Indigenous kids in care falling through the cracks due to paperwork, social workers say

Social workers in B.C. say the paperwork needed to notify Indigenous communities that one of their members has been apprehended by the Ministry of Child and Family Development is failing Indigenous kids.

MCFD says it's working on more collaboration, prevention to mitigate apprehensions

Harry Innes was six years old when he was apprehended. He says knowing more about his parents, their struggles and that they were survivors of a residential school would have given him crucial insight about his family history and identity.

Social workers in B.C. say the paperwork needed to notify Indigenous communities that one of their members has been apprehended by the Ministry of Child and Family Development is failing Indigenous kids.  

An MCFD document called Form A  is used in court after a child is apprehended to explain the interim plan, including steps the social worker has taken to "preserve the child's Aboriginal identity." 

The social worker must prove to a judge that they have attempted to contact the child's Indigenous community. However, a worker can just fax the paperwork to the band — but are not obliged to hear back or pick up the phone.

That could mean family or Indigenous community members are not always given the best chance to make efforts to reunite with their family or community member.

'It is very problematic'

"It is very problematic, because all it is is a form verifying what actions you took to notify, and it's only as good as it's interpreted," said a social worker with the ministry, whose identity CBC has agreed to shield to protect her from potential repercussions.

She said she's also discovered paperwork being presented in court almost blank.

"I'm curious as to how it will pass through a court system without the proper information even being added," the social worker said. 

In a statement, MCFD told CBC News it is not aware of concerns related to Form A but are reviewing it.

MCFD also said it is working on implementing recommendations in Grand Chief Ed John's report on Indigenous children in care called Indigenous Resilience, Connectedness and Reunification, especially number 12 which states a more collaborative approach is needed with Indigenous communities at the start of a child protection file. 

'Indigenous care as a cottage industry'

The social worker equates Indigenous child welfare to a "cottage industry" and says it seems that "people build careers off the troubles of Aboriginal people, with very little transformative change."

In B.C., more than 60 per cent of children in care are Indigenous, even though they make up less than 10 per cent of the population. Indigenous children also stay in care longer than any other group.

Wendy White is a social worker and director of 'Namgis Community Services in Alert Bay. She has helped lay the groundwork to ensure that no Indigenous children have been apprehended from the community in more than 10 years. (Village of Alert Bay)

Wendy White, a social worker and director of 'Namgis Community Services in Alert Bay, says she knows the ministry, for the most part, just faxes the First Nation without following up when an apprehension takes place, but she's created structural and cultural measures to deter kids from being displaced.

 No kids have been apprehended by the ministry in Alert Bay for more than 10 years.

 "Our role is to provide resources, information, referrals and support, but we are not the ones guiding the decision-making for the child," White said.

In Alert Bay, if children do need to be taken into care, they are still in contact with the biological parent or parents and continue in the child's life while they sort out potential obstacles to good parenting. As one social worker said, it's "like two canoes side by side on the journey together."

For many former kids in care, having a connection to community and family while in care is big. 

'I grew up lost'

'It would have made a world of difference," said Harry Innes, a Haisla and Cree man who was apprehended by the ministry at the age of six. His parents were both residential school survivors and suffered with addictions

"It would have given me an understanding of my identity and what my family breakdown was. I grew up lost. I didn't have an identity of an Indigenous person at all," Innes said.

Bernard Richard, the representative for children and youth in B.C. says there needs to be more work in child welfare that goes beyond Form A.

"Notification is almost meaningless in terms of care for children and ensuring their care in communities," Richard said.

Richard says what is paramount is changing the culture within MCFD and addressing the residual effects of residential school, that at the time aimed to fracture families and "kill the Indian in the child." 

"Change is happening, but it's not happening fast enough, and we will be keeping a close eye on the rate of change and the amount of change that actually happens," he added.

To hear more, click on the audio below:

Social workers in B.C. say the paperwork needed to notify Indigenous communities that one of their members has been apprehended by the Ministry of Child and Family Development is failing Indigenous kids. 8:04

About the Author

Angela Sterritt

CBC Reporter

Angela Sterritt is a journalist from the Gitanmaax band of the Gitxsan Nation. Sterritt's news and current affairs pieces are featured on national and local CBC platforms. Her CBC column 'Reconcile This' tackles the tensions between Indigenous people and institutions in B.C.