If we accept a mother of three’s story of the neglect and incompetence she alleges to have suffered at the hands of child and family services, then the hill this beleaguered service of the territorial government must climb to regain the public’s trust just got a little more mountainous.

The Yellowknife woman, who cannot be identified under the NWT Child and Family Services Act, alleges she and her children were virtually abandoned and left broke and destitute in Calgary after being strong-armed into attending a post-trauma shelter down south.

This follows what she says were attempts by social workers to apprehend her children after her estranged partner allegedly broke into her home and stabbed her late last year.

A re-occurring thread throughout her complaint is the discrimination Indigenous residents often endure when subject to government intervention. At one point, she says staff at a Calgary shelter tried to move her onto a reservation, where she knew no one, just because she is “native.” Moreover, she claims social workers in Yellowknife wanted to apprehend her children even though she has family supports here who were able and willing to help.

Her jaw-dropping story comes six months after a damning report by the Auditor General of Canada that found, if anything, problems with child and family service have gotten worse since its initial audit in 2014.

The problem was so serious that Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy nearly lost his job over it.

Victims of domestic violence, and their children, should never end up being re-victimized by a system that is meant to support families who need help.

Because public policy is one of the key drivers shaping inequities in health and social services, the territory needs policy changes to remedy them. It is obvious the child and family intervention system isn’t working.

So, what’s the solution?

Some of the answers can be found in a 2017 survey on child and family services carried out by Indigenous Services Canada. In that survey, three key areas were highlighted by more than 400 mostly First Nation, Metis or Inuit respondents.

Respondents called for: better family support services, more money for child and family services and more focus on placing Indigenous children with family members or Indigenous families in their home communities.

Well, since we are looking at this woman’s horrific account, it’s easy to see where NWT child and family services are failing: refusing to acknowledge or accept she had family here who could and were willing to help, and then sending her south without ensure she and her children would be properly cared for.

Throwing more money around and hiring more social workers isn’t going to solve the problem.

A bachelor of social work program at a revamped polytechnic university in the territory is one important step. But the bureaucrats who put the social workers in the field also need to understand who their serving and how to incorporate Indigenous culture into their services.

Until the GNWT can integrate and get support from Indigenous communities in the territory, its child and family services will continue to be a broken system, trying to serve people it doesn’t know how to serve.

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