Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Work

Program Name/Specialization

Studies in Social Work Practice


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

DR. Deena Mandell

Advisor Role

Main supervisor

Second Advisor

Dr. Nancy Freymond

Advisor Role



This dissertation sought to understand how Muslims experience mandated child protection services in Ontario within the Canadian (and specifically, Ontarian) socio-political context. Ongoing experiences of racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia within systems that intersect with child welfare, including schools and the criminal justice system, have compounding effects on Muslim families who are singled out politically and socially. Drawing from trends in child welfare literature, policy initiatives, and practices that consider the system’s impacts upon racialized peoples, this research contributes to the discourse by highlighting religious diversity as an under-investigated source of discrimination. Set against systemic challenges inherent in the child protection system, the study explores religious social and self-identities as analytically distinct sites of marginalization.

The project draws on critical theories – critical race theory and risk theory – to examine intersections of Islamophobia with other aspects of marginalization that foster the construction of Muslims as “risky.” Southern theory highlights the credibility of alternative thinking, explicitly Islamic thinking, on child safety and protection. Anti-oppressive practice, the current and progressive approach to child welfare with diverse clients, is used as a lens to assess current child welfare services to Muslims in Ontario.

Employing a qualitative, single case study design consistent with the conceptual framework of critical realism, I gathered data from interviews with a Muslim family whose children had been apprehended and placed in the foster care system, as well as individual interviews with three workers and four foster parents who have worked with Muslim families. To understand the child welfare system’s oppression of Muslim clients, this research develops the complex and intertwined relationship between religious status and other aspects of social identity. Within the intersections of being Muslim, Arab, and recent refugee; the family that participated in this study faced multiple axes of marginalization. While each marginalizing set of experiences posed specific challenges, religion is particularly significant because of its far-reaching implications about Islamic beliefs and practices. Anchored in its origin as a state-centred, hegemonic, secular system, child welfare as it currently stands in Ontario has been unable to adapt and develop ways in which Muslim families and communities can provide religiously appropriate care and safety for their children.

Juxtaposing an Islamic understanding of care and protection for children to the current system in Ontario, this research points to the need for significant changes in policy and praxis that are necessary to keep Muslim children safe in their homes and communities. Major changes require commitment from the child welfare community at all levels, the academic community involved in child welfare research, and the Muslim community. These entities must collaborate to understand and respond to the unique experience and needs of Muslims interacting with the child welfare system in Ontario.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season


Available for download on Thursday, May 30, 2024