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Children’s Services

Awareness: Like many other immigrant and refugee populations, Low German-speaking Mennonites from Latin America have often heard that in Canada, one’s children can be removed from the home without warning or cause. This understanding is perpetuated, in part, when children’s services become involved in a family matter and this family’s community remains uncertain and/or unconvinced about the reasons for this involvement. Different understandings of privacy that originate from within the colony life context mean that negative experiences are quickly passed throughout Low German communities. These experiences become the basis for beliefs and understandings about the roles that various service providers undertake.

Factors: When a family becomes involved with the child welfare system in Ontario, it is usually because a variety of factors regarding social norms have converged to result in a referral. These factors include: lack of knowledge about Canadian norms and laws regarding corporal punishment; lack of knowledge regarding the Ontario primary school system or choices to engage in homeschooling/private schools; culturally different understandings of adequate care for children (i.e. supervision at play, child-appropriate work); inability to access health care services; lack of knowledge regarding appropriate winter wear; and various service providers’ unfamiliarity with Low German cultural practices (food, health, family roles). Additionally, community members may refer a family if they are concerned about something but uncomfortable with addressing it themselves. For further reading: Child Welfare: The Need for Education and Advocacy (E. Schneider).

Established Protocol: Children’s services staff should be aware that protocols have been developed by Family and Children’s Services of St. Thomas & Elgin County as well as Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society (and being developed in Chatham-Kent) in conjunction with their local Mennonite leaders. These protocols outline how to engage in sector-specific work with Low German Mennonite families when referrals have been made to child welfare. The purpose of these protocols is to ensure that the existing cultural differences between Low German communities and children’s services providers are appropriately navigated to ensure that the best interests of children and families are met. A highlight of these protocols is that, upon the involved family’s consent, Low German religious leaders are involved in the process. This helps enhance communication, collaboration and coordination within and between the Low German community and children’s services. Spanking is an area of particular religious concern. Low German Mennonites often use Bible verses to explain why they choose to use this form of discipline, and when they are told they cannot use this, they lose what they view as an effective parenting tool and they also feel as though they must choose to obey God’s law or Canadian law. For this reason, it is helpful for children’s services workers to have conversations around other forms of discipline and parenting with families and religious leaders.

Citizenship and Immigration

Applicable Legislation: Because of the unique migration history of Low German Mennonites from Latin America to and from Canada, there is a fair bit of legislation that directly impacts these families in ways that are often unique to these communities. For instance, though a married couple may have both been born and raised in Latin America, one may have Canadian citizenship while the other may not. This depends on the choices their parents and grandparents made. Additionally, this couple may have some of their own children who are Canadian citizens (born before a certain date) while their younger children may not be. An example of this type of scenario is provided here. The following documents will be helpful to you in understanding some of the legislation that is particularly pertinent to Low German individuals’ claims.

Ontario Works

Challenges regarding employment: As a whole, Low German Mennonites from Latin America place high value on work, are keen to work and will often take any job that is available to them. However, this often means that they are employed in labour-intensive jobs and run increased risks of injury. Sometimes this is due to lack of knowledge regarding Canadian and Ontario labour, health, and safety standards. Low German Mennonites also often have limited formal education and/or low English literacy skills. Therefore, when they are unable to find employment due to injury, inability to do physical labour or being a newcomer who has not yet entered the labour market, it may be challenging to find appropriate services to address these difficulties. Some clients will benefit from the following alternative education options, while many will benefit from the ESL classes specifically tailored to Low German communities. Due to the combination of levels of schooling, the traditional gender roles of the culture and the types of work that are available to low-literate individuals, men are predominantly the wage earners in a family unit. When men are unable to work, women may seek employment outside the home, but this can cause major stress on the family. Therefore, this is often seen as a last resort.