'Kinship Care' program needed to fix broken child welfare system

What would you do if a parent with some obviously incorrigible teenage child showed up at your door in the middle of the night and the parent said: "Take this child. Maybe you can do better!"

There's too much bad press about Child and Family Services, First Nations welfare worker says

Bobbi Pampana, CEO of the Southern First Nations Network of Care says the stronger families are, the fewer children will end up in care. (CBC)

What would you do if a parent with some obviously incorrigible teenage child showed up at your door in the middle of the night and the parent said: "I just can't take it anymore. This kid won't listen … always getting into trouble ... and I know it's just gonna get worse!

"You take this child. Maybe you can do better!"

Our agencies do not want to take children into care. We want strong, healthy families living with hope and opportunity.- Bobbi Pompana, Southern First Nations Network

It's a common reality for child welfare agencies. The agencies do what they can, but often they end up just accepting the blame for the situation, which now has more than 10,000 kids in care in Manitoba. 

That's what Bobbi Pompana, the chief executive officer of the Southern First Nations Network of Care, says.

There comes a time when she stops and literally screams: "Get off our backs."

"These are complex problems steeped in poverty reaching back to colonialism and the multi-generational impact of the Indian residential school experience," Pompana says after taking a deep breath.

"Our agencies do not want to take children into care. We want strong, healthy families living with hope and opportunity, and yet as soon as that number comes up so high or another horrible human tragedy takes place, the media places all of the negative publicity on the agencies.

"We want to work with police, and with people who work in the justice system, like probation officers and social workers, the people who work at community-based recreational, cultural and educational organizations to combine our efforts, to strengthen families instead of combing the streets for some missing kids who have come into conflict with their parents or the justice system. 

"We can't do that when we're constantly defending ourselves from some shortfall in the system [that] leaves all of us without the resources to deal with the problems before they happen."

'60s Scoop

Pompana has been working in the child welfare system ever since the infamous "Sixties Scoop" revealed the tragic consequences of removing indigenous children from their natural parents. The kids were placed in adoptive families outside their communities and culture, supposedly to provide the child with things their biological parents couldn't give them because of things like poverty.

The Sixties Scoop scoop didn't work, but a movement toward "devolution" was beset with problems as well.  

"Devolution was vastly under-funded, but the key failure was that money for indigenous staff training and development of alternative, indigenous-based programs wasn't there," says Pompana.  

Even worse, traditional values and cultural ways had been de-prioritized and there were few programs available to reintroduce indigenous ways of doing things. 

It is well known that the main reason the social system in Canada is broken is because of poverty, yet the resources to overcome this poverty have not been made available. Adults need money/jobs to pay for positive social, cultural, recreational and educational programs that will help them and their children stay away from negative activities — activities that bring them into conflict with society and the criminal justice system.

Yes, both the parents and the child need to take responsibility for their actions, but they should be given a proper chance to live a positive lifestyle.

Easy to blame agencies

Pompana says an easier answer is to just blame the agencies. 

"There is too much negative publicity about the Child and Family Service (CFS) agencies apprehending children, when really the opposite is true," Pompana says.

"What we really want to do is to work in a positive way with all of the other groups who are involved with our children and youth to make positive social changes." 

Pompana and the Southern First Nations Network of Care have introduced a new program called "Kinship Care" into the system. Kinship Care addresses the need for more foster homes that are parented by indigenous people. It does this by simplifying the foster-parent-approval process and brings more of a cultural balance to the entire affair.

"We are still going to meet the provincial standards required to become a foster parent, such as police background and abuse checks, but we also need to recognize the real-life situations of indigenous people who would make excellent foster parents.

"For example, there are medical backgrounds and checkups required from family doctors and many of these families do not have a family doctor," says Pompana. "A medical reference from a walk-in clinic is not accepted and this disqualifies some very loving and responsible people from stepping up and caring for children.

"We also need to culturalize the system. Devolution was necessary but it was tragic to see how few resources were available to carry our history, culture, traditions and lifestyle forward. Our agencies have developed cultural camps and organized knowledge so that kids in care can develop the sense of identity they need to cope with growing up, and have knowledge, pride and a sense of identity about their culture and history — their lifestyle and traditions."

And that needs to be a vital component, not some afterthought.

Kinship Care reduces the numbers of children in care by setting them on a more positive path and keeps them out of care by introducing them to more positive choices before they need to come into care.

'Makes sense to me.

Don Marks is a Winnipeg writer.


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