Ontario wants to improve its child welfare services for Aboriginal children. So, the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services hired former Anishinabek Nation Grand Council John Beaucage as Aboriginal advisor to the minister of children and youth.
He said his report addresses that and also serves as a tool to provide different ideas for the ministry and in respect to Aboriginal children.
The report is entitled: Children First, The Aboriginal Advisor’s Report on the status of Aboriginal Child Welfare in Ontario. Beaucage spent a lot of time speaking with community members, frontline workers and officials involved in child welfare in the province.
In the introduction of the report, Beaucage notes his surprise at the issues he came across during his research.
“I knew there were issues, but some of the data was eye opening: for one, there are a disproportionate number of Aboriginal children in the child welfare system.”
Data from the Statistics Canada 2006 Census indicates Aboriginal people make up about two per cent of the provincial population. But, Beaucage says, in the child welfare system, it’s estimated Aboriginal children make up 10 per cent of those in care, and some estimates are even higher at 20 per cent.
The system has many effects on Aboriginal children who end up in foster care.
“Children are being fostered out and in many instances to non-Native homes, and being taken out of their community, and so they’re losing touch with their family, culture, language and once again, it’s a process of assimilation, to assimilate a Native child into the greater society,” Beaucage said.
"That leaves holes in a person’s psyche. Young people are just losing touch.
“We saw it with the 60’s scoop, and also with residential schools that when the children are being taken away from their home environment, having their language torn away from them, and their culture torn away, there’s something that’s missing and they spend the rest of their lives looking for it.”
Because of that, Beacage said social issues arise from those situations, such as addictions.
The report includes a long list of recommendations to try to prevent social issues and loss of culture.
Beaucage strongly recommends culture as a base for Aboriginal children in care, and he says, “we should start seeing more Native people on the boards of Children’s Aid Societies and look at ways for Aboriginal organizations to take control of the child protection asset within their regions.”
There are 14 major recommendations in the report, from implementing Jordan’s Principle, to prevention strategies, to First Nation jurisdiction over child welfare matters and implementing customary care practices.
Laurel Broten, minster for Children and Youth Services in Ontario, has committed herself to bettering service to Aboriginal children and families. Broten supports the report from Beaucage, saying that the ministry has already made investments over the past year.
“In the child welfare sector, we’ve been ensuring that we are able to support the unique needs of Aboriginal children. We’ve provided $124 million to the six Aboriginal child welfare agencies in the province each year.”
To address the rate of Aboriginal children going into non-Native homes, Beaucage recommends that CAS use a different system of rating to utilize extended family customary care practices. “The rating system currently rates a household based upon an urban non-Native way of doing things, and it messes up the way things are done culturally. In the report, I suggest there be a totally different way of looking at a household and doing it by way of culture.”
Also included among the recommendations is a call for government to re-institute the band representative program to ensure families have a liaison between the courts and the CAS.
Urban families are not forgotten. Beaucage recommends that a task force for urban Aboriginal children be created to “review the state of Aboriginal children in care and off reserve and make specific recommendations on their best interests.”
It’s hoped the report will continue to gather steam, as an election is around the bend. Broten is also hoping for re-election in her Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding.
“The ministry is examining all of the recommendations and how it can build upon many of the inter-ministerial collaborations that we have in place as we seek to move forward. It’s certainly an active file and folks are very much absorbing the very thoughtful recommendations from the report and we’ll be asking Ontarians on Oct. 6 to be able to continue this important work.”