Two Vancouver-based Métis lawyers are calling for an upheaval of B.C.’s child welfare system, claiming it prioritizes the removal of Indigenous children from their homes rather than encourages internal conflict-resolution within Indigenous families.
Métis lawyers Roslyn Chambers and Frances Rosner compare B.C. Child Protection Services to a modern-day residential school system.
“I believe that the current child protection system is residential schools part two,” said Chambers, a lawyer with Chambers Caldwell Law LLP.
“Children are being taken away to non-Indigenous placements often. It’s ongoing racism and discrimination.”
In 10 or 20 years, she estimated, there will be another government apology for what those families are going through today.
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Rosner, a Métis lawyer working as a sole practitioner, said in many cases, Indigenous children who are taken away from their families by B.C. Child Protection Services are denied access to their culture.
“In some circumstances, I’m seeing children are not maintaining their connection to their extended family and Indigenous nation and community,” said Rosner.
“That’s how I see the ongoing residential school system in the child welfare system — because we’re still separating children and families all the time.”
Child Protection Services is regulated by the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development.
In her experience, Chambers said Indigenous parents are expected to meet a higher standard than non-Indigenous families in order to have their children returned to them.
“For example, it’s okay for a non-Indigenous family to have beers at the BBQ and the kids are running around — but if that was an Indigenous family, that could be a cause for concern and there could be conditions and restrictions put on that family simply because they were drinking around the children,” Chambers explained.
“That’s a simple example and that’s a real example of some of the double standards that exist. The ministry wants Indigenous families to be perfect.”
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Chambers claimed the system is “broken” because the ministry puts more of an emphasis on taking Indigenous children away from their families when it should be seeking familial input on how to resolve each situation.
“It’s possibly the easiest ministry option for them but causes the most disruption.”
She said the department often takes away children from Indigenous homes while it’s still investigating a potential issue, rather than as a last resort.
According to the Child, Family and Community Service Act, the province is supposed to take the least intrusive approach, added Rosner.
“What I still see is separation from community and family, really harsh conditions of access and a lack of resources to properly facilitate cultural and community connection,” she told Global News.
Rosner believes the current child-welfare system doesn’t always factor in the trauma, and intergenerational trauma experienced by Indigenous families.
The B.C. government exacerbates the problem by taking children away too soon, said Chambers, and the next generation of Indigenous peoples will grow up facing the same systemic problems.
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Both lawyers say the system needs to place greater emphasis on allowing families or communities to decide who should become a child’s guardian, should a parent be deemed unfit to care for their child.
“I would like to see more supports in place for the family to remain together,” said Chambers. “Some communities have their own child protection branches or departments so that does help.”
The ideal solution, she said, would be to form a committee with stakeholders, which would include Indigenous families, that could sit down with the province and make recommendations that prioritize keeping Indigenous children with extended family and within their communities.
According the Ministry of Children and Family Development, the number of Indigenous youth in the province’s care has declined steadily, and is now at its lowest point in two decades.
Nearly nine out of 10 Indigenous children return to their families after receiving culturally-specific supports, a spokesperson told Global News, including access to knowledge keepers, sweat lodges, and Elder-led healing services.
“We know there’s much more still to do to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care in B.C.,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.
“We’re going to be guided by the families, Nations and communities themselves to make sure that the system we build together is supportive and responsive to the immediate and long-term needs of Indigenous children and youth.”
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