'We have to step up here': Search underway for Indigenous foster families in Prince Albert, Sask.

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Social Services is teaming up with the Prince Albert Grand Council on a new pilot project that will involve the recruitment of 50 Indigenous foster families in Prince Albert, Sask.

Prince Albert Grand Council wants to recruit 50 First Nations and Métis families for new pilot project

The Prince Albert Grand Council hopes to recruit First Nations and Métis foster families in Prince Albert, Sask. to take in Indigenous children in need. (CBC)

The Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) believes it is uniquely positioned to fill a need for Indigenous foster families in Prince Albert, Sask.

That's why it has launched a recruitment drive for 50 First Nations and Métis foster families living in the city to take in Indigenous children in need as part of a new pilot project with the Ministry of Social Services.

"It's the time now because the reluctance to do it has sort of passed and there is a real wish to do something different," said PAGC executive director Al Ducharme.

'Direct link to the community'

Ducharme said the ministry is "pretty hard-pressed" to find foster families, let alone Indigenous foster families.

He said many First Nations have members living in the city and the grand council feels it can help Social Services with its direct connections to those residents.

The grand council also has 400 employees in Prince Albert, some of whom might consider becoming foster parents, he said.

"They're a direct link to the community, more so than the ministry," he said.

Ducharme said they will try to place a child with immediate and extended family first — before considering a family that isn't related to the youth.

In some cases, he said these off-reserve children might end up with families in reserves outside the city.

"We would place them there in a heartbeat," he said.

He said they hope to succeed by putting Indigenous children in their culture by finding foster parents who they can identify with when they're placed in their homes.

Opportune moment

According to Ducharme, the timing is right.

The care of Indigenous children has become front-page news with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action related to child welfare reform and the introduction of federal legislation on Indigenous family services.

"These are our kids. We have to step up here," he said. "We have to take the risk of taking in these children. We have to look after them."

In a statement to CBC News, Tobie Eberhardt, the executive director of community services with child and family programs under Social Services, said the ministry was "so pleased" to be partners with the grand council on this project.

"Recruiting Indigenous foster families means more home-based care placements that keep Indigenous children and youth connected to their roots and their cultural identity while we work towards family reunification," she said.

Ducharme said the grand council already has experience caring for children referred by Social Services and child and family service agencies at the PAGC's Child Care and Education Centre.

According to its website, the centre provides long-term therapeutic care for youth aged 6-14 and emergency care for children aged 6-12, as well as counselling and specialized education programming.

The PAGC is also working on developing another project that would see First Nations and Métis newborns placed with Indigenous families in the city, Ducharme said.

According to data from the 2016 census, 52 per cent of children in foster care in Canada are Indigenous, but account for less than eight per cent of the country's child population.