There is no one solitary solution to solving the problem that is the colonial child welfare system. The current system needs to be done away with and a new way of caring for children in need must be rebuilt.
Having been in the foster care system as a foster child and having been a foster parent myself, having also worked within the rigid child welfare system I see the issues that arise in the territorial system and what is clearly obvious is that, despite supposed best efforts, much more work needs to be done to ensure the safety and well-being of children in care.
The current breakdown of the system is not a centralized issue. This is happening all over Canada, not just the North.
It’s not only the government that needs to commit to improvement. Indigenous governments can and should be engaging in rigorous discussions on how best to protect children in their home communities. It should not matter if that child in need of care is from that particular nation or not, if they are living in the community then they should be protected by that community. This is the way things were before the government eroded Indigenous law and we need to bring it back.
Initiating alternative ways to support families is what is needed from our Indigenous leaders. Money should be no option when discussing the health, safety and well-being of our children. The government should be assisting Indigenous governments in any way they can to implement programs and services for children and families and for the overall health of the communities. Indigenous leaders, we are waiting for you to take the lead on this because the government is failing miserably. This can no longer wait.
It is no secret that Indigenous children are over-represented in the child welfare system and that means that our Indigenous communities need to provide safe places for children to return home to or stay. While we wait for Indigenous leaders to recognize the magnitude of their reach, social envelopes need to come together to keep children and their families safe. This includes designating advocates for children and their families in the areas of housing, education, mental health and addictions and income support not just in child welfare.
Every single person in a child’s life that is at the throws of becoming a ward of the territory needs to be working together to ensure that children in the system are fully supported. Yet, this is not happening because we are told that the system is exhausted, but that is no excuse.
Most social workers often have an untrained lack of knowledge of the historical colonial assimilation tactics on Indigenous peoples that are linked directly to child apprehension and they are often ignorant to the importance of culture, a culture that is crucial to take into consideration when determining the best interests of the child.
Those making decisions regarding a child and family should be observed closely until they can be trusted to ensure they are doing their best to support each child and family.
If that doesn’t sit well, they might reconsider their field of expertise if a little bit of criticism triggers an uncomfortable defense because we are talking about making decisions regarding people’s lives, and when it comes to deciding to take a child from their home, which is an added traumatic event that has the potential to further the negative impacts that child and their family that will have to incur for the rest of their lives, there needs to be someone the child knows and trusts at the end of the day to care for them and mitigate that shock, not some uncompassionate foster parent that is only in it for the money.
Organizations that are claiming to be helping children and families in the child welfare system need to be held accountable to the services they are said to provide. These organizations are, more often than not, perpetuating the problem by removing children from their families rather than trying to implement preventative solutions.
It’s not enough to trust that non-profit organizations such as the Foster Family Coalition are doing the real work that needs to be done just because they put on a few programs and a check off a box that meets the needs of their funders. There needs to be consistent independent oversight and regular internal reviews on those that have the responsibility of determining the best interests of the child.
No child should be out on the street in the cold and told to sleep in a hotel room alone and expect to wake up and go to school without food.
No grandparent should have to turn their grandchildren away because they can’t afford to care for them only to have their grandchildren placed in a stranger’s home that will be paid to care for them.
No child should be sent halfway across the country to a modern day residential school type boarding home and held against their will in an institution that claims that they are taking into account the child’s culture when they don’t even know the difference between the Yukon and the NWT.
These are only a few examples of the poor decisions that are happening behind the closed doors of the NWT Health and Social Services system.
Yet it’s not hard to see in on what is happening to many children going through the system is extremely grotesque and the worst part is there is no one person to blame.
It’s the entire system malfunctioning which might just be what is needed to begin to better support the health and well-being of children in care and, when its best for the child, keep them with their extended families until their parents get the support they need, unity rather than separation.
There is an ongoing difficult conversation that needs to be had with all players at the table and we must not forget to include the voice of the children themselves to hear what matters most to them.
We need to keep our Northern communities healthy and safe for our children and help each other so that no child is left vulnerable.