Who we are
We are a brilliant, unapologetic, grassroots movement for social transformation. We are a community of people who are mothers and allies, many of us are people who use drugs, survivors/fighters, sex workers. We are connected through similar harmful experiences of intrusion into the lives of our families, from systems of oppression especially as they relate to the child “welfare” industrial complex. We recognize that internalized oppression creates harm in our communities and in our families. We are working to build nurturing and thriving communities and stronger supportive networks for our families and children to live, learn, and grow.
We envision communities who foster networks which support and strengthen families through the fair and equal creation, distribution and provision of resources, services and opportunities for all; and through the implementation of feminist, human rights, harm reduction, anti-oppressive and transformative justice principles into all aspects and at every stage of life.
We are working to develop a voice that is collective and strong, which challenges the belief that separating and controlling families fosters healthy communities. We can do this by providing safe and adequate access to food, shelter, opportunity and freedom; through provision of services which are respectful, strengths based, women/mother-centered, culturally safe, violence and trauma informed, and harm reduction oriented; by reducing isolation and stigma of mothers involved in the child “welfare” system, thereby reclaiming our right to mother and parent in ways that are right for our families, thus providing the structures which create truly safe, healthy, and thriving families.
Principles Informing Our Work
- We work from an anti-oppressive, intersectional, feminist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic, pro-sex work, anti-ableist, accessible and trans-inclusive framework which recognizes that parenting is impacted by power & privilege.
- Mothers know what is best and want the best for ourselves and our children. The best interests of children are in remaining with their families and/or in their communities.
- We have the most to learn from one another and seek to build networks of solidarity. Our strength lies in developing tools & resources to support mothers and mothering in our own communities.
- Children’s voices need to be heard. Children and youth have agency and should have the opportunity to make choices for themselves (i.e. where they live, with whom, what kind of supports and treatment they need and from whom they will get it). It is an ageist assumption that adults always know what is best.
- We aim to explore and develop grassroots alternatives to supporting mothers that acknowledge the need for more supports for mothers who are single, poor, drug-using, criminalized, homeless, racialized or otherwise marginalized, and also women who choose for someone else to care for their children. Many of these initiatives are things that we already do in our daily lives and in our communities.
- The child welfare system disproportionally affects women and children who are socially marginalized.
- Child welfare tends to be framed from punitive and moralistic frameworks which increase risk to families.
- We oppose practices that regularly and unnecessarily separate families, as removing children from their families creates trauma and leads to broken bonds, later attachment issues as well as severe behavioural and adaptive problems.
- The effects of poverty, racism, sexism, able-ism and other systems of oppression are root causes of family breakdown. It should be these systems we address socially rather than simply blaming the individual. We can expect individuals and hence families to do better when the system does better.
- Services should be trauma-informed, inclusive, respectful, supportive and should recognize that parents are the most important link for children and a healthy relationship between parents and children should be supported as the utmost factor in ‘the best interest of the child’.
- We envision a child welfare system that is accountable to families and communities, transparent and family-centred. CAS has too much discretionary power without equal amounts of checks and balances and accountability to the communities whose children they are working to support.
- Child welfare workers do not get enough training in building collaboration with parents or working to support the family to stay together and reunite in a healthy way. Child welfare workers are often put in a position where they have to work to build a case against, rather than help, parents.
- The child welfare system's responses to a family’s efforts to cope are often punitive and create further trauma, conflict and risk. Poverty and barriers to accessing services are the biggest contributing factor to child welfare concerns.
- Where children are taken from the home, parents should still be supported to be involved in child's daily life.
- The child protection model of child welfare inhibits positive collaboration between workers and families because of fear of child apprehension, judgemental and punitive approaches
- We recognize that poor families, mother led families, racialized and Aboriginal parents and parents living with disability are grossly over-represented in child welfare system. Systemic bias, myths and misinformation which socially and economically marginalize these families are the primary cause.
- We are absolutely convinced that prisons are obsolete and their abolition long over-due
- We are committed to de-criminalization and to de-incarceration. Social harm must be addressed at both the systemic and individual levels. Community based solutions which centre the voices of lived experience such as crisis and intervention programmes, restorative justice and poverty eradication initiatives (including affordable education, childcare, and housing) should be immediately developed, activated and researched on a wide ranging scale to ensure best practices can be identified and implemented.
- The purposes of research would be education, prevention, and the building of strong, autonomous communities free of violence and other forms of community harm. This includes harm brought about by our current systems of power-over including police, courts, prisons, psychiatric wards, immigration detention, child welfare, educational and healthcare institutions, etc.
- **Every woman has the right to define what sex work means to her. For many women sex-work is a legitimate form of employment. We do acknowledge that some women have had negative experiences while engaged in sex-work. Though we maintain that negative experiences are directly related to abusive power-over dynamics created in our socio-political system, rather than to the work itself.
- **Mothers have every right to see that our children are provided for so long as our methods are not causing harm to any other person. This includes making decisions to engage in the sex-trade.
- When low-income mothers by necessity spend long hours away from our children, society must look at the structural factors which are making such demands and not blame the mother. This holds true for mothers who feel pressured to shop-lift, steal, commit fraud or any other activity including sex work which we may not otherwise “choose” in order to provide basic necessities within a system of increasingly fewer choices and ever longer periods without any form of relief.
- People who use drugs must be extended the same rights, dignity and personal decision making power as any other person. The criminalization of individuals based merely on their substance use must be discontinued and further reparations made for the harm caused by current and past law enforcement practices to individuals who use(d) drugs and their families.
- Those people at the far right of the drug use continuum for whom drug use has become chaotic and out of control should be provided the substance(s) in question free of charge ensuring safety of strength and quality in a fully regulated system. Both as a way of eliminating or at least mitigating the need for survival law-breaking and as an opportunity to connect with and be provided physical and mental health care.
- Harm Reduction is about reducing harms associated with drug use at an individual, community & political level. This can include the distribution of safer drug use supplies and equipment, efforts to prevent the spread of infection & disease, reduce violence, education for the public around drug use and challenging systems that violate the human rights of people who use drugs (i.e. the criminalization, apprehension of children).
- We fully advocate the use and implementation of widely accepted and common Harm Reduction principals such as “meeting the person where they are at”, offering pragmatic solutions, “nothing about us, without us”, respect, compassion, human rights and dignity belong to every person, abolition of the war on drugs now, and all the thoughtful, progressive HR principals simply too numerous to fully list here.
- Drug use occurs on a continuum. It ranges from occasional, recreational, stable use that does not interfere in an individual’s life to problematic, chaotic use which disrupts our lives on many levels. The latter end of the spectrum is not a 'lifestyle choice' but rather is shaped by sociological, cultural, psychological, and biological factors. These include poverty, gender inequality, racism, lack of access to tools to improve socio-economic status, trauma, and systemic oppression. Many people who use drugs move back and forth along this continuum over the course of their lives.
- We oppose practices that separate substance-using mothers from their babies in hospital including apprehend at birth notices. This unfortunately in 2013 is still standard practice in many locations, despite the well-known implications regarding mother/child bonding and the strong possibility of that child developing lifelong attachment issues as a result.
- Harm reduction means an understanding that substance use does not automatically mean bad parenting, that being a drug user or sex worker does not put your children at risk. Harm reduction challenges these myths and needs to be included in service provision to families.
- Harm Reduction is a health issue, not a criminal one. It requires human rights based, service user centered interventions rather than moralistic ones.
- Child welfare and other front line service workers have interpreted motherhood drug use as inherently dangerous and neglectful, if not abusive. This is often not the case and when there are legitimate concerns, respectful, strengths-based conversations, provision of information, and service referrals can go a long way to mitigating or eliminating such concerns.
- Further women often ensure safety through their own care and concern, without any intervention by child welfare authorities what-so-ever. Approaches have included not using in front of the children; waiting for kids to leave for school; ensuring someone else is home; keeping supplies and equipment locked up and out of reach; having age appropriate discussions with children regarding safe handling or non-handling of equipment; what to do if…discussions and so on.
CAF began meeting in libraries and has since developed a network of supportive agencies which provide weekly meeting space among other services, supports and resources. We meet twice weekly, one evening we host a support group and one evening we work on community change making. As we have built networks and genuine friendships together, women have begun to open their home spaces to the group. This is both reflective of successful trust building and expansion of opportunities to build greater solidarity.
Engaging in community change making has included developing public education forums, and workshops, opportunities to develop an anti-racist/anti oppression framework and feminist analysis, and most recently we are beginning work on new projects to include a telephone support line and a workshop series on advocacy provision. How to better advocate for mothers facing child welfare and family court surveillance.
CAF has also engaged in some longer term visioning recently and have committed to and participated in several direct action projects including development of several theatre of the oppressed projects, creating a CAF banner available to members who wish to participate in marches and rally’s with International Women’s Day in March 2015 our first group march. We have also organized a Janes Walk and took participants on a tour of key child welfare spaces and stories in downtown Toronto, and will plan to attend a Children’s Aid Society location on Mother’s Day to hand out flowers and information to honour mothers attending for supervised access with their children.