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From Precarity to Security: Background and Speaker Information

Feb 10, 2024

The Border(ing) Practices project is hosting a forum titled, “From Precarity to Security: Navigating Pathways to Citizenship for Children & Youth involved in Child Welfare.” This event will feature discussions by legal experts, community advocates, and first-voice speakers will discuss new Canadian federal policies and how they may affect children and youth in child welfare.

As Canada's immigrant population grows, so does the number of residents with precarious legal status, lacking citizenship and facing systemic inequalities. This group includes temporary workers, students, refugee claimants, and undocumented residents, many of whom come with dependents who also experience precarity as non-status children and youth. 

Children and former youth in care face unique challenges regarding legal immigration status, as seen in Abdoul Abdi's case. Failed by his social workers, Abdoul lacked guidance on applying for citizenship despite growing up under Canadian state care. Support from advocates like his sister, Fatuma Alyaan, helped block his deportation from going through.  

Abdoul's story reflects a larger issue: children and youth navigating both the immigration and child welfare system are consistently victimized and endangered. Besides deportation threats, those with precarious status lack access to vital services, family reunification rights, and education. Racialized minorities, like Abdoul, face additional barriers due to systemic racism and discrimination. 

In this forum, we highlight recent efforts, federal and otherwise, that may better protect children and youth like Abdoul against deportation. 

We will hear from:

  • Danette Edwards, Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC)

  • Danielle Ungara, Child Welfare Immigration Centre of Excellence (CWICE)

  • Liz Okai, Child Welfare Immigration Centre of Excellence (CWICE)

  • Andrew Brouwer, Legal Aid Ontario

  • Sarah Pole, Justice for Children and Youth

  • Fatuma Alyaan (First Voice/Lived Expert)

See their photos and bios below.

Danette Edwards is working at Black Legal Action Centre as Interim General Counsel. She attended Osgoode Hall Law School at York University and has been practicing law since 2002. She acquired broad legal experience in the clinic system, with the provincial government and in the private sector. Danette has extensive litigation experience and has argued cases before all levels of court in Ontario, including the Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal. She has appeared before various administrative tribunals, including the Social Benefits Tribunal, Social Assistance Review Board, and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.

Danielle Ungara, RSW (she/her & grateful to be on Treaty 13 land). Danielle’s professional experience spans two decades and includes social work, leadership and program management across various sectors including pediatric healthcare and on the board of a mental health agency. Danielle currently co-manages the Child Welfare Immigration Centre of Excellence. CWICE offers services across Ontario, provides training and research nationally, and operates an international consultation centre. Danielle’s portfolio encompasses service, strategies for capacity building, communications and data, and research and partnership development. Danielle has consulted widely on policy and legislative changes, and she has been invited to speak about the rights of children/youth and system innovation. Danielle currently sits on a number of multi-year advisory panels including equity integration for the profession of social work with the Ontario Association of Social Workers. Danielle is an inclusive leader of integrity and believes in furthering social justice outcomes and equity through service excellence and research.
A seasoned and dedicated child welfare professional and leader, Liz Okai is a manager at the Child Welfare Immigration Centre of Excellence and is responsible for the operations and strategic vision for the Centre. Liz is passionate about, and contributes to the ever- growing body of knowledge regarding the intersectionality of child welfare and immigration. She promotes equity in practice through education, advocacy, and collaborative partnerships. Liz regularly advocates for migration histories and immigration stories to be explored in child welfare assessments for timely and successful resolution, resulting in better outcomes for children, youth and families experiencing immigration status and settlement challenges within the child welfare system.
Andrew Brouwer is Senior Counsel at Legal Aid Ontario’s Refugee Law Office. He leads LAO’s law reform and test case strategy to improve access to justice in the area of refugee and immigration law, while maintaining a practice focused on particularly vulnerable non-citizens and complex constitutional litigation. He appears before all levels of court and tribunal in Canada as well as United Nations treaty bodies. He is deeply engaged in the campaign to halt removal and grant citizenship to noncitizens who were previously in the care of child welfare agencies in Canada.

Called to the New Zealand bar in 1997, Sarah Pole practiced family, employment and immigration law before moving to Canada in 2002. She has extensive experience in youth justice education and has focused in particular on youth facing personal and systemic barriers to education success, and on increasing legal sector diversity. The founder and Director of CASA – Childhood Arrivals Support & Advocacy Program, Sarah’s former roles include Executive Director of the Law in Action Within Schools (LAWS) Program; Acting Director of Education for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association; and Director of Provincial Programs for the Ontario Justice Education Network.

The event will be moderated by Cheyanne Edwards, CEO of the Ontario Children's Advancement Coalition.

Cheyanne Ratnam (she/her/hers; William Treaties Territory, Treaty 13) is the co-founder and CEO of the Ontario Children’s Advancement Coalition, is a consultant, speaker, and advocate. Cheyanne has worked in and across systems including the child welfare, homelessness, legal clinic systems. She was previously the project coordinator of A Way Home Toronto; a City of Toronto and Cross-Sectoral Community Collaborative working with Young People as key partners, stakeholders and decision makers regarding the formation of a cross-sectoral youth homelessness strategy in Toronto. She was also an adjunct professor at Seneca College teaching in the Social Service Worker Immigration and Refugee program as well as the general Social Service Worker program. Cheyanne originates from Tamil ancestors from Northern Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu, India. She arrived as a minor refugee fleeing from genocide and war, and was raised in Scarborough, Ontario. She has lived expertise in forced migration, colourism, poverty, gender based violence, youth homelessness, youth criminal system, and the group “home” system within the child institutionalization system.

Register for the upcoming panel discussion here:

We look forward to seeing and hearing from you!

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