British Columbia

B.C.'s new Aboriginal family court aims to send fewer children to foster care

The province says it's implementing the new provincial Aboriginal family court program to reduce the over-representation of Indigenous children in government care.

Aboriginal children 12 times more likely to be in government care than non-Aboriginal children, province says

The province says its new Aboriginal family court program will keep families together. (iStock)

The province is launching a new Aboriginal family court program that it says will keep families together and reduce the number of Indigenous children in government care.

According to the province, Aboriginal children are 12 times more likely to be in government care than non-Aboriginal children and once in care, end up staying longer.

Clifford White, chief of the Gitxaala First Nation, is already an elder with the New Westminster First Nations Criminal Court and will be an elder with the new Aboriginal family court program.

He told CBC's The Early Edition the program would only consider foster care as a last resort.

"Quite often what happens is our children graduate from foster care into the prison institutions," he said. "We have the highest rates of foster care and the highest number of people within prisons are Aboriginal people. We want to stop that cycle of our people being incarcerated."

In the new program, White said families will be supported by lawyers, elders, extended family and staff to find the best way to allow families or the extended community can keep their children. Families will develop a healing plan with the court and will check in monthly regarding their progress.

White, who went through the foster system himself, said he knows first-hand how important culture and community are when growing up.

"I was fortunate enough that I was picked up by one of our own people and grew up in the culture," he said.

"Culture, language, song and dance, food, dress — all of that stuff that provides the individual with an identity ... I was able to find my way and be able to identify with who I was."

The program will be piloted in New Westminster starting in Feb. 2017.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Chief Clifford White on new Aboriginal family law program