Social problems at root of foster care in the North

Officials point to high rate of social problems in the North as a reason for so many children being in foster care.
Officials point to high rates of social problems in the North as a reason for so many children being in foster care.(Laura Wright)


The latest census data shows aboriginal children are over-represented in the foster care system and it’s even higher in the North.

Numbers from the National Household Survey indicate they make up half of those in care nationally, despite making up only four per cent of the overall population.

In the Northwest Territories 95% of children in foster care are aboriginal.

Andy Langford, with the Northwest Territories' department of Health and Social Services, said a national study was conducted to see why indigenous children are in foster care in higher numbers than non-aboriginal children.

"What the study found is there are a number of risk factors that are associated with children being in need of protection and going in to foster care," Langford said.

He said one reason there are so many aboriginal children in care in the Northwest Territories is those risk factors are very common in the north. They include poverty, housing issues and addictions.

Yukon's child and youth advocate, Andy Nieman, spent his youth in foster care. He said he felt like a number, jumping through hoops to get through.

Neiman said problems in the system could be solved if workers were trained to nurture kids.

"So that their attitude and their mindset is that I'm treating this child like it’s my child," he said.

The Champagne and Aishihik First Nation in southwest Yukon has wrestled with the issue for years.

Kelly Backstrom is the First Nation’s child and family liaison worker. She said it’s managed to keep more kids in the community, but it still needs First Nation families involved in fostering.

"We really wish that it wasn't there, but reality is it's going to be there and so I think that we need to be part of that process, Backstrom said.

But Nieman said it will only function if government puts up the resources.  

"Sadly it comes back to finances, comes back to resources. And if the financial resource is there a lot of people do better. It's a no-brainer," he said.

Most aboriginal children in care are between five and18 years of age.