The B.C. government is renewing efforts to keep aboriginal children in their home communities when they are removed from their parents.
The approach has long been a government goal, and was called for again this week when Grand Chief Ed John presented a report he was asked to do by Premier Christy Clark. John’s 85 recommendations centre around keeping families and communities intact and giving them more support to take care of children without them being placed in foster homes or group homes.
Both Clark and John noted that aboriginal children are 15 times more likely to be apprehended and placed in government care than non-aboriginal children. Clark said the number is in decline, but is not being reduced as quickly for aboriginal children.
Clark said the transition will take a substantial new financial commitment from the province and the federal government, to recruit more aboriginal social workers and locate them in the communities they serve and to improve services.
“We need indigenous wisdom from indigenous leaders to solve this problem,” Clark said.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development has struggled to maintain staffing and services in remote communities, and delegated agencies have had their own problems.
Outgoing Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has issued investigation reports on cases such as that of Alex Gervais, an 18-year-old who fell to his death in September 2015 from a fourth-floor hotel room in Abbotsford. The ministry had moved him there after the group home he was in, run by a delegated aboriginal child welfare agency, was shut down due to inadequate conditions.
Turpel-Lafond said earlier this month there remain 10 ministry child protection offices operating with emergency staff, allowing little continuity on cases. She said the waiting time for youth mental health treatment continues to be up to two years, and delays have meant more severe cases that end in injury or death.
Stephanie Cadieux, minister of children and family development, said work is well underway on the recommendations in John’s report, but it will take time and money to transfer child welfare services back to communities.
Aboriginal and Métis community agencies must have the same financial support as government agencies to perform child protection services, Cadieux said.