First Nations child advocate says child welfare system ‘eats up’ Indigenous kids

Cora Morgan, First Nations Family Advocate at The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) in Winnipeg, Monday, February 22, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG — A Manitoba First Nations children’s advocate says the child welfare system “eats up” Indigenous children and is designed to keep their families at a disadvantage.

Cora Morgan, with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, told the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women that the system is set up to apprehend children, not to support families.

“Any challenges that our families are faced with, it’s used against them instead of them being offered support. It victimizes our families,” she said Monday.

“A lot of these things are just perpetual. You can find five or six generations of a family where their children have been taken.”

The inquiry is holding hearings in Winnipeg this week and is expected to focus on child welfare.

Morgan said violence against Indigenous women and girls can be linked to child welfare because it not only removes them from their families, but also takes away their identity and self-worth.

“The system just eats up our children to the point where they lose value for life,” she said.

Manitoba has the highest per-capita rate of children in care and almost 90 per cent are Indigenous. The province said last week that the number of kids in government care dropped for the first time in 15 years to 10,328.

Morgan told the inquiry about a mother who had four children, all of whom were seized at birth primarily because of poverty.

Too much money is being spent on taking kids away from their families and not enough is invested in finding ways to keep them together, Morgan said.

“You keep hearing our government say apprehension is the last resort but it’s the first resort,” she said. “It’s always the first resort.”

Inquiry commissioners said they have heard about the effects of child welfare at every hearing. Qajaq Robinson said many people testified they were survivors of the system and that is “indicative of a huge problem.”

“Whether it’s children, who as a result of their mothers being murdered, ended up in care or women who, as a result of their children being apprehended, lost financial support or lost housing and then ended up in precarious situations having to resort to survival sex work,” she said, adding people are being failed in numerous ways.

“Every jurisdiction we have been to, I have heard it personally from witnesses,” Robinson said.

Morgan gave the inquiry a list of recommendations including supporting First Nations-led initiatives to bring children home and to stop penalizing victims of domestic violence by taking their children away.

The Canadian Press

Source: CTVNews.ca

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Manitoba First Nations Worried About Changes to Child-Welfare System

Cora Morgan, Manitoba First Nations family advocate,

There are concerns more Indigenous children will be permanently taken from their homes

Some Manitoba First Nations say they are worried some of the reforms planned for the province’s troubled child-welfare system could worsen the problem of having Aboriginal children raised in non-Indigenous homes.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says government plans to expand subsidies to include people seeking permanent guardianship of foster children will only make it faster and easier for kids to be taken from their parents forever.

“This is putting children at risk of being in non-Indigenous homes permanently,” said Cora Morgan, the assembly’s First Nations family advocate.

“When probably close to 90 per cent of our children are placed in non-Indigenous homes, and they’re not having access to culturally appropriate services or meaningful connections to culture and identity, then I have trouble with that.”

Indigenous people make up 17 per cent of Manitoba’s population, but almost 90 per cent of the 10,700 children in government care are Aboriginal.

System encourages taking children

First Nations leaders have long said the system is set up to encourage the seizure of children, because agencies are paid partly based on how many kids they care for.

The Progressive Conservative government, elected in 2016, has promised reforms but has yet to release details.

Families Minister Scott Fielding said legislation will be introduced soon to offer the same kind of subsidies foster parents have to people who seek permanent guardianship. The aim is to give kids a more stable environment rather than have them bouncing between temporary foster homes.

Morgan is worried the subsidies will encourage the current majority of non-Indigenous foster parents to seek permanent care of their charges. Fielding said his goal is to entice more family members who may not otherwise be able to afford to take care of the children.

This is putting children at risk of being in non-Indigenous homes permanently. – Cora Morgan

“We absolutely want more permanent guardianship, and the vast majority of people who take on permanent guardianship is a family member,” he said.

Not providing subsidies to permanent guardians in Manitoba means that “for a lot of people that may take on someone, that is a barrier to basically taking on a lifelong commitment.”

Fielding said courts are already required under law to favour family members in awarding permanent guardianship, so the expanded subsidies should make it more possible that children end up in the culture and language to which they are accustomed.

Fielding is also working on other changes first announced last month, including the launch of customary care, which allows First Nations children to stay in their community in the care of extended family and community leaders.

Preventative supports

The government has also promised to focus more on preventative supports for families to help them before they face apprehension.

A public inquiry report released in 2013 into the death of Phoenix Sinclair urged the government to address the fast-rising number of Indigenous children being taken from their parents.

Two years later, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report called on all governments to provide adequate resources to keep Indigenous families together and, when children are apprehended, ensure they are placed with families where they can maintain ties to their language and culture.Assembly of First Nations National chief says there is a gap in services and programs for Indigenous children on reserves that needs to be immediately addressed. Perry Bellegarde spoke after a demonstration on Parliament Hill.

The Canadian Press

[SOURCE]

MMIW Inquiry Will Have To Examine Policing, Child Welfare System: Bennett

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett

The “uneven application of justice,” everything from the quality of police searches to investigations, will require a review.

The Canadian Press, July 21, 2016

Policing will require close examination during the inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said Thursday after questions were raised about a draft copy of the terms of reference.

The “uneven application of justice” — including everything from the quality of police searches to investigations themselves — will require review because outcomes seem to be affected if victims are indigenous women, Bennett told The Canadian Press.

This is precisely why the federal government needs to get provinces and territories, currently reviewing the terms, on side with the inquiry’s mandate because policing and other issues cross jurisdictional boundaries, she said.

“This was the difference between a federal inquiry and a national public inquiry and none of that has changed,” Bennett said.

The minister’s remarks come a day after draft terms of reference for the inquiry were circulated online. They did not explicitly state the need to examine the role of police or their conduct.

Issues with officer behaviour and investigations were raised by families of murdered and missing indigenous women during the government’s pre-inquiry consultation period.

If the inquiry’s commissioners are going to have the capacity to examine police conduct, that should be built into the terms of reference, advocates said Thursday.

“It doesn’t have to be explicit,” said Christa Big Canoe, the legal advocacy director at Aboriginal Legal Services in Toronto.

“It just has to be that police investigations are on the table.”

It is one thing for the government to say it will be included but it is another thing to do it, she added.

NDP Status of Women Critic Sheila Malcolmson also believes the draft terms of reference fall short.

“It is critical that consultations with indigenous families and communities affected be central to drafting the terms of reference,” she said in a statement.

The federal government plans to discuss the mandate of the inquiry with the families before it is made public, Bennett said.

“They know that a representative group of them will be invited to come to Ottawa on the day prior to the launch where they will walk through the final terms of reference and the commissioners,” she said.

An announcement is expected soon but a date has not been publicized.

Child welfare will also be a key theme, Bennett said, noting the government has repeatedly heard about the “devastating” impact on children who are apprehended and what often happens to their mothers.

“There’s no question that stories around the child welfare system from Tina Fontaine to so many of the other cases … we know the commission will have to deal with this and the differences in all of the jurisdictions,” she said.

“The federal government, even though we are a funder of the child welfare system, we also have to be accountable for the results and children are being apprehended such that there’s more kids in care than at the height of residential schools.”

The federal government is currently engaged in a lengthy back and forth with The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal over its commitment to fund child welfare services on reserve.

In January, the tribunal ruled the federal government discriminated against First Nations children in its funding of child welfare services.

Bennett has repeatedly said the government is committed to overhauling the system.

Cindy Blackstock, a social worker who spent nine years on the case that resulted in the tribunal’s ruling, believes the government is still racially discriminating against aboriginal children in its delivery of services on reserves.

A key issue is $71 million the government earmarked in this year’s budget for child welfare — a figure far from sufficient, Blackstock says, pegging the actual need at around $200 million.

[SOURCE]

Better Cultural Training Needed For Foster Parents: Manitoba Children’s Advocate

katy-cfs-teen-in-hotel

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

[SOURCE]

Women Fast To Raise Awareness About Kids In Child Welfare System

CaptureCBC

Women fast to raise awareness about kids in child welfare system

CBC News

Six women are going without food or water to raise awareness about the number of children in Manitoba’s child welfare system.

The women have set up teepees and lit a sacred fire on the Manitoba legislative grounds and will stay there until Thursday.

The women are there in support of the efforts of The Manitoba First Nations Family Advocate, that was created in June in order to address concerns with how the province handles situations involving First Nations families.

Cora Morgan

Cora Morgan sits by the sacred fire. She will be fasting until Thursday.

“We needed to do something to bring about change,” said First Nation Family Advocate Cora Morgan. “It’s not a protest it’s just to help educate people so that they understand what’s happening right now.”

Morgan said she couldn’t continue to watch children being apprehended, almost on a daily basis, without doing something

The practice of apprehending children and then forcing parents to prove they are fit is backwards and needs to changed, Morgan said.

“Everything that has been happening in the CFS system is reactive. None of it is around restoring families and supporting families,” she said.

Morgan would like to see more supports in place before children are apprehended, as well as efforts to help mothers get their kids back.

Signs

Signs display messages of hope near the site where the women will be staying for the next few days.

“We have two mothers fasting with us right now. And they are proving themselves every single day… they’re helping people, they’re volunteering, they’re attending workshops…they are committed to sobriety. And still in the view of CFS they are unfit mothers.” she said.

Morgan acknowledged the Truth and Reconciliation Report on Residential Schools, and the province’s recent apology for the Sixties Scoop, but said the problems are still continuing. There are about 10,000 children in care in Manitoba and the vast majority are aboriginal.

“We have lots of history of the damage that taking children from their parents causes. It’s a vicious cycle. It has to stop. Now we are in a time where we can do something, rather than look back 20 or 30 years for an apology” she said.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/women-fast-to-raise-awareness-about-kids-in-child-welfare-system-1.3239276?cmp=rss

‘A Lost Tribe’: Child Welfare System Accused Of Repeating Residential School History

Homes on the Siksika Nation Reserve in Alberta on pictured in 2009. In 1973, the Siksika First Nation, east of Calgary, became the first band to kick provincial child protection workers off their territory and start their own agency.

Homes on the Siksika Nation Reserve in Alberta on pictured in 2009. In 1973, the Siksika First Nation, east of Calgary, became the first band to kick provincial child protection workers off their territory and start their own agency.

National Post, Dec 15, 2014 | Last Updated: Jan 24

Elders from the Wabaseemoong First Nation in north-western Ontario remember the bus that drove around their reserve picking up children and shuttling them to a waiting plane for a 345 kilometre flight north to Sandy Lake, a remote community with no outside road link, except for ice roads built on frozen lakes and rivers during the winter.

“When the planes landed at the dock, families there were told they could come down and pick out a kid,” said Theresa Stevens, executive director of Anishinaabe Abinoojii Family Services, the current child protection provider for Wabaseemoong.

Such mass apprehension of children from troubled Wabaseemoong, including those flights in the 1970s, have been draining the reserve of its youth for decades, until, in 1990, the community had had enough.

A band council resolution was passed: the Children’s Aid Society was forbidden from entering the reserve.

“They stood at the reserve line on tractors with shotguns saying ‘You aren’t coming into our community and taking any more of our children,’ ” said Ms. Stevens.

The situation was desperate: a third of the reserve’s kids were in foster care; the dip in school-age children made teachers redundant.

“From that day forward they’ve assumed more and more control over their children,” said Ms. Stevens.

In that community near the Ontario-Manitoba border, known in English as Whitedog, standoffs and feuds preceded a new sense of stability. Ms. Steven’s agency has been handling child welfare since 2001, and doing it with the province’s approval since 2006.

“We went from having almost 300 children in care to where we are down to just slightly over 100 for that community. And that is huge,” she said.

A Wabaseemoong elder, Eli Carpenter, poignantly told her the difference it has made. One day he was struck by the uplifting sound of children playing; so many kids had been taken it had been years since he had heard that.

“That’s when we finally started to know we were making inroads and changing the tide of what had happened,” said Ms. Stevens.

Wabaseemoong is not yet a place to be pointed to as a universal model of success in tackling the problems of aboriginal child welfare, but it stands as a marker of hope and a portrait of the hard journey native child welfare reform takes.

Today, after the public apologies and restitution over the government’s residential school system, disproportionately high rates of aboriginal child apprehensions continue across Canada.

“There are more First Nation children in care today than during the height of residential schools,” said Shawn Atleo, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. “We cannot lose another generation to the mistakes of the past. First Nations are the youngest and fastest growing segment of the population. We are the future. This is about Canada’s future.”

Goyce Kakegamic, a residential school survivor who is now deputy grand chief for the Nishnawbe Aski Nation — covering two-thirds of Ontario in an arc from Quebec to Manitoba — said it is the missing children of today, not just of the past, sapping vitality from native communities.

“So many of our children have been taken away they are like a lost tribe,” Mr. Kakegamic said.

So many of our children have been taken away they are like a lost tribe

While all child welfare systems in Canada face challenges, the added complexities of aboriginal child welfare bring a seemingly unbearable quandary.

About 15% of kids in care in Canada are aboriginal, despite natives comprising only 3% of the population; children on reserves are close to eight times more likely than other children to be taken into care.

These statistics alone suggest a problem worthy of attention, but they are coupled with studies saying a majority of native child apprehensions are not over allegations of abuse but, rather, concerns of neglect — with serious questions of what role culture and poverty plays in defining neglect.

“The child protection system for aboriginal children and youth is broken,” said John Beaucage, who was the first Aboriginal Advisor to Ontario’s Minister of Children and Youth Services.

“We see the same type of things repeating: aboriginal children taken away from their community, taken away from their culture and usually … these children find themselves, as adults, trying to figure out who they are, where they belong and are somewhat lost.

If we keep on doing the same old stupid things, we’re not going to see it stop

“We, as a country, have been repeating the same mistakes over and over again.”

Among those mistakes: not doing enough to tackle root causes that lead to legitimate child apprehension; not finding ways of keeping more native children out of state care by ending unnecessary apprehensions; and finding a balance between meeting demands for aboriginal cultural integrity while maintaining critical standards of care.

“If we keep on doing the same old stupid things, we’re not going to see it stop,” said Mr. Beaucage. “We’re going to see it continue to rise without real benefit and without real change.”

—————

In 1955, the federal Indian Act was changed to allow provincial laws to apply on native reserves and the provinces then went into the business of providing aboriginal child welfare services, although funded by Ottawa.

“We had social workers untrained in the experience of First Nations people; they’d walk onto these reserves, see all this poverty and devastation and children from the residential school system — who are now parents — in a lot of trauma and, instead of seeing that for what it was, they removed the kids all over again,” said Cindy Blackstock, the Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and an associate professor at the University of Alberta.

Shaughn Butts / Postmedia News

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

The federal policy ushered in what is referred to now as the “60s Scoop,” when an estimated 20,000 native children were taken for foster care and adoption, primarily into non-aboriginal families in Canada, United States and Europe.

In 1973, the Siksika First Nation, east of Calgary, became the first band to kick provincial child protection workers off their territory and start their own agency. Manitoba bands soon followed.

There are now 108 aboriginal agencies in Canada mandated to handle child welfare services; at least one in every province except Prince Edward Island and with none in the northern territories.

More are on the horizon. In Ontario, for instance, the seven mandated aboriginal children’s aid societies will almost double if six “pre-mandated” agencies gain full authority; two are on the verge of full mandate status.

Meanwhile, the demands to recognize native culture in child welfare are becoming codified.

In Ontario, the Child and Family Services Act was amended in 2006, requiring child protection workers to ask whether a child has Indian status so that it can be taken into account in care decisions.

In Manitoba, where 80% of children in care are aboriginal, the Authorities Act now states that values, customs and traditional communities must be respected in cases involving aboriginal people.

And last year in Nunavut, where the population is mostly Inuit, the Child and Family Services Act was revised to allow interpretation according to Inuit societal values.

Along the way, the federal government has tinkered with funding in a patchwork approach with provinces: Ontario struck the Indian Welfare Agreement in 1965, allowing the province to bill Ottawa for services it provided for First Nations, although at about 93-cents on the dollar. A funding directive covered the rest of Canada from 1991 until 2007 when Ottawa unveiled an Enhanced Funding formula that brought new money to Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

—————

All child protection agencies across Canada start their cases based on a range of suspected maltreatment, including physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Increasingly, children are apprehended without evidence of actual maltreatment but, rather, for concern over neglect, substance abuse, lifestyle or living conditions.

That can hit native families particularly hard.

“It is quite heartbreaking,” said Katherine Hensel, a lawyer who has represented First Nations and aboriginal organizations across Canada.

“First Nation families are still experiencing the wrongful taking of their children on spurious grounds. There is still widespread, unnecessary and unwarranted removal of children.

“Many, many loving and perfectly good aboriginal homes don’t meet a province’s standard of requirements for being foster homes. There are different cultural norms on how children should be raised,” said Ms. Hensel.

Practices by many aboriginal people — such as parent-child co-sleeping, shared housing and multi-generational responsibility for childrearing — are often seen in social work as signs of dysfunction.

“If we deem a home to be a good home and a safe place for a child — but it might not meet all the provincial standards — we try to be as flexible and creative as we can,” said Ms. Stevens, from Anishinaabe Abinoojii Family Services.

First Nation families are still experiencing the wrongful taking of their children on spurious grounds. There is still widespread, unnecessary and unwarranted removal of children

While such flexibility and creativity may solve short-term problems, Ms. Blackstock wants long-term solutions. Her organization, along with the Assembly of First Nations, filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2007 with the aim of prying more money from Ottawa. The complaint says the government discriminates against aboriginal children living on reserves by providing less funding than is available for non-native children.

Ottawa funds child welfare for on-reserve First Nations while the provinces fund child welfare for non-native children. The gap between the two funding models is estimated to be 22%, the hearing heard.

Ottawa fought to quash the case but the tribunal pressed ahead, holding 72 hearing days in Ottawa ending in October. A decision is expected by the spring.

Answers may come from other directions, too.

Mr. Kakegamic was born in Keewaywin First Nation in Northern Ontario and has experienced a spectrum of native life, raised on the land in a traditional lifestyle by his extended family and also placed in a residential school. He is university educated and now responsible for social services for member bands across northern Ontario — most remote, fly-in only reserves with poor infrastructure.

“We don’t need someone with a PhD to come and tell us what the problems are. We know what the problems are. Because they end up in child care, they end up in drugs and alcohol,” he said; feelings of “futurelessness” lead to high youth suicide rates. “It wounded us to our core and sometimes it is hard to move forward when you are wounded.

“But the answers do not all come from Ottawa.

“We need to look at ourselves. We can do more as a community. We can do more as parents… it’s not only more money and more resources.”

He wants to strengthen and expand aboriginal child welfare agencies in his territory and push more resources into prevention and early intervention.

“We have the skill, we have the capacity, we have the experience — now give us the way to help our own people.”

—————

Moving toward aboriginal jurisdiction over child welfare is not a quick fix.

Last year, a joint Edmonton JournalCalgary Herald investigation found that, proportionately, more children died in the care of an on-reserve Delegated First Nations Agency than in Alberta’s Children and Family Services Agency.

Tyler Anderson / National Post

Tyler Anderson / National PostLandon Kakegamic (left), 6, leans on a fence while watching a game of baseball at Keewaywin, a First Nations community in Northern Ontario in 2006.

The continuing problems of aboriginals in the child welfare system also became a focus in Manitoba with the inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair, a 5-year-old native girl who died in 2005 after abuse in her mother’s home on Fisher River reserve, north of Winnipeg, three months after returning to her mother’s care.

Even after the intense public attention of the inquiry, gaps in native child welfare still invite tragedy, including 15-year-old Tina Fontaine of Sagkeeng First Nation who was in the care of a Child and Family Services agency in Winnipeg and, within a month, her body found sexually abused and wrapped in plastic in the city’s Red River.

Galvanized by another tragedy, the government has announced another round of changes.

Ms. Stevens, from Anishinaabe Abinoojii, said aboriginal agencies have two concurrent goals: “We have a mandate that is both from the government but also from our First Nations. We’re not just in the business of child welfare, we are also in the business of rebuilding our nation by rebuilding our families.”

A year ago, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, released a scathing report on the province’s aboriginal child welfare, calling it a “colossal failure of public policy.” She said the province spent at least $66 million on “talking” about problems “without a single child being actually served.”

Moving toward new aboriginal agencies is part of the adjustment agencies need to make, said Mary Ballantyne, Executive Director of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, where the boardroom is decorated by a quotation from Sitting Bull, the Indian chief who led the native resistance at Little Big Horn.

Darren Stone / Postmedia News

Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth in 2012.

“More and more, there is recognition that we need to find unique solutions in unique community circumstances.

“But we also need to make sure that the kids are OK. Aboriginal parents don’t want their kids in appalling conditions anymore than anybody else wants their kids in appalling conditions.”

Nico Trocmé, director of the McGill Centre for Research on Children and Families in Montreal, said he supports First Nations control over child welfare services—“with one enormous caveat: Simply dumping those services on First Nations communities and not providing the funding and resources needed is not going to change much of anything.”

“It is not going to be a quick and dirty solution,” said Mr. Beaucage, the former Ontario aboriginal advisor. “A lot of governments, they want a solution before the next election. You have to gauge your success by a different timeframe.

“The solution is not measured in months or years but maybe in ten years, or tens of years.”

http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/a-lost-tribe-child-welfare-system-accused-of-repeating-residential-school-history-sapping-aboriginal-kids-from-their-homes