Nova Scotia

First Nation children in child welfare system a 'systemic problem'

A Mi'kmaq health official says there’s still a troubling pattern of placing First Nations children in government-supervised care, years after the last residential school shut down.

1 in 4 children from Indian Brook is in care, says Phillipa Pictou

A young boy is shown at a demonstration in 2006 in British Columbia. Former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo, is holding a sign. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

A Mi'kmaq health official in Nova Scotia says there's still a troubling pattern of placing First Nations children in government-supervised care, years after the last residential school shut down.

Phillipa Pictou, the health director of Pictou Landing First Nation, says one in four children from Indian Brook is in care.

According to Department of Community Services numbers, about 22.5 per cent of children in care are aboriginal, but only 2.7 per cent of the population in Nova Scotia is of aboriginal ancestry.

"I don't think it's a big surprise. Right across the country First Nation children are over represented in the child welfare system and it's certainly true in Nova Scotia," she said. "It's a systemic problem."

Pictou says there's still an echo of the residential school system felt in Nova Scotia. First Nations communities have struggled with addiction and abuse issues.

'Terrifying' court process

"That became a source of inter-generational trauma that still is happening today that is part of the whole picture of why children are disproportionately put into care," she said.

Pictou says one major problem is there's no money to help families before the courts are involved.

"As soon as there's an issue the way to get services for that family through the child welfare system is to then go under a supervision order which then puts them before the courts, which is a terrifying system anyway. That family is then kind of micromanaged in a  way so that they have to do all of the things the court and the child welfare agencies say," she said.

She adds sometimes the child welfare system is sometimes governed by lingering stereotypes.

Changes coming

"The assumption that First Nation families aren't as good as non-native families to bring up children. I don't think it's a deliberate thing in the system, but I think a lot of times those attitudes are there when they're doing risk assessments or if they come into a community and there's overcrowding and a social workers doesn't understand about the lack of housing," she said.

Pictou says the situation will not improve until family support services have more resources.

"One of the positive things that's happening in Mi'kmaq families is the family group conferencing process. The trouble with that is it's very under resourced. In the entire province there are two family group conference workers," she said.

Pictou says one person works on the mainland, the other in Cape Breton.


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