Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Anne Westhues

Advisor Role

Dissertation Committee Member


This research seeks to understand the high rates of Indian children in the care of Ontario’s Childrens Aid Societies from the 1950s to the 1970s. It examines historically the interaction of public policy, child welfare services and First Nations’ social, economic and cultural change. The author uses interview data from Native persons, CAS workers and public servants. In addition, government archives and the records of one child protection agency are used as data sources. The research examines in-care rates of Reserve Status Indian children from 1955 to 1976 in Ontario and admissions rates in one agency. It uses financial reports to complement and explain some trends. Admission rates between 1964 and 1974 show variations between and within communities that are analyzed using oral histories, archival data and the literature. An association between sudden change and child-in-care rates is demonstrated. The reasons for the high rates of Indian children in care are complex. Many of the Ontario Indian children in care in the 1960s and 1970s were children and grandchildren of two generations damaged by the effects of post World War II expansion. Aboriginal people in Northern Ontario experienced serious cultural trauma following relocation, loss of independent means of support, and new educational systems that were incompatible with their traditional beliefs and life styles. These stressors revealed themselves in a high rate of alcohol abuse precipitating incidents involving the child protection agency. Traditional systems were either strained or inaccessible to the Childrens Aid Societies. Child welfare workers, faced with new problems in the late 1950s and 1960s, recognized differences and made creative adaptations probably keeping the in-care rates lower than might have been expected. Gaps in jurisdiction and accountability in the larger system prolonged the situation of escalating rates because the out-of-control costs and their implications could not be easily detected. Three interacting pandemic factors drove program development and hindered the development of more appropriate approaches despite a flexible federal-provincial agreement. They were: equality ideology; an ignorance about Aboriginal people; and lack of systemic disincentives for other approaches in Indian child welfare financial administration. Individual service providers and the public servants were pivotal in hindering or maximizing the agreement’s potential. This hindered on their denial or recognition of inherent differences in the First Nations. Jurisdiction and accountability disputes still prevail. First Nations’ self-governing institutions face the dual task of healing the wounds of the past and building appropriate systems to deal with the future.

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