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Poverty at the Intersection of Substance Use Stigma and Child Welfare Policies


This past November, our co-founders and co-EDs, Rebecca Foshole-Luke and Agnes Chen, were invited to contribute to the Canadian Poverty Institutes fall issue of Spero, alongside inspiring community members to discuss poverty as it relates to the work that we do.


For us at FASC, poverty is the common factor that makes families who are struggling with mental health and substance use challenges vulnerable to discrimination, criminalization, and family separation. Therefore:


...to eradicate childhood poverty in all its forms, we need to eradicate the conditions that fuel child poverty, which means wrestling with how our beliefs and assumptions of parents navigating challenging circumstances affects the services we provide.


See below for a snippet of their article and find the stories of the other inspiring authors from the CPI here where you will read about:

  • Addressing Child Poverty in Black Canadian Communities: The Sunny Pathways Initiative

  • Childhood Poverty: Re-imagining Support for Families Experiencing Systemic Barriers

  • Child Poverty and Child Labour

  • Updates from the CPI


 


Childhood Poverty: Re-imagining Support for Families Experiencing Systemic Barriers


"In the ongoing quest to alleviate child poverty and ensure the well-being of families experiencing vulnerabilities, a critical question emerges: How might society’s beliefs about parents facing adversity shape the policies and practices that determine the resources, relationships, and support systems their children can access?


At the heart of this question lies the mission of the Family Advocacy Support Centre (FASC), to strengthen a family’s ecosystem of support by increasing their access to safer resources that promote health, healing, and familial well-being. FASC is a grassroots volunteer-led organization including those with lived experience, who are committed to disrupting the intergenerational impacts of parental substance use stigma and child welfare involvement. FASC was cofounded by Rebecca Foshole-Luke and Agnes Chen who believe that systemic barriers fuel the various dimensions of poverty that increase the risk of families experiencing poverty, beyond mere monetary considerations, necessitating systemic efforts for eradication To honor International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, this article highlights the work FASC is doing to dismantle the systemic barriers many families experience that exacerbates child poverty. Poverty isn’t merely a lack of financial resources. It is a complex web of interrelated factors, including societal factors, that affect families in multifaceted ways which in turn impact the health and well-being of children and families. We imagine a future where every family can ask for help and receive without fear of discrimination, intrusive intervention, or family separation.


Working with community support circles, resource development, community training, and research, we are boldly re-imagining a future where every family can ask for help and receive support without fear of repercussion.


Indigenous, Black, and low income families with intersecting identities experience unique barriers when accessing social services and navigating systems. Additionally, parents living with substance use challenges, commonly called an addiction, and other needs (domestic violence, mental health) coupled with housing, food insecurity and financial challenges, are more vulnerable to oversurveillance, and subsequent reporting to child welfare agencies. We believe this is because the current approach to vulnerable parents involves looking at individual and material factors, which can attribute blame to parents for perceived shortcomings. However, we suggest a social justice approach that considers the needs of the family and acknowledges broader structural barriers and conditions including colonialism, racism, poverty bias, and substance use stigma. Instead of approaching the family questioning “what is wrong with this parent?” We need to implement an approach that asks, “what does this family need?”


Our experience working with families dealing with parental substance use and child welfare involvement exposes that, for many families, it is not safe to ask for help or reach out for support.


In addition, “supports” are often conditional, reflected as the services provided to families by organizations or the resources parents are mandated to access, but which does not meet their needs.

We believe support must not come with conditions or be used to meet organizational timelines or practitioner assumptions. That type of approach can perpetuate the harm and stigma families experience, seriously undermining any efforts to help families heal from poverty and build more stable lives for themselves and their children.


It is well known that the health and well-being of children is inextricably linked to the health and well-being of their parents. As a result, systemic failures involving families expose children to the same structural barriers as their parents and engender another generation to the same disrupted identities, fractured relationships, and limited opportunity. Therefore, to eradicate childhood poverty in all its forms, we need to eradicate the conditions that fuel child poverty, which means wrestling with how our beliefs and assumptions of parents navigating challenging circumstances affect the services we provide.


When our communities come together to strengthen the ecosystems of support for families, and ensure their health and well-being is supported, we can eradicate childhood poverty and instead promote intergenerational healing and well-being for all. For us at FASC, that means re-imagining a society where every family can ask for help and receive support without fear of stigma, criminalization, or family separation, and we hope you join us.


 


To learn more about our work and the partnership with the researchers at the Canadian Poverty Institute, we invite you to join us at an in-person event at the Calgary Central Library on Nov 22, 2023. Register here.




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