New Brunswick

Indigenous social work students hope to deliver culturally-sensitive services

Indigenous social work students are calling for more Indigenous representation in the field to provide informed and culturally-sensitive care to Indigenous youth and families.

They say it's time to "take back our services and make them our own”

Two Indigenous social worker students, Bridgette Moulton (left) from Neqotkuk First Nation in New Brunswick and Leurette Labobe from Membertou First Nation in Nova Scotia hope to raise awareness of the need for more Indigenous social workers in the industry. (Submitted by Leurette Labobe and Bridgette Moulton)

Indigenous social work students are calling for more Indigenous representation in the field to provide informed and culturally-sensitive care to Indigenous youth and families.

Leurette Labobe and Bridgette Moulton, students at St. Thomas University's Mi'kmaq/Maliseet Bachelor of Social Work (MMBSW) program, say they went into social work to make a difference in the lives of Indigenous youth and families. 

But they say the acts and standards they work within aren't made with Indigenous traditions, culture and healing in mind.

"I've worked with children my whole life, and I've seen the service gaps, environmental racism, the lateral violence [and] the systemic racism," said Moulton, who's from Neqotkuk, formerly known as Tobique First Nation, in New Brunswick. 

Moulton, from a family of seven, babysat her younger siblings and the children of other families in the community, then later worked as an educational assistant. After pursuing business, she realized she wanted to empower those in her community.

"Our children are hurting and our people are hurting, and it's time that we take care of them. We have to take back our services and make them our own. Mainstream social workers — they don't understand our community, they don't understand our people, they don't understand our hurt."

Labobe and Moulton spoke with Information Morning Fredericton about the important role Indigenous social workers play in their communities, and how existing legislation falls short in allowing them the ability to provide informed care.

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"That's kind of our job to implement the community, elders, our culture, our traditional spirituality - none of that is in there, it's not Indigenized at all," said Labobe, who's from Membertou First Nation in Nova Scotia.

Labobe, an Indigenous student support worker, said her inspiration stems from her own experience.

Mi’kmaq/Maliseet Bachelor of Social Work Program student Leurette Labobe presented at the social action fair at Mount Allison University on Dec. 1 to raise awareness about the "#YouGood?" campaign. It aims to start conversations around Indigenous suicide. (Submitted by Leurette Labobe)

"I just came from Indigenous parents that have struggled with their own intergenerational trauma, addiction, poverty [and] oppression," said Labobe, who is a mother of five. "These things led me down a dark road and depression and turning to things such as drugs and alcohol, and I just don't want to see young people going that way."

A background steeped in colonization

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada found that historical and structural factors, including the creation of residential schools, and the Sixties Scoop, where an estimated 20,000 Indigenous children were put into foster care, along with chronic underfunding of services on reserves led to the overrepresentation of First Nation youth in the child welfare system. 

An estimated 299,217 child maltreatment-related investigations were conducted in Canada in 2019, according to the latest Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect report by the Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal (CCWRP).

Of these investigations, 15 per cent involved First Nations children.

In New Brunswick, a 2019 report by Mi'gmaq Child and Family Services NB Inc. stated 28 per cent of children in care of the province are Indigenous, while just 1.3 per cent of New Brunswick's population is Indigenous.

Current Indigenous workers 

Over the past 15 years, 120 students have graduated from the MMBSW program, according to Jeffrey Carleton, associate vice-president of communications at St. Thomas University,

A cohort of 28 students are currently enrolled in the three-year program. 

Samantha Paul, the executive director of Mi'gmaq Child and Family Services NB Inc., said the program is a good initiative in getting more Indigenous people into social work, but the reality of the work can mean new social workers can find it difficult.

"Typically when you come back in the community, there's the Child Protection component always, [even though] we're doing more prevention work now than we've ever done in the past," said Paul.

"It's lovely to be able to get in there before things get too far [out of] hand. But we can't always guarantee that those are the cases that are coming through the door."

The federal government has provided more funding for Indigenous child and family services, after the Canada Human Rights Tribunal ruled in 2018 that the federal government must fund First Nations agencies' prevention measures, and the funding must be timely.

There are no updated 2020 numbers on how many Indigenous youth are in the care of the province, due to last year's pandemic.

But Paul says two years into prevention efforts, they've already noted a decrease in the number of children who have come into care.

"It would be interesting to see provincially what that looks like now, and of course that's due to the fact that we're able to do prevention work."