Monday, August 31, 2009

I am a Witness, Will You Be One Too: Human Rights for Canada's First Nations Children & Youth

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal on First Nations child welfare begins on September 14, 2009 in Ottawa, and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada has launched a new campaign which needs your help.

Please spend two minutes supporting the "I am a witness" campaign. This campaign calls on caring Canadians and people from around the world to sign up to say they will witness the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which is reviewing a complaint that the federal government discriminates against First Nations children by providing them with less child welfare funding and benefits than other children receive. Being a witness means you agree to follow the case by either attending at the tribunal in person or following it through the media. After you have heard all the facts presented at the tribunal, you will be in a good position to make up your own mind about whether or not you feel the federal government is treating First Nations children fairly.

A year after the apology for residential schools, we want the Canadian government to know that caring Canadians and people from around the world are keeping watch over this generation of First Nations children.

Sign up to be a witness at

Background to the Human Rights complaint:

On February 27, 2007, the Assembly of First Nations [AFN], a political organization representing all First Nations in Canada, and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada [FNCFCS], a national non-profit organization providing services to First Nations child welfare organizations, took the historic step of holding Canada accountable before the Canadian Human Rights Commission for its current treatment of First Nations children. The complaint alleges that the Government of Canada had a longstanding pattern of providing less government funding for child welfare services to First Nations children on reserves than is provided to non-Aboriginal children.

The inequalities in First Nations child welfare funding are longstanding and well documented (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples [RCAP], 1996; McDonald & Ladd, 2000; Loxley et. al., 2005; Amnesty International, 2006; Assembly of First Nations, 2007; Auditor General of Canada, 2008; Standing Committee on Public Accounts, 2009) as are the tragic consequences of First Nations children going into child welfare care due, in part, to the unavailability of equitable family support services (McDonald & Ladd, 2000; Blackstock and Trocme, 2005; Amnesty International, 2006; Clarke, 2007; Auditor General of Canada, 2008; National Council on Welfare, 2008). This inequity is further amplified for First Nations children by shortfalls in education funding, housing and publically funded voluntary sector supports (Blackstock, 2008).

In October of 2008, the Canadian Human Rights Commission ordered a tribunal to determine whether or not discrimination had occurred pursuant to the Canadian Human Rights Act. The tribunal is similar to a court process with all evidence taken under oath. The AFN and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society will present the case supporting our allegation that the Canadian Government is discriminating against First Nations children and then the federal government will respond. The Tribunal will then decide if discrimination happened or not. If it did happen, then the Tribunal can order a remedy to the discrimination. The tribunal is open to the public.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Are We Creating Healthy Villages for Aboriginal Children & Families?

The timing of this story, as quick as it came and went, is very important, as Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal social service agencies and MCFD child protection teams are bracing for cuts. The rumour mill is in overdrive and fear is rampant about funding cuts to already maxed out agencies, trying to meet the needs of a growing mass of marginalized people in BC.

By Marc Storms and David Hill,

Special to Times Colonist

August 20, 2009

The axiom that "it takes a village to raise a child" is true in any culture, and particularly within Canada's aboriginal communities. Unfortunately the mandates of our appointed government ministries and their delegated aboriginal agencies to protect children too often work in opposition to this concept.

Rather than supporting the "village," under-resourced agencies typically resort to apprehending children and placing them in government care -- care that too often is not culturally appropriate and may not even be safe.

Paul Willcocks' recent series of columns highlighted a case that shows how clearly devastating this practice can be. New parents -- the mother just 20, barely out of the system herself -- were unable to find adequate housing and were forced to stay with relatives whose home was considered unfit by the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Subsequently, the child was removed and placed in foster care, where he was injured and left with severe and permanent disabilities.

Although the child was eventually returned to his parents -- along with government financial support to help deal with his disabilities -- how unbearable must it be to know that you have had your family life turned upside down because you are poor and your family and community are not healthy enough to provide the support you needed.

Aboriginal communities struggle daily with the sad legacy of more than a century of non-aboriginal government "interference" -- including but not limited to the imposition of residential schools and the resulting loss of language and connection to family that has left a massive gap in the knowledge and confidence of aboriginal parents to raise their children effectively.

While today's aboriginal children and younger adults may have no direct memory of residential schools or the abuses suffered by their parents and grandparents, they continue to be impacted, and the result is the continuous cycle of greater government involvement and a further deterioration of parenting and family development capacity, exponential increases in child apprehension and a greater reliance on state-sponsored supports.

Government agencies have a responsibility to intervene to provide protection and support, but bureaucracies make poor parents in any culture. The solution is not found in merely placing aboriginal children in foster homes; rather, we should be investing in building capacity to create healthy communities that provide safe and effective parenting, using the traditional cultural knowledge and practices that are specific to each community.

Training, skill development and ongoing support for community-focused and culture-based programs delivered by and for aboriginal peoples represent an opportunity to make a critical investment in the future of aboriginal communities, their children and the province as a whole. As a Tlingit elder told us, aboriginal people "don't need to be told how to raise our children; we just need to be reminded."

Government has made sporadic investments toward building capacity, typically through short-term, proposal-driven funding opportunities that few communities are able to access. While we have seen positive results from these efforts, what is required is a shift in policy and a sustained financial commitment to ensure that communities are able to continue to build their strengths over the long term. This investment will in turn reduce the need for government intervention, lessen strains on the child protection system and help aboriginal communities to have greater control and responsibility for their families. Ultimately this will benefit us all.

It does take a village to raise a child, but it must be a healthy village. By making a focused and sustained investment in the inherent skills, knowledge and culture of aboriginal people, our government agencies will contribute to the health of the village, and help to end the unnecessary cycles of intervention that perpetuate the crises facing aboriginal families.

Marc Storms and David Hill are two of three co-founders of GMG Consulting (Good Medicine Group), a firm that has provided building services for aboriginal communities and agencies across Western Canada since 2001.

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What's the Real Story?

Colour me cynical, I have to wonder why the RCMP waited 4 days until this all came out to release this story and have it go big? Hmmmm. It would be extremely distasteful and potentially harmful to try to create a media event out of a child and family's life... to deflect attention away from other VERY pertinent matters.

Langley, Surrey - Baby Boy Apprehended during Search
RCMP 'E' Division Media Release. 2009-08-11.

Baby Seized from 'Disgusting' Home full of Transients, Drug Paraphrenalia
The Province. August 11 2009.

Seized baby has good parents: family
CBC News. August 11 2009.

2010 Games ahead of domestic violence help?
CKNW. 8/11/2009.

Days after learning at least three services offered by Family Services of Greater Vancouver will lose funding from the provincial government, the executive director of the non-profit organization is wondering if social services are taking a back seat to the upcoming 2010 Olympics.

Teri Nicholas says programs like New Westminister's Domestic Violence Response Team are being cancelled at a time the government offers civil servants paid time off to volunteer at the games, "Is a woman's life worth $44,000? Because the women we are working with and helping are, many of them, in life-threatening situations.

On Monday, Dix released a Vancouver Coastal Health document outlining plans to cancel more than 6,000 surgeries and close at least 13 operating rooms before March.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Housing First for BC’s Impoverished Children and Families

Housing First for BC’s Impoverished Children and Families
BC Association of Social Workers

“A ‘place of your own’ is crucial to every family feeling protected and secure, and provides shelter, safety, privacy, an identity and a place to care for each other.”

Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Representative for Children & Youth
The Representative’s latest report highlights the pressures that marginalized and vulnerable families face in their struggle to find affordable housing to care for their children. She states, “whenever the government or its agents step into the lives of families, they must do so for the right reasons and with the right tools.”

This report details
the traumatic removal of an infant from his young parents, his placement into multiple foster homes within a short span of time and reports on the tragic consequences of a multi-directional systemic meltdown and a lack of supports, resources and anti-poverty measures that would have supported the child to remain where he belonged - with his family as a healthy, nurtured and valued member of his community.

The BCASW supports the Representative’s key findings and recommendations and urges MCFD to move quickly towards action and implementation.

A reactive, crisis-driven child welfare and social service system that defaults to removing children from vulnerable families rather than working together to find creative solutions to poverty, social exclusion and marginalization creates more problems, tragedy and poorer outcomes.

Investment in human and social infrastructure and capital is the most enlightened way forward at this precarious time in BC’s child welfare and social service systems. Children in the care of MCFD have a right to be treated with the highest duty of care that a society can offer its most vulnerable and fragile citizens. The government of British Columbia must improve its commitment to the safety, protection and enhancement of the lives of all of BC’s children. Their lives and well-being depend on it.


Tracey Young, MSW, RSW
Chair ~ Child Welfare & Family Committee
BC Association of Social Workers



Housing, Help and Hope: A Better Path for Struggling Families.

Representative for Children and Youth

A struggling young family needed short-term housing assistance so their baby could be safe, but instead the child was taken into government care. A Representative for Children and Youth investigation into a First Nations baby’s critical injury finds that many of the systemic factors that played a major role in the infant’s removal from his parents still exist today.

Three Part Series by Paul Willcocks
Victoria Times Colonist & Paying Attention:

A little boy, failed by the system and forgotten by the rest of us

August 3rd 2009

The representative for Children and Youth set out his story — how he went from a healthy baby boy to a three-year-old who had suffered devastating injuries that left him with cerebral palsy. He’s blind in one eye, can’t walk yet and faces a life of struggle.

It’s worth pausing to think about this. The baby was barely five months old and had been with his parents and in three different foster homes. All good intentions aside, as a parent or grandparent, how do you think a child you loved would handle those changes? How long would he cry for a missing blanket or a person he had come to associate with comfort?

A child taken away because his parents were poor

August 4th, 2009

The result, the representative found, is that children are taken from their parents because they are poor. "This places the basic human rights of children in jeopardy and tears families apart in tragic way, especially aboriginal families trying to recover and rebuild," the report found.

System just wasn't set up to help this baby

This is not an isolated case, the report suggests. It notes two ministry internal audits found 50 to 84 per cent compliance with its standards in the region where the boy lived while in care. The B.C. Association of Social Workers - representing frontline workers - said the report documents "the tragic consequences of a multi-directional systemic meltdown and a lack of supports, resources and anti-poverty measures."

And considering that this baby was taken from his parents and sent through a series of foster homes because his family was poor, it's notable that B.C. has had the highest rate of child poverty in Canada for the past six years. This baby boy's rough life, sadly, wasn't an aberration.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

More Setbacks for BC's Abused Children

As a former child protection social worker, I've had the privilege of working with the specialized Child Protection unit (similar to the SCAN unit in the story) at BC Children's Hospital. The loss of the SCAN unit in Victoria is a devastating blow to abused, neglected and victimized children on the Island. The specialized training and unbelievable professionalism, sensitivity and compassion of the people working with children, parents, caregivers and professionals seen in these kind of programs is unparalleled.

How low have we sunk in BC that we would allow our government and health authorities to do away with a program that provides specialized health care to children who have been beaten, broken, raped, physically and sexually abused?
How could a responsible health care administration fail to have contingencies in place to replace key staff who leave these important kinds of programs? It is incomprehensible.

The time has come for all of us to step up and tell the government - our children matter, they count and we cannot allow them to be mistreated any longer.

Find your MLA here and tell them these cuts are unacceptable and this program must be restored ASAP.


Island's only child abuse unit closes

Shutdown forces some victims to travel to Vancouver for help

Lindsay Kines, Times Colonist. August 1, 2009.


The only specialized medical team for assessing child abuse and neglect cases on Vancouver Island has shut down, forcing some young victims to travel to Vancouver for help.

The Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) unit, which operated out of the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children's Health, included a part-time psychologist, registered nurse, social worker and receptionist, Damstetter said. The unit received about 200 referrals a year.

Child Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond urged officials to get the program up and running again as soon as possible. It's not good enough, she said, to rely on emergency-room physicians who may lack the training, expertise and backup team needed to handle complex child-abuse cases.

Turpel-Lafond also questioned why VIHA allowed the Island's only SCAN team to disband because one or two people departed. "You can't place the whole team on an individual," she said. "It's a team. Individuals will come and go ... You need to be prepared for transitions."