WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s children’s advocate says the province’s beleaguered child-welfare system is struggling to meet the needs of children and should provide better cultural training for foster parents.
Darlene MacDonald released a report Wednesday aimed at improving support for indigenous youth, especially girls. Generations of indigenous people were torn from their families though residential schools and forced adoption known as the ’60s Scoop, the report said.
Manitoba can be at the forefront of the healing that must take place, MacDonald suggested.
“Manitoba has an opportunity to become a leader in how meaningful restructuring and root-cause investments can reshape and redress the abuses of the past,” the report says. “The provincial child-welfare system has been ineffective to a large degree at improving outcomes for indigenous children and youth.”
Manitoba has one of the highest apprehension rates in the country and seizes an average of one newborn baby a day. There are just over 10,000 children in care and 90 per cent of them are indigenous.
The report said foster families need to get cultural training and support so they can help their wards explore their own culture.
“This connection to culture is not only a protected right under international law, it is also strongly supported by research that the best outcomes for children in out-of-home care are correlated with strong cultural identity.”
Manitoba also has to look at providing supports closer to home, the report says. That means overhauling foster-care standards and regulations so more homes can be created outside the city. Square footage and occupancy requirements for urban homes should not “continue to be unfairly applied to rural locations.”
“Safe, temporary caregivers exist in communities throughout the province, but many do not qualify as foster-care providers because of the current regulations, which do not reflect an understanding of cultural diversity and community norms,” the report says.
“Safety must never be compromised, but much more can be done to develop safe foster homes around Manitoba so that children and youth in care have more options of staying close to home while services are being delivered to the family.”
The government should also hire more cultural workers and establish a “grandmothers advisory council” to give advice to various departments, especially those who deal with youth. The government should acknowledge the position of influence and wisdom female elders hold in indigenous culture, MacDonald’s report says.
The council, chosen in consultation with the indigenous community, would provide the government with “traditional parenting advice and guidance on the development and delivery of public services that impact children, youth, and families.”
“Our province and our country face an incredible time of opportunity. This is the time where we must honestly acknowledge the disgrace of how Canada’s indigenous people were treated at the hands of those who came here from away.”
The Canadian Press