Research highlights challenges faced by young Black mothers

A collaborative Brock University research project is amplifying the voices of young Black mothers in Canada and recommending changes to provide them better support.

Reseachers from Brock and TAIBU Community Health Centre in Toronto studied how young Black mothers navigated the challenges of motherhood in the context of intersecting experiences of anti-Black racism and gendered oppression from a very young age.

“Predominantly, anti-Black racism and gender oppression have shaped our participants’ experiences as mothers but they also shaped their daily lives — they shaped their childhood, their entry into adolescence and adulthood,” says lead study author Sadie Goddard-Durant, Adjunct Professor in Brock’s Department of Sociology. “The women were very clear that becoming a mother was a pivotal moment because they did not want their children to have the same traumatic experiences.”

An event was held Monday, June 12 in Scarborough to launch “The Experiences and Needs of Young Black Caribbean-Canadian Mothers.” Its authors — including Goddard-Durant; Professor Andrea Doucet, Canada Research Chair in Gender, Work and Care; Brock graduate in Critical Sociology Helena Tizaa (MA ’22); community researcher Jane Ann (Tanela) Sieunarine; and TAIBU social workers and peer researchers Kimberley Moore and Princillia Bobwa — shared findings from the study with key policy, program and funding stakeholders.

Sadie Goddard-Durant speaks into a microphone while seated beside Andrea Doucet in front of a screen displaying a list of authors and a photo of a young Black woman

Sadie Goddard-Durant (left) and Andrea Doucet presented research findings at an event held Monday, June 12.

Representatives from the Black Health Alliance, Network for the Advancement of Black Communities, YWCA Toronto, the City of Toronto, Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, Toronto District School Board, Toronto Public Health and other Black community and health organizations attended.

Among the report’s recommendations are legislative changes to medical and mental health services to offer culturally grounded, anti-oppressive, trauma-informed, anti-racist, decolonizing services to young Black girls and mothers; altered policies to more equitably allocate educational resources, provide anti-racist training for teachers and staff at schools, and instill processes that empower Black students to safely report microaggressions and hold perpetrators accountable; and an increased income threshold for young Black mothers coming off Ontario Works to better account for income inequalities faced by Black Canadian women.

Liben Gebremikael, CEO of TAIBU Community Health Centre, says the project is “the first of its kind to come out of community-led Canadian spaces.”

“The Young Black Mother’s Research Project was very intentional in centring the experiences and voices of young Black mothers who are often marginalized and ignored in mainstream research,” says Gebremikael. “They were involved at all levels of the project from inception to knowledge dissemination.”

The collaborative research process began in 2019 when Goddard-Durant was a post-doctoral fellow funded by Doucet’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grant.

Goddard-Durant led the process of building relationships with social workers and clients of TAIBU to learn more about the experiences of young Black mothers. The aim to have a Black-centred and trauma-informed research process meant that Doucet did not take part in the interviews but focused on behind-the-scenes work and team data analysis.

Doucet says the team was determined to avoid “helicopter, extractivist research” by respecting the needs of research participants to have an open dialogue in a Black-centred and safe environment.

“The transition to parenthood is a challenging period in the life of a family, but for these young Black mothers, there were also financial barriers, racism from their childhood onward — including in the education system, lack of affordable childcare or access to parental benefits,” she says. “Current policies are not adapted to families and communities facing systemic barriers, so we need to recognize and think through what diversity means in the transition to parenthood and how policies and services can support that transition.”

One aim of the event was to discuss how those in positions to enact change in key organizations might implement the recommendations.

“One effective strategy that mothers in the study utilized was what we labelled ‘mothering for anti-Black racism,’ because they recognize the structural issues and want to equip their children to be better positioned than they were,” says Goddard-Durant. “The mothers were very clear that support has to be grounded in policy changes and the ways in which systems are designed and delivered, so it will be important to see what those who attended the event do within their spheres of influence once they get back to their offices.”

Gebremikael says that the “community-based participatory research” approach taken in this project must continue “to ensure we are representing the needs of our communities and giving them the agency to shape research that directly impacts their lives.”

Doucet adds that as TAIBU is a community partner in the SSHRC Partnership project, Reimagining Care/Work Policies, she hopes to “continue to build on this important work.”

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