Even though Canada is known in the world as a country that accepts and promotes diversity and tolerance, and it prides itself on the premises of inclusiveness, many reports in the past decade in regards to race, diversity, opportunity and services for individuals and families belonging to minority groups, overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous children and youth in child welfare and criminal justice system point out to the fact that Canada has a race problem. Social services agencies across the country, but more specifically in Ontario, are focusing in implementing the Anti-Oppressive practice framework, some with more success than others. In the recent presentations and conversations with practicing social workers in various social services fields, it is apparent that some of the agencies do not have policies and procedures that speak to Anti-Oppressive practice. Identifying on the web site or job positing ads that the Agency is inclusive, and respects diversity, equity and equality does not mean that the Agency is practicing those principles in every day life, from hiring practices, promotion practices, to service practices. Besides the need of social service agencies to incorporate Anti-Oppressive practice guidelines, the most change to the Agency’s culture comes from the leadership style and implementation of the AOP guidelines with the powerful executive leadership groups (Tilbury & Thoburn, 2009; Wong & Ying Yee, 2010).
The structure of power in executive leadership groups is still mainly consistent of the male population belonging to the dominant culture. “Whenever one group of people accumulates more power than another group, the more powerful group creates an environment that places its members at the cultural center and other groups at the margins” (Kivel, 2002, pg. 1). This is how culture of power is created and cultivated. People that belong to the dominant group can rarely see the benefits and privileges that they have, and have little concern about the issues, thoughts, and challenges that the people not belonging to the dominant group have. The other issue that executive leadership groups are experiencing is detachment from the population that the agencies serve and their needs, which can influence services that could be offered, promoted and enhanced. When agencies start their work on inclusiveness and working with the equity lens, they have to focus not just on the diversity issues that are most visible, but also address issues on intersectional oppression, inclusiveness of all groups that could be represented, and assess how the agency can remove some of the barriers to allow for equity and equality (Kivel, 2002).
In March 2017, Ontario Government released their 3-year Anti-racism strategic plan called “A Better Way Forward” which goal is to “target systemic racism by building an anti-racism approach into the way government develops policies, makes decisions, evaluates programs, and monitors outcomes. It calls for a proactive, collaborative effort from all government ministries and community partners to work toward racial equity” (Government of Ontario, 2017, pg. 12). One part of the Ontario’s Anti-Racism strategy is the four-year commitment to help reduce disparities for Black children, youth, and families, called Ontario Black Youth Action Plan, presented in a report (Anucha, Srikanthan, Siad-Togane, & Galabuzi, 2017). The report speaks to the five characteristics of organizations that meet the need of Black youth, which could apply to all organizations and agencies that serve this population. The Five characteristics are the following: “Black leadership and direction, Diverse Authentic representation, Sustainability, Responsiveness and Accountability, and Youth development” (Anucha et al, 2017, pg. 67). The characteristic refer to the need for organizations to have culturally relevant services and a clear plan for engaging non-Black allies, to have diverse and authentic representation of Black communities at all levels within the organization, to involve both trust and support from the community, to develop good connection to other organizations, to have well defined long-term outcomes, the need to be proactive in accessing and monitoring data and arising issues pertinent to Black communities, and to practice meaningful engagement and development for youth (Anucha et al, 2017).
In my opinion, these conversations have to start from the top positions of the agencies. The agency’s implementation of anti-oppressive practice framework has to become one of the service priorities in the agency’s service plans. Leadership groups first have to commit to engaging in difficult conversations about the personal development of critical consciousness related to personal social position, privileges and blind spots (Sakamoto & Pitner, 2005). In my opinion the next step is engaging members of the community and those belonging to marginalized population in creation of the service plan, constantly analyzing the trends of service, engage in evidence –based practice, and engage in advocacy, social activism, and collaborative approach with other community partners. The development of the anti-oppressive practice framework then can continue through the policy review and development, making sure that the executive, senior and other leadership groups are representative of the population of employees as well as the population that is served by the agency. Furthermore, the implementation and development should be enhanced through ongoing training of staff in the area of anti-oppressive practice, and ongoing conversations in team meetings, conferences, and when meeting with service recipients. Agencies also have to ensure to include members of the community that could bring in the perspective of service recipients to their Board of directors. And finally, social services agencies should engage in accurate data collection that could assist in evaluation of services and its further development (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).
Anucha, U., Srikanthan, S., Siad-Togane, R. & Galabuzi, G.E. (2017). Doing Right Together for Black Youth: What We Learned from the Community Engagement Sessions for the Ontario Black Youth Action Plan. Youth Research and Evaluation eXchange. Toronto, ON.
Corneau, S., & Stergiopoulos, V. (2012). More than being against it: Anti-racism and anti oppression in mental health services. Transcultural psychiatry, 49(2), 261-282.
Government of Ontario. (2017). A Better Way Forward: Ontario’s 3-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan. Ontario, Canada: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.
Kivel, P. (2002). The Culture of Power: Adapted From Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work For Racial Justice [PDF file].
Sakamoto, I. & Pitner, R.O. (2005). Use of critical consciousness in anti-oppressive social work practice: Disentangling power dynamics at personal and structural levels. British Journal of Social Work, 35, 435-452. Doi: 10.1093/bjsw/bch190
Tilbury, C., & Thoburn, J. (2009). Using racial disproportionality and disparity indicators to measure child welfare outcomes. Children and Youth Services Review,31(10), 1101-doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2009.07.004
Wong, H., & Yee, J. Y. (2010). An Anti-oppression Framework for Child Welfare in Ontario. Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies.
Much thanks to Snezana Avramov-Atanasovska, MSW Graduate (2018) who put together this article on Equity Leadership