More First Nations Children Removed From Their Homes Than Ever Before

More First Nations Children Removed From Their Homes Than Ever Before Canada, News, North America, Regions
February 17, 2012

Source: The Victoria Times Colonist

Three times more First Nations children are removed from their families today than at the peak of the residential school system in 1949.
— The Victoria Times Colonist

The two girls were just standing there staring at the shower room wall, confused and afraid.

It was 1982, and Cindy Blackstock was a university student working at a group home in Prince George when the aboriginal girls were brought in. They were sisters, 10 and 12 years old, and social workers had taken them from their home on a reservation because of parental neglect.

The girls were sent for a shower. When they didn’t return, Blackstock went in to check on them.

“I’ll never forget the look in their eyes. It was as if they had been shoved into a different world.”

They had never seen a shower before.

In the months to come, Blackstock watched the sisters struggle to adapt to their strange new world. She started questioning whether being thrown into foster care was harming First Nations children as much as the environments they were being removed from.

Three times more First Nations children are removed from their families today than at the peak of the residential school system in 1949.

Then, approximately 8,900 aboriginal children were taken from their families and placed in residential schools. Now, more than 27,500 First Nations children are in foster care.

According to former auditor general Sheila Fraser, First Nations children are being placed in care at six to eight times the rate of other Canadian children.

Most of us are probably familiar with that uncomfortable feeling of staying in a stranger’s home, perhaps being billeted for a sports event or while on vacation. We don’t know the rules, the expectations or the way things work there.

Now imagine how that feeling must be magnified for children who have just been ripped away from their family. Worse still for First Nations children placed in non-aboriginal homes, adding culture shock to the mix.

“We know that children in care are more likely [than those who stay with their families] to have substance misuse issues, more likely to have involvement with the criminal justice system, more likely to have mental and physical health concerns and are less likely to succeed at school,”

says Blackstock, who worked for 13 years on the front lines of child welfare and is now executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

There are situations where removing a child from their home is absolutely necessary, such as cases of sexual abuse where the child cannot be protected by a nonoffending adult. Blackstock argues in many more cases, however, children are taken because of neglect resulting from poor housing and nutrition, substance abuse or the inability of impoverished families to meet the needs of a child with special needs.

Many of these problems could be solved in the home, allowing children to stay with their families, if the resources were there.

But for First Nations families on reserves, the resources aren’t there.

According to a study cited by First Nations groups, children on reserves receive 22 per cent less funding per child for child welfare than other Canadian children, particularly for services that would help them stay with their families.

Blackstock says social workers dealing with First Nations children are undertrained on the factors driving First Nations children into foster care, under-resourced, overworked and overwhelmed.

“It’s like giving Canadian soldiers nothing more than shovels and telling them to go fight the U.S. army.”

Children on reservations are caught in a no-man’s land between governments. Provinces manage child welfare, but Ottawa is responsible for First Nations.

Jeremy Beadle is a 15-year-old First Nations boy in Pictou Landing, N.S. He has autism, cerebral palsy and other health challenges. His mother, Maurina, was able to care for him until 2010, when she suffered a stroke that put her in a wheelchair.

With additional support, Jeremy could stay at home, but the federal government won’t provide it. If Jeremy and Maurina were not First Nations, and lived just a few hundred metres away – off the reserve – the province would provide support.

Ironically, the federal government will pay to put Jeremy into an institution even though it would cost thousands more than simply providing the services at home.

Jeremy is at home now and his First Nations group is paying for the additional costs of his care, but the money is running out. The First Nation is taking the government to court with a discrimination claim to get the support Jeremy deserves.

It feels like we’ve learned nothing from the suffering of the residential schools. Although these children are not being subjected to the same systemic abuse, the effect of thousands more First Nations children plucked from their families and culture and placed into care is, in its own way, every bit as traumatic.

Child welfare for Canada’s First Nations is a vastly complex issue, and there are no easy answers or quick fixes. However, simply giving these children as much support as all other Canadian children would allow many more of them to live in a healthier home environment.

Thirty years later, Cindy Blackstock still thinks about those sisters.

“I wonder, if they could, would they say to the social worker who took them from their family, ‘You promised us a better life.’ I don’t think they got one.”

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

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  1. When Secwepemc Child and Family Services knocked on my door 4 yrs ago I was a happy single father for 3yrs and had a secure job working with the Ministry of Forests for 6yrs and we were already set up for a family treatment ctr, This was, as I see it, already a success story until I accepted SCFS offer of help and signed a “voluntary agreement” I had felt a need to sign because the mother was unable to help at the time and the children and I went through 5 daycare workers in 1 summer,
    Secwepemc Child and Family Services is an agency put together by the surrounding chiefs,put together by aboriginals for aboriginals but is being run into the ground by the non-aboriginals (social workers,team leaders and director)who are running it, while blatantly destroying the very families they are being paid to help.
    My once happy family was imposed with no contact for 6 mo’s(even while the children where being transferred from one home to the other) and then impossed with 5min supervised phone calls, we have now after some seriouse fighting have been granted 1hr supervised visits! Are the white majority God’s gift to our native children? Definately NOT!

  2. Lisa Roulette says:

    This has been going on for generations. Hopefully the Idle No More movement will help the Canadian government undertand that the world is watching and that this kind of neglect of First Nations people will not be toleratd.

  3. ernst says:

    I think it would be wonderfull if the goverment had funding to teach our
    first nation and other young families parenthood.
    But we can not count on that, not all fosterhomes are strange there is a lot
    of people they dont see it as a job and have the families involved, so if everything works out for the parents the children have it easy to go back and interact with the familie and comunity. And not all white people look down to the first nation people ( a saying is we all one people one nation all colors ) and some people like to help not to critisies and use

  4. Cheryl Williams-Barger says:

    And so it continues……………=:0(

  5. Katie says:

    Any way you can make a link for the pure text version? I’m a teacher and I’d like to use this in the classroom.When I copy and paste into Word it still has the black background, which I’d love to avoid printing…

  6. Tammy Gadwa says:

    Hi, Its so sad to see so many kids taken from their parents and their community. My dad worked with Child Welfare for many years and he said that it was never easy removing children from their homes. He passed away on July 9, 2011 and I guess he did a good job, because we had a lot of the children attend the funeral. It was so touching knowing that some of the kids said that they were going to miss their mosom. He always said to treat the kids the same way you would treat your own kids and he did just that. My parents took in some kids too, and to this day we all still keep in contact with quite a few of them. we always hear from them that they miss their mosom so much and that they will never meet anyone like him. He believed that the children should be left with their families, and all the parents needed some times was just a little push and actually teaching them what a parent is supposed to do. But, he also believed that kids did need to be removed if sexual abuse was involved. Removing kids from their homes was so traumatizing and it broke his heart to do it, but, he had no choice to do it. But, as I said he ensured that the families kept in close contact, he was a big believer in that. I think that we do need more people like him working in this field, Ive worked in this field too, and I have seen how scared the children and families are. Treat them with respect and it depends on you, just you, treat them right because people make mistakes. He had a big heart and will be missed by everyone who knew and loved him. He loved the kids he worked with and was a big believer in treating everyone the way you would want to be treated. Rip Marc Gadwa Nov 4, 2011-July 9, 2011 Hiy Hiy!

  7. julia says:

    i don’t let them in unless if they have a band rep with them. My band will always support my requests for any help. It is sad that some people call them as they are insecure people. I think the CAS should investigate the people filing a complaint and do their homework before they actually pay a visit to your home to confirm the allegations. It is a sad day when we do this to each other. My life with my grandson has been since he was thre, i hired a lawyer to get custody of him without the CAS invovlement. He is 17 now. The total number of visits, i have had was three, and it was due to some complaints and it was all worthless statements that amounted to nothing.
    Miigwetch. Yes i do not trust the CAS, they are an intrusive arm of the gov’t.

  8. I think it is very wrong to take any child away from their parents, no matter what the reason, nobody in this world is perfect. We all have faults, and finding ways to mend those faults is far better than dividing the greatest love children and parents have for each other. The truest love is between parents and their children. How can any system find it acceptable to interfere with this Love. If they really cared they would help them stay to-geather, not separate them to line their own pockets with money. O it is just a job to them, what a heartless job I say, with all my heart. Love Karen

  9. Christine says:

    BTW, there were more like 150,000 children taken from their homes to go to residential school, not 8.900. But it’s stupid because once the kids go into foster care, they have no hope They should have programs in the communities to show them how to parent their kids. And non-Aboriginal people need to stop being so ignorant and telling us to move on with our lives. We need to get back to our old ways before contact, not being a bush Indian, lol, but being more cultural.

  10. Serina Red Robe says:

    My personal opinion is that this may also be a fallback on the residential school system, in that the boarders were not able to be with family and learn family values or “how” to raise a family. Also, the trauma incurred from these residential schools is generational, therefore, we are losing generations of peoples. We are losing “warriors” to alcoholism,drug abuse, any type of MAC, to escape what so many lives have become. The healing and recognition of these factors need also be taken into consideration, by all, for there to be any growth and overcoming.

  11. Jim Brown says:

    This state abuse of Indigenous children coupled with the mass murders of Indigenous women in Canada clearly illustrates that the old Crown policy of genocide against ‘Indians’ is being stepped-up. When will this Royal Masonic lodge killing end? When the People physically stop it! Not before.

  12. Chris Purcell says:

    As one who worked in the Child Protection System for 25 plus years, I can tell you the foster care system is not a good place for children to grow up. I think people initially have good intentions about providing foster care but it doesn’t last with so many children in the system – the lack of support – and not really understanding that the children in their care really do love their parents – the children need to have constant and predictable contact with their parents and be assured that it is not their fault they are separated. Ideally, parents and children should be in a setting which would facilitate protection of the children while helping the parents to develop the skills, etc., which they may need to parent. My heart goes out to the children who bounce from one foster home to another.

    There is a very mistaken belief that the children must be placed in therapy once they are removed. Rarely do the children need cognitive therapy. Frequently they need help in understanding what has happened and they need honesty from those who are involved in the disruption of their lives. Failure to meet the needs of the children once they are removed will do nothing but assure that another generation of people will grow up without adequate skills for parenting.

    Our system in the USA is broken. It needs to be fixed and there are far too many people making the decisions about what to do without knowing what should be done.

    • KEILU BENALLY says:

      Good afternoon; this here can be a touchie subject! Personal experance, I did go to Government Boarding school, in the lower 48. It was tuff! Though, I went there with older siblings’. It was a crash course! Different emotions that came up, that arose a survival mood spirit! Indeed, it was hard to be checked into, boarding school. The hardest thing, was questioning, if this education was and is good for me? Then why, does it hurt, to depart from my Mother’s household? That could be one of the reasons why, subconsciously Natives of the America’s are unmindfull. Of the whole concept, that education is extremely important, in one’s life and future?
      Of course with in them schools there was abuse! The inadequate staff, were very unprofessional. It takes a person with proper balance. To be placed in charge of young adolescent kids! Emotions should not get the best of these people! Do not get me wrong? They have a calling in their lives, but proper training is crital!
      None the less, they gave me an education. While at the same time, planting a seed of bitterness, to the Anglo Saxon of the America’s! Some of us were decived to see that setting up a circle of friends(gangs’), was a way, for protection! Warriors, huh? The truth is, “it was our forefathers that endured most of the suffering!” Sure, I have compassion, for my people… But in actuality, we were not there! You just gotta lo_ok into history and see we were not the only people to be persucuted? The Jew’s, by the Germans’, the Blacks by some Anglo and yes Natives of America, who embraced the slavery movement, the Mexicans’ by the Spainards’, exct…
      Education is important, family also….. But it is sharing the WORD of GOD… That surpasses all understanding! Teach them the Love of GOD, and the WORD of GOD! The whole importance that we ALL, how a job to fulfill, in the body!
      Now is the time, People to Forgive and Praise GOD! He has a standard are high, but when He looks at us, with Salvation, He see HIS SON!! He is good like that! Let it gooooo, the bitterness ain’t worth it! He is faithful and true, Bare His Yoke, is its light!! JESUS saidth; in Matthew 11:30 “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
      !n closing, lo_ok up for Our redemption draws near!
      Warm regards and, “Yah’ ahh-teh'” from your CHISTian 1st, Navajo/Apache Brother ,!!..

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