Ottawa

Advocates push for reunification of Indigenous families

More needs to be done to support and reunite Indigenous families in Canada whose children are taken from them, according to the executive director of the Ottawa Inuit Children's Centre.

Indigenous children account for more than 13% of kids in foster care in Ottawa

Karen Baker-Anderson, executive director of the Ottawa Inuit Children's Centre, says Indigenous families whose children are taken from them need to be supported. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

More needs to be done to support and reunite Indigenous families in Canada whose children are taken from them, according to the executive director of the Ottawa Inuit Children's Centre.

Karen Baker-Anderson will be among the child welfare experts, Indigenous leaders, representatives and child welfare experts taking part in an emergency meeting Thursday and Friday about the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in provincial child welfare systems across the country.

First Nation, Inuit and Métis children under 14 make up 52.2 per cent of all children in foster care.

There are 4,300 First Nation children under the age of four in foster care across the country.

In Manitoba alone, there are 10,000 children in care.

The system must work harder to reunite families whose children are removed, Baker-Anderson told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Thursday ahead of the meeting.

Child apprehended

As an example, Baker-Anderson mentioned a young mother who moved from Nunavut to Ottawa to better care for her child, who has complex medical problems.

She didn't know what a bus system was and didn't have money to fill prescriptions, among other challenges.

"So she started missing doctor's appointments, she started not having the medication, and instead of the system spending money where it should have and helping her, her child was apprehended," Baker-Anderson said.

In November, Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott called for an emergency meeting on Indigenous children in Canada's child welfare systems. The meeting is taking place Thursday and Friday in Ottawa. (Fred Chartrand/Fred Chartrand)

"If a child does get removed from a family, it's an opportunity to work with that family, to support that family, and do everything you can to ensure that family is reunited with their child ... That's where the emphasis needs to be, not on the removal of the children.

"It's not always going to be possible [to keep children with their families], but it is absolutely horrific to see a child taken from a family. I've been there. I see my staff in their offices crying. It's horrible, it's horrific. When a child is lost to a community, what is a community without children?"

'A lot of trauma'

In Ottawa, 75 of the 557 children in care are Indigenous — or about 13.5 per cent — and 24 of those 75 are Inuk, Baker-Anderson said.

She said she's glad the meeting is happening.

"We see a lot of trauma in this community, and I think really what we need to do is turn our systems upside down. Any system where a child is served needs to ensure that they are supporting not just the children, but the families," she said.

"And instead of judging, and having these systems that erode families, we need to look at what can we do to support children."

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning