(Re) Conceptualizing Neglect: Considering the Overrepresentation of Indigenous Children in Child Welfare Systems in Canada

Johanna Caldwell & Vandna Sinha - Child Indicators Research


The current overrepresentation of Indigenous children in Canadian child welfare systems continues a history of government policies that have separated Indigenous families over the course of many generations. Political and legal developments in recent years are creating the possibility to both disrupt Indigenous children’s overrepresentation in child welfare proceedings and support Indigenous self-determination in decision-making related to child welfare. However, the potential to reduce the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in Canadian child welfare systems is still limited, in part, by the absence of a comprehensive framework for transforming existing child welfare legislation. Because the disproportionate representation of Indigenous children is driven largely by investigations of child neglect, there is particular need for a framework for understanding and shifting away from the current approach to assessing neglect cases. In this article, we examine theoretical and legislative conceptualizations of child neglect in terms of their relationship to the disproportionate involvement of Indigenous children in child welfare across Canada and, more specifically, in Quebec. We also briefly examine the concepts of child well-being and cultural safety which we see as useful complements to the current conceptualization of neglect. Our goal is to support ongoing critical dialogue related to the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in Canada’s child welfare systems, and in so doing contribute to the development of a new framework for understanding and operationalizing “neglect” in Indigenous contexts which at its core could bolster Indigenous self-determination.

This article is part of the special issue of the Child Indicators Research journal, focused on child neglect.