PEI

Native Council of P.E.I. president questions why they weren't 'at the table' for foster care review

While the provincial government's recent review of the Island's foster care system is a positive step forward, the Native Council of P.E.I. says an opportunity was missed when they weren't asked to provide input. 

'None of us were asked to be on this committee'

Lisa Cooper, president and chief of the Native Council of P.E.I., says the council should have been included in the province's recent review of the Island's foster care system. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

The Native Council of P.E.I. says an opportunity was missed when they weren't asked to provide input for the provincial government's recent review of the Island's foster care system.

The review was conducted over the past two years by a committee including staff from Child and Family Services, representatives of the P.E.I. Federation of Foster Families and the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island.

The review resulted in 32 recommendations for change.

The recommendations range from providing increased training for foster parents, to paying them more, to making foster children more involved in decisions around their own care.

"None of us were asked to be on this committee," said Lisa Cooper, president of the council. 

Off-reserve concerns

"A lot of our community members that live off-reserve, they are non-status so they wouldn't be on a band list. They may be Cree or Ojibwe so they wouldn't even be on that band list so why is there only one Indigenous organization on this committee looking at recommendations?" she said. 

People who work with vulnerable families are raising concerns about the length of time kids in care were separated from their families during the first wave of COVID-19.  (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

In an email to CBC, the province said it respects its relationship with the Native Council of P.E.I. and appreciates its commitment to their members' children. 

"The department worked with the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. to hold two meetings with approximately 30 individuals. Discussion and feedback centred on working with Indigenous children, families and caregivers on- and off-reserve," the statement said. 

Access to culture

Cooper said the council would have brought valuable input to the review on issues like the specific supports off-reserve Indigenous children on P.E.I. are in need of, such as increased access to Indigenous culture.

One of the council's mandates is to work with non-Indigenous foster parents who wish to foster Indigenous children. 

"We bring them in, we find out what they know, we make a dream catcher with them, we teach them the medicine wheel, the smudges, the medicine, how to do that so their home is more accepting when an Indigenous child comes into their home," she said. 

"We've been advocating strongly with the director of family and child services or the family and children themselves, that it should be mandated to take cultural competency training through the Mi'kmaq Family Resources Centre or the bands if they're wanting to foster Indigenous children."

Indigenous foster parents

She said as of now, there aren't many — if any — Indigenous foster parents on the Island, which can act as an additional barrier to the wellbeing of Indigenous children off-reserve. 

The review of the P.E.I. foster care system was conducted over the past two years by a committee including staff from Child and Family Services, representatives of the P.E.I. Federation of Foster Families and the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

"To me that's a concern too, how many Indigenous foster families do we have? Currently as I know, I only knew of one on the whole Island. And if we only have one, what are the barriers to that?" Cooper said. 

"We're looking at the continuation of the Sixties Scoop where you're removing children from a home of Indigenous families and you're putting them in non-Indigenous families," she said. 

The Sixties Scoop is the name given by some to a government practice in Canada from the 1960s to 1980s of removing Indigenous children from their homes and placing them in foster homes or putting them up for adoption.

'In an ideal world'

In its statement to CBC, the province said it will "continue to work with the Indigenous Children in Care Committee to identify training for foster parents to increase their understanding of the needs and experiences of Indigenous children in care." 

The Indigenous Children in Care Committee is comprised of staff with Child and Family Services, Indigenous elders, foster parents, staff of residential services, Mi'kmaq Confederacy staff, and the Native Council of P.E.I. 

"In an ideal world you would bring all ... organizations together — the Lennox Island Band, Aboriginal Women's Association of P.E.I., and the Native Council of P.E.I. — and you would ask us as Indigenous representative organizations what are your concerns over child welfare, what services can you provide?" Cooper said.

"The Native Council should have been at that table because it is representing a large number, well over 1,000 members."

More P.E.I. news

With files from Kerry Campbell

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