Child Welfare (1-5): Current Problems

Systemic Racism


September 21, 2022


‘The bond is broken’: Data shows Indigenous kids overrepresented in foster care

Statistics Canada released data from the 2021 census showing Indigenous children accounted for 53.8 per cent of all children in foster care.

Toronto Star: WINNIPEG – A Winnipeg mother says she was scarred for life when her first child was taken away at birth by social workers, who told her she was unfit to parent her newborn daughter because she was just 17 at the time. 

“I don’t know how one could fully heal from that trauma,” said the woman, now 41, whom The Canadian Press has agreed not to identify because of her family’s involvement in the child welfare system. “Having a baby taken away from birth … the bond is broken.” 

New census data suggests Indigenous children continue to be overrepresented in the child welfare system.

Statistics Canada released data from the 2021 census showing Indigenous children accounted for 53.8 per cent of all children in foster care. 

This has gone up slightly from the 2016 census, which found 52.2 per cent of children in care under the age of 14 were Indigenous. At the time, about eight per cent of kids that age in Canada were Indigenous.

More than three per cent of Indigenous children living in private households in 2021 were in foster care compared to the 0.2 per cent of non-Indigenous children. Nationally, Indigenous children accounted for 7.7 per cent of all children 14 years of age and younger. 

Statistics Canada says because of difficulties in collecting census data on First Nations and other Indigenous communities, some caution should be exercised in comparing census years. 

In recent years there has been a significant push from Indigenous leaders and child welfare advocates across the country to address the myriad systemic issues contributing to the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care. But experts say factors like colonialism, chronic underfunding of child welfare systems, discriminatory practices and poverty remain.

The child welfare system was part of the Winnipeg mother’s life since before she was born. Some of her siblings were taken from her mother, a residential school survivor, as part of the Sixties Scoop. She was allowed to stay with her mother, but she doesn’t know why. 

The pain of having her daughter taken would repeat when her second and third children became permanent wards of the province. She says she used alcohol to cope with a family member’s death at the time. Her children were living with their father when workers apprehended them due to poverty, she says. 

Years later, when the woman’s granddaughter went into the system and she became pregnant with her fourth child, she knew she needed to break the cycle. She began working with First Nations advocates and parenting groups to learn more about the culture that was stripped from her.  “I’ve done so much healing. I learned about our grief and loss and about positive coping skills,” said the woman, who is now caring for her granddaughter and four-year-old son. 

“Learning my culture and traditions really saved me.”

There are about 10,000 children in care in Manitoba and about 90 per cent are Indigenous.

Statistics Canada says limitations with the way it collects data have an effect on the national numbers. For example, children living in settings like group homes would not be included.  “The most definitive counts would be coming from the service provider or organizations themselves, whether that’s provincial, territorial or other jurisdictions. They would have the most definitive (number) based on a given point in time,” said Chris Penney, with the Centre for Indigenous Statistics and Partnerships.

The Winnipeg mother adds that while there have been some improvements in the child welfare system thanks to First Nations authorities and social workers, prevention is still lacking.  “It should be about keeping families together and empowering the parent … they need something to keep the families together.”

Mary Teegee, executive director of Carrier Sekani Family Services in British Columbia, said generations of children have been ripped from their parents through the residential school system and the Sixties Scoop, and are being raised without the support of their families, culture or communities.  This has contributed to addictions, mental health issues and trauma, she added. 

“This isn’t just because Indigenous people can’t take care of their children. It’s because of generation after generation of attacks on family, class and nation structures.”

Cora Morgan, the First Nations family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said without proper investments in prevention and healing, government reforms alone won’t get to the root of the issue.  “Right now we’ve been in a situation where government dictates how things are going to happen,” she said. 

“There needs to be free will of our nations to be able to bring children home.”

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government introduced Indigenous child welfare legislation in 2019 and it came into force in 2020. 

The legislation is supposed to affirm the rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services with the goal of reducing the number of Indigenous children in care. 

Indigenous Services Canada says as of July, 37 groups have sent notices of intention to exercise legislative authority and 27 have requested to enter into co-ordination agreements. Out of this, two First Nations have entered into co-ordination agreements with the federal and provincial governments. 

Experts say it’s too soon to tell what effect the legislation will have on reducing the number of Indigenous kids in care.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2022.


October 6, 2022


Fed. Govt., MB

AMC sues Manitoba, Canada for $1B over damage caused by child welfare system

The lawsuit seeks to compensate children who were taken off reserve.

APTN: The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) is suing the federal and Manitoba governments over what they say are far-reaching and damaging effects of the child welfare system.

“Manitoba and Canada received consistent advice and warnings, including from their own experts, that they were failing First Nations children who lived off reserve,” said the statement of claim filed on Oct. 6. “Again and again, they were told that their funding was inadequate, their operational procedures were ill-conceived, and their servants and agents were failing to properly implement their directions.”

Cora Morgan, the First Nations family advocate for the AMC, said the federal and provincial policies caused a lot of damage. “There’s so much damage that has been done that we cannot undo,” said Morgan. “You know, the outcomes for our children in care have been… homelessness, incarceration, mental health issues, you know, all the negative aspects that most Canadians are not faced with.”

In the statement of claim, the AMC and other plaintiffs are seeking “an immediate stop to the discriminatory practices that result in the apprehension of so many First Nations children; properly funded services for First Nations children now; $1 billion dollars in compensation to First Nations children, families and First Nations for the damage caused by the child welfare system since 1992; and recognition that the wellbeing of First Nation children must be entrenched in First Nations laws relating to the wellbeing of First Nations children and families.”

The federal government reached a $40 billion agreement in principle earlier this year to compensate children who were taken from their families on reserve.

The new lawsuit is aimed at First Nations children seized off reserve in the Manitoba child welfare system. There are three communities that are lead plaintiffs in the class action: Black River First Nation, Pimicikamak Cree Nation and Misipawistik Cree Nation.

“The child and family services system failed me,” said Amber Laplante, 33, one of three individual plaintiffs in the suit. She was apprehended when she was 14 years old and in the claim said she experienced, “a significant instability, moving between various foster homes, group homes, congregate care institutions, mental health facilities, youth penitentiary, and hotels.”

At the news conference Thursday, Laplante said the system failed her. “When I was in care, I was exposed to violence and trauma. I was always treated as a problem and never as a person. I never received the support I needed to heal,” she said.

Another plaintiff, Roberta Godin, 42, said she had her children and grandchildren taken away.

According to the statement of claim, “Ms. Godin has direct experience as both a child in CFS [child and family services] and as a parent and grandparent of children in CFS in Manitoba. Three of her four children… were apprehended and spent large portions of their childhoods in the system.”

She says she was eventually successful in reuniting with them, but the separation caused great harm. “I’m bringing this case because I believe that no child should grow up away from the love and care of their family,” Godin said. “Instead of supporting us in our time of need, the system just simply took my children and my grandchildren.”

Roughly 80 per cent of children in care in Manitoba are First Nations children.

First Nations leaders say that makes them more likely to face poverty, homelessness, mental health issues and involvement in the criminal justice system.

“Today in our child welfare system, there are thousands of children who’ve been taken from their parents. And, you know, there has to be better ways,” Morgan said.

The statement of claim contains allegations that have not been proven in court. There was no immediate response from the federal and Manitoba governments.

“First Nations children are taken from their homes at disproportionate rates, leaving half of them homeless later in life and making them 24 times more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system,” said Misipawistik Cree Nation Chief Heidi Cook.

“When our children are removed, our nation is robbed of its future leaders and advocates and these connections may never be restored.”

The province didn’t have a comment when contacted by APTN.

Neither Manitoba nor the federal government have filed a statement of defence.


October 26, 2022


ON

Anishinabek Nation leadership encourage implementation of recommendations in Devon Freeman inquest

NationTalk: ANISHINABEK NATION HEAD OFFICE (October 25, 2022) – On behalf of the Anishinabek Nation, Grand Council Chief Reg Niganobe and Anishinabek Nation Children’s Commissioner Duke Peltier have issued a statement in response to the long-awaited inquest into the death of Devon Freeman from Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation.

“We continue to stand with the family of Devon Freeman and Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation who have been courageous throughout this entire process. Evolving policies to eliminate the discriminatory and harmful treatment of Indigenous children and youth in-care must be done swiftly, without additional barriers,” states Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Niganobe.

In 2017, 16-year-old Devon Russell James Freeman (Muska’abo) went missing from the Flamborough site of the Lynwood Charlton Centre in Hamilton, Ontario. Over six months later, in April of 2018, his body was found in a tree on the grounds of the Centre. An autopsy determined his cause of death to be suicide. Tragically, Freeman’s history of suicidal ideation and a previous suicide attempt went unaddressed while he was in-care at the Centre.

Following conclusion of the four-week inquest into Freeman’s death on October 21, 2022, the jury released 75 recommendations aimed at preventing similar tragedies. Recommendations include supporting “the implementation of models of service to enable children and youth to have meaningful, lifelong connections to their family, community, and culture; a sense of belonging; a sense of identity and well-being and physical, cultural, and emotional safety; and that plans of care are reflective of the child’s physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and cultural identities”.

The inquest has also resulted in “Devon’s Principle” – the right of Indigenous children and youth “to return to their home communities when receiving services under the Child, Youth, and Family Services Act”.

“Devon should have had the opportunity to reintegrate with his community. Connection to culture is integral for mental health and identity. Indigenous children and youth placed in non-Indigenous out-of-home care settings, like Devon, face an even greater struggle with connection – they’re caught between two cultures,” states Commissioner Peltier. “The Anishinabek Nation has been working tirelessly to advocate for and protect the rights of Anishinaabe children and youth. Through the Anishinabek Nation Child Well-Being Law, the Anishinabek Child, Youth, and Family Well-Being System, and the Anishinabek Nation Children and Youth Bill of Rights, we are exercising inherent jurisdiction over child welfare to protect and promote the well-being of Anishinaabe children and youth like Devon.”

“We send our appreciation to Legal Counsel Leanna Farr and the rest of the Legal Team for their extraordinary efforts on behalf of the Freeman family, and all Anishinaabe children who have been impacted by the child welfare system,” adds Grand Council Chief Niganobe.

Anishinabek Nation leadership encourage expedient and strong implementation of the recommendations in the Devon Freeman inquest – ensuring children and youth remaining in-care are prioritized, and the right of Indigenous children and youth to return to their home community is upheld under Devon’s Principle.

Associated Links:

The Anishinabek Nation is a political advocate for 39 member First Nations across Ontario, representing approximately 65,000 citizens. The Anishinabek Nation is the oldest political organization in Ontario and can trace its roots back to the Confederacy of Three Fires, which existed long before European contact.

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For more information, contact:

Victoria Racette, Communications Coordinator
Anishinabek Nation, Social Development Department and Koganaawsawin
E-mail: victoria.racette@anishinabek.ca
Phone: 705-978-1188


September 19, 2022


AB, BC, MB, NB, NL, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

Experts warn ending birth alerts not the only solution to keep Indigenous children with their family

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, speaks at a press conference in Ottawa on Sept. 15, 2016. The number of newborns taken into care dropped dramatically as birth alerts ended across Canada, but child welfare experts warn ceasing the practice cannot be the only step governments take to keep families together. SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Globe and Mail: Canadian Press – The number of newborns taken into care dropped dramatically as birth alerts ended across Canada, but child welfare experts warn ceasing the practice cannot be the only step governments take to keep families together.

“(Birth alerts) really risk being kind of a red herring in the real issue of ensuring that children have an adequate opportunity to grow up with their families,” said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. “What we really need to get at is issues of systemic racism, poverty and domestic violence.”

Birth alerts were used to notify hospitals and child-welfare agencies that a more thorough assessment was needed before a newborn was discharged to a parent deemed high-risk.

The practice had long been criticized by Indigenous leaders and other people of colour. The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls said they were “racist and discriminatory, and are a gross violation of the rights of the child, the mother and the community.”

Some areas stopped using birth alerts a long time ago, but provinces only ended the practice in recent years. Yukon, British Columbia and Alberta stopped in 2019. Manitoba and Ontario ended the practice the following year. Saskatchewan stopped using birth alerts early in 2021, with New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia following later that year.

Data obtained by The Canadian Press through freedom-of-information requests shows that 496 newborns nationally were taken into care in 2021 in regions that had ended birth alerts. It marked a drop of 52 per cent from 2018 when 1,034 were apprehended in those regions.

However, apprehensions of babies 12 months and younger dropped only 36 per cent from 2,957 in 2018 to 1,881 in 2021. Much of that decrease is from the effect of the decline in newborn apprehensions.

The Canadian Press analysis looked at the regions that ended birth alerts in 2019 and 2020: British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Yukon and Ontario. It also looked at Saskatchewan, which ended the practice early in February 2021. Regions that ended birth alerts later in 2021 were not included in the analysis because experts say it would be too early to know the effect.

Jeannine Carriere, a Métis social work professor at the University of Victoria, said ending birth alerts was a good decision, but she worries governments are using the move as a “deflection away from the structural and ongoing colonial policies around major issues.” She added: “Poverty is the No. 1 factor for Indigenous kids coming into contact with the child welfare system.”

Indigenous children make up more than one half of all foster children 14 and younger, but only 7.7 per cent of kids that age in the Canadian population, 2016 census data indicates. Thirty-eight per cent of Indigenous children in Canada live in poverty, compared to seven per cent for non-Indigenous kids.

Experts say the overrepresentation is linked to centuries of policies of assimilation and discrimination, such as residential schools.

Carriere said pregnant people need culturally relevant and accessible prenatal care, as well as stable housing and other health and addictions care before a child is born. They also need support after the birth with schooling, employment and connections with community. “Colonialism isn’t something of the past. It’s something that is ongoing,” Carriere said.

British Columbia saw a 51.4 per cent decrease in newborns taken into care since birth alerts ended.

Manitoba had a 65 per cent decrease in newborns apprehended after the practice stopped. But the downturn was much less dramatic for babies 12 months and younger — 32 per cent from the year before and after birth alerts stopped.

There are about 10,000 children in care in Manitoba and about 90 per cent are Indigenous. It’s one thing to say birth alerts will end, but another to significantly reduce the number of children in care, said the First Nations family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

Cora Morgan said her first time witnessing a birth alert was shocking. “How can you do something so cruel?”

Her office continues to get calls from pregnant people worried their babies will be taken. Prevention is needed at the community level, Morgan said. Governments have money to put children in foster placements, she said, but not to support families staying together.

Ending birth alerts has had no effect on the underlying circumstances that put families at risk, added Bryn King, a social work professor at the University of Toronto. Ontario saw a 45 per cent decrease in newborn apprehensions in the year before and after birth alerts ended. There was a 25 per cent per cent decrease for babies aged four days to 12 months.

King said there needs to be a conversation about the appropriate scope for child welfare intervention. If a child has been harmed or there’s an immediate risk, then social workers should act, King said. But, too often, “we are apprehending because there are circumstances that are potentially risky and we haven’t done anything to address those circumstances,” she said.

Every effort must be taken to ensure caregivers have opportunities to address possible risks, King said. That means looking at other interventions, such as housing and mental health support.

Ending birth alerts alone is not the solution, she said. “We spend a lot of money on investigations but not enough on the services and support that would preclude the need for an investigation.”


October 21, 2022


ON

Freeman inquest: ‘Devon’s Principle’ would give Indigenous kids in care a right to return to their community

Lessons from 16-year-old’s life and death form a legacy that is changing how Indigenous youth who are in contact with the child welfare system are treated

Hamilton Spectator: The voice of Devon Russell James Freeman — Muska’abo — has been heard.

Devon was many things: a 16-year-old Hamilton boy trying to find his way; a member of Chippewas of Georgina Island disconnected from his land and community; a beloved grandson, brother and nephew who loved to ride his bike and was good with his hands; a boy forever grieving the death of his mom; and a youth with complex mental-health needs who was failed by the system meant to help him.

After four weeks of testimony at an inquest into his death, Devon is also a changemaker. The lessons from his life and death form a legacy that is changing how Indigenous youth who are in contact with the child welfare system are treated.

On Friday, the five-person jury at his inquest made 75 sweeping recommendations aimed at:

  • improving communication within and between child welfare and other agencies,
  • better flagging suicidal risk,
  • more meaningfully involving First Nations communities in care and
  • adequate funding for organizations to do this work. 

The recommendations includes using Devon’s story as a training module and “Devon’s Principle” — a child’s right to return to their First Nation community if they are involved in child welfare. 

Devon’s grandmother Pam, who pushed for the inquest to happen, said the recommendations went above and beyond what she hoped.

“We want change, we don’t want this to happen again,” she said.

Shannon Crate, Devon’s band representative from Georgina Island, worked alongside Pam to push for the inquest to happen. She too, emotionally, said she was “overwhelmed with gratitude” for the jury and recommendations. In particular she liked the idea of Devon’s Principle as a legacy to the teen.

Devon Freeman became a a Crown ward after his grandmother, Pam Freeman, signed over his custody to Hamilton Children's Aid Society when she was unable to care for him and ran out of treatment options.

“That is so significant for all kids to know where they came from and where they belong, and who loves them,” she said.

The inquest began on Georgina Island. The First Nation community on Lake Simcoe is where Pam grew up until being forced to leave for school; Devon never lived there but was a member. That is where his spirit name — Muska’abo (Red One Standing) — was first spoken. 

The rest of the inquest took place at the Hamilton Convention Centre where the jury heard from witnesses involved in Devon’s care and witnesses who shed light on how our community must do better.

Devon was living at Lynwood Charlton Centre’s Flamborough site, a residential care home for youth with complex mental-health and behavioural needs. He was in the care of Hamilton Children’s Aid Society after Pam had no other choice to get him help. The inquest heard not one agency or person knew the full picture of what was going on with Devon, including several previous suicide attempts. He was unhappy at Lynwood and ran away often — he was reported missing 38 times.

A special ceremony was held to close out the inquest into the death of Devon Freeman. Pam Freeman, Devon's grandmother, is wrapped in a special quilt made of panels of photographs of Devon.

When he disappeared the final time on Oct. 7, 2017, there was no ground search and his case wasn’t initially flagged as a high priority by Hamilton police, who also didn’t know about past suicide attempts.

But that disappearance wasn’t like the previous ones, where he would often show up after a few days at the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre and make his way back to Lynwood. More than six months later, on April 12, 2018, his body was found in a pine tree on the grounds of Lynwood. He died by hanging; his death was ruled a suicide.

The inquest heard his death surprised many of the people involved in his care. But it was not inevitable

A special ceremony was held to close out the inquest into the death of Devon Freeman. Shannon Crate, left, and Lexi Freeman, Devon's sister, hold a special quilt made in honour of Devon to be given to his grandmother Pam.

There were multiple people and organizations with standing at the inquest, including those who knew or worked with Devon: Pam, Georgina Island, Hamilton CAS, Lynwood, Hamilton police, plus individual officers and child welfare workers. Others with standing included the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS), the Anishinabek Nation — a political organization representing multiple First Nations including Georgina Island — and legal advocacy organizations that intervened in the public interest, Justice for Children and Youth and Aboriginal Legal Services. 

  • Lawyers for the parties put forward a slate of 58 suggested recommendations, most of which were adopted by the jury, with some small changes.
  • There were also 16 suggested recommendations, largely tied to funding, that MCCSS alone did not endorse. 
    • The jury made all 16 of those recommendations, calling for “direct, sustainable, equitable, and adequate” funding to First Nations, children’s aid societies and residential service providers to improve care, including Indigenous-led, culturally restorative practices.
  • They also recommended the province collect and analyze data to determine whether child welfare interventions improve outcomes for children and youth.
Hamilton CAS became Devon Freeman's guardian and he was placed at Lynwood Charlton Centre's group home in Flamborough.

The jury made several additional recommendations beyond those suggested to them. This included:

  • expanding recommendations made to Hamilton police to include all police across Ontario.
    • These include creating a dedicated missing person unit,
    • training officers and changing how risk assessments are done in missing person cases.
  • They also recommended the province create an expert panel on best practices to revise the child welfare funding formula to address the needs of Indigenous youth.

At the conclusion of the inquest, the jury foreperson thanked Georgia Island for their welcome and also the lessons from leaders, including Elder John Rice who spoke at the inquest opening and was its final witness. She noted the “courage and strength” shown by Pam. The jury was “deeply saddened by the loss of such a brave, smart and handsome” boy.

Then everyone gathered in a circle for a closing ceremony, organized by the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre. This included a teaching and honour song before Devon’s sister Lexi was presented a blanket, and Pam a feather.

Crate presented everyone at the inquest with a beaded key-chain bearing Devon’s picture, along with paintings for each juror and a quilt stitched with Devon’s photographs for Pam. 

Many of the people who participated in the inquest have emotionally said this process has forever changed how they view their work. Pam said “that is what impresses me most” and makes her the most optimistic for change.

The recommendations made by the jury are not legally binding, but each of the named parties must respond and state if and how they are following each recommendation.


October 5, 2022


QC

New investigation into allegations of rights abuse of an Inuk child placed in isolation in a youth center

The Commission launched an investigation of its own initiative after being informed of the situation of an Inuk child who had allegedly been placed in isolation in a rehabilitation center of the CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal.

NationTalk: Montréal – The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse launched an investigation of its own initiative after being informed of the situation of an Inuk child who had allegedly been placed in isolation in a rehabilitation center of the CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal.

According to the information reported, the child was placed in isolation for prolonged periods. He would not have received the required health care in a timely manner, thus worsening his situation. He was also allegedly forbidden to speak in his mother tongue during his interactions with other Inuit youth.

Considering the nature of the alleged information, the Commission will investigate in accordance with section 23b) of the Youth Protection Act, having reason to believe that rights have been violated. The purpose of the investigation is to verify whether the alleged facts are true and whether the child’s rights are respected. It is also intended to ensure that measures are taken to prevent the situation from recurring.

As with all Commission investigations, the process is not public. The Commission will notify the media at the time this investigation closes and may make systemic recommendations public, if any. Findings or recommendations that relate to a child’s individual situation or case are not made public.

For protection and confidentiality purposes, and in order to protect the privacy rights of youth under the DPJ, the Commission will not comment further on this investigation and no interviews will be granted

The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (Human Rights and Youth Commission) ensures the promotion and respect of the principles set out in the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. It also ensures that the interests of children are protected and that their rights recognized in the Youth Protection Act are respected and promoted. In addition, the Commission oversees compliance with the Act respecting Equal Access to Employment in Public Bodies.

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Source:
Dalia Alachi
514 475 4571
dalia.alachi@cdpdj.qc.ca