Critical theory may be applied to my field of expertise in many ways. It may even be the most logical theory to use in many cases because of its focus on empirical data. I work with Indigenous communities to support, plan for, and mitigate community issues through programs and services, policy, and law making. My work focuses on the community services aspects of governance including health (physical, mental, and spiritual), education, language and culture, social development, and child and family services. I have been very active in the area of Child and Family Services, so I will use this as a specific example.
In January of 2020, the Government of Canada (GoC) enacted new legislation (An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Children, Youth, and Families, commonly called Bill C92). Bill C92 provides Indigenous Nations with the tools to exercise their inherent rights and jurisdiction over their children. Since the 1800's, colonialism has impacted Indigenous Peoples in Canada in many ways. Arguably, the worst impacts are the ones experienced by children and families. Through the Indian Residential Schools, 60's Scoop, and systematic and continual removal of Indigenous children from their families and communities, the GoC sought to assimilate the Indigenous population. Government policies were intentionally enforced with the goal of oppression, marginalization, and exerting power over Indigenous people in this country.
Today, there are approximately 29,000 children in government care in this country. Of those, 52.2% are Indigenous. This number becomes startling when we consider that Indigenous children make up only 7.7% of the entire child population (GoC, March 30, 2021). Cindy Blackstock, First Nations Caring Society Executive Director and a lawyer, has become an advocate and activist for Indigenous children on a number of issues which include bringing a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) (2007) complaint against Canada for the continued marginalization and oppression of Indigenous children (Blackstock, 2017). The focus of this CHRT case was that Canada is responsible for its inequitable provisions for Indigenous Child and Family Services and this is discriminatory on the grounds of race and ethnic origin (Blackstock, 2017). On January 26, 2016, the CHRT substantiated the complaint and ordered the GoC to cease its discriminatory conduct (Blackstock, 2017).
The issues that surround the work of supporting children and families are complex. There are often a myriad of issues to navigate including poverty, addictions, family violence, and mental health concerns. If we add into this complexity cultural dynamics, we observe issues of power, marginalization, and oppression as well. Social work practice is subjective because it places social workers in positions whereby the decision making process is based on their personal and professional experiences. Lietz (2010) argues that an empirically based decision-making model guided by Critical Theory may provide a solution. She claims that this type of decision-making model would reduce personal experience on decisions, offer methodical assessments, and create standardized, consistent tools to improve reliability of decisions (Lietz, 2010). While I believe that the subjectivity of social workers is a long-standing problem, I am not convinced that standardizing assessments will improve the continued oppression of Indigenous families. Families are unique, as are their problems and situations. I think it would be challenging to apply standards across every situation. Lietz (2010) acknowledges that there are limitations as well, one issues is that their model assumes that practitioners would be trained in theory and the assessment tools. In many ways, child welfare in BC has been standardized and I am not sure this entirely helps matters from my experience. Bill C92 has the potential to shift the problems through Indigenous self-determination, and although we are beginning to see improvements, there is still a long way to go.
As with any societal issue, critical theory can help us understand the problems within the child welfare system. Critical theory can help bring objectivity to a sensitive and emotional issue that is entrenched in power, marginalization, and oppression.
Blackstock, C. (2017). The complainant: The Canadian human rights case on first nations child welfare. McGill Law Journal, 62(2), 285-328. doi:10.7202/1040049ar
Government of Canada; Indigenous Services Canada. (2021, March 30). Reducing the number of Indigenous children in care. Retrieved May 15, 2021, from https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1541187352297/1541187392851
Lietz, C. A. (2010). Critical theory as a framework for child Welfare Decision-Making: Some possibilities. Journal of Public Child Welfare, 3(2), 190-206. doi:10.1080/15548730902855062