Manufacturing Ideologies of the "Bad" Mother in Ontario Child Welfare

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Veenstra, Mandi
Mothering , Material Feminism , Marginalized Mothers , "Bad" Mothers , Neoliberalism , Intensive Mothering , Child Welfare , Pierre Bourdieu
In Canada, under the guise of austerity measures, the state is increasingly distancing itself from the responsibility of helping families raise their children (Vandenbeld Giles 2012; Walmsley and Tessier 2015). This distancing is evident in Canada’s provincial legal-judicial child welfare systems, where the focus on protective child services significantly outweighs preventative programming and family support. A tenant of neoliberalism, a focus on individual responsibility is evident in the increasing concern that parents are risk factors in their children’s lives (Brown 2006; Romagnoli and Wall 2012). This ideology is apparent in the constructed “bad” mother label applied to mothers involved with Canadian child welfare, where 89% of involved caregivers are biological mothers (CIS 2008:40). Focusing specifically on the Ontario child welfare system, this case study examines how manufactured ideologies of the “bad” mother become synonymous with marginalized mothers. Using the theoretical lens of Pierre Bourdieu and the material-feminist work of Angela McRobbie, the institution, practices, and policies of Ontario child welfare are discussed as both class and racially biased. Further, prescriptive ideologies of intensive mothering, a concept coined by sociologist Sharon Hays, are found intertwined with notions of “good” mothering and normalized within the intersecting fields of mothering and child welfare. The landscape of “bad” mothers involved with child welfare is discussed surrounding the non-essentialist categories of monstrous mothers, the incarcerated mother, and the mother next door – the vague category where marginalization and disadvantaged social positioning serves as an invitation for increased scrutiny and gaze from the state (Appell 1998; Reich 2005; Swift and Callahan 2009; Swift and Parada 2004). This thesis challenges assumptions and stereotypes held about mothers involved with child welfare by highlighting the marginalized contexts in which they navigate life for both themselves and their children including experienced poverty, racism, colonialization, substance abuse, and domestic violence. Moreover, a specific analysis of language constructions and reforms to Part III of the Child and Family Services Act made in 2000, reveal how such changes are manufactured more so for the protection of the state and its governing agencies, than they are for the protection of children and their families.
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