcerations. Choate and Amber McKenzie pointed to the relevance of this case for Indigenous parents caught up in child-protection cases in their 2015 paper, Psychometrics In Parenting Capacity Assessments – A Problem For First Nations Parents.

The Supreme Court of Canada.

I wonder how far the impact of this SCC decision will extend.

Planning a collaborative journalism project on child welfare.

On Thursday, June 28 in Vancouver (exact location tbd), journalists and child-welfare system stakeholders will come together to brainstorm ideas for a major collaborative journalism project focused on the child-welfare system.

While an individual story can make a difference, in a system as complex as this one, we believe we can be more effective if we — journalists from different media outlets and community partners — work together. By collaborating, maybe we can do for the child-welfare system what the Panama Papers did for the global economy or what the SF Homeless Project did for homelessness.

Sound interesting to you? Check out this event description and let me know asap if you’d like to join us. Feel free to forward it, too.

Support our work.

Good journalism costs money, especially when you’re trying not only to produce quality stories, but also to listen deeply to marginalized communities and to work collaboratively in a competitive and struggling industry. If you value the work we’re doing, consider supporting it by becoming a paying member of our community, and help us grow this thing![end]

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