New research explores Muslim families’ experiences with child welfare services in Ontario

March 12, 2024

The Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS) is proud to announce a new research project that will explore Muslim families’ experiences with the child welfare system in Ontario. This project will be housed under the IIS’ Structural Islamophobia Research Lab (SIRL).

Limited research on child welfare system and Muslim’s experience
There is a growing concern in Muslim communities and child welfare services that work closely with Muslims that Muslim children are overrepresented in Ontario’s child welfare system. Muslims are the second largest religiously affiliated group in Canada after Christians (“Religion in Canada”), and the population of Muslims in Canada has doubled in the last 20 years (“The Canadian Census”), yet there is limited research on how Muslim children in care, Muslim families, and Muslim adoptive and foster parents experience Ontario’s child welfare system.

Mixed research approach towards policy recommendations
Using qualitative methods, this project centers the experiences of Muslim families and Muslim children by interviewing families, community advocates, and social workers to better assess the conditions under which Muslim families are involved with child welfare services in Ontario and how they navigate these circumstances. The objective of performing interviews is to establish if Muslim communities face unique sets of obstacles in their involvement with Ontario’s Children’s Aid Societies and how Muslim children’s, families’, and communities’ needs can be addressed.

This research project, furthermore, confronts the necessity of tracking and maintaining empirical data on Muslim children in care. As a result, the aim of this new research focus is to use quantitative methods to develop an archive of disaggregated data on Muslim children in care to determine if they are overrepresented in Ontario’s child welfare system and how long they tend to stay in care in order to develop policy recommendations that better serve Muslim children, families, and communities.

Call for interest by affected members and/or stakeholders
Given the sensitive nature of this research, the IIS is open to connecting with community members or organizations who have a shared interest in examining this subject. Interest can range from providing recommendations for literature review, participating in qualitative interviews, or advisory roles to support securing data and disseminating future findings.

If interested, please contact

Lead researcher: Dr. Sharifa Patel

Dr. Sharifa Patel is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Islamic Studies’ Structural Islamophobia Research Lab (SIRL) at the University of Toronto. She holds a PhD in English and Cultural Studies and an MA in Gender Studies and Feminist Research from McMaster University, and an undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto.

Dr. Patel’s research examines Islamophobia within Canadian policies and how these policies specifically affect Muslim families. Her dissertation research analyzed framings of the Muslim family as a space of patriarchal violence in Canadian news media and political discourses (such as House of Commons debates). In her capacity as the W. P. Bell Postdoctoral Fellow at Mount Allison University, she examined Canada’s intercountry adoption policy, which restricts intercountry adoptions from countries that use the Islamic practice of kafala, arguing that the policy is inherently Islamophobic.

About the Structural Islamophobia Lab (SiRL)
Much of the public framing of Islamophobia tends to examine public discourses that are often part of the larger cultural milieu. However, this approach often ignores the way in which Islamophobia is systemically enabled by the very institutions that govern Canada, that educate Canadians, and that make possible our individual market participation. Structural Islamophobia is a difficult research subject because the evidence is often hidden whether for reasons of privacy, intellectual property, or national security. But that does not mean structural Islamophobia does not exist.

SIRL exists to sponsor scholarship examining the formation and operation of Islamophobia in the form of institutional policy or bureaucratic practice, and explore them using creative research methodologies.