As It Happens

A New Zealand group shares indigenous method to keep Manitoba kids out of foster care

A Maori group from New Zealand is visiting Manitoba to share its indigenous model to prevent children from being placed in government care.
Katie Murray runs a social service agency in New Zealand that uses Family Group Conferencing and has seen the benefits of the program within Maori communities. (Katie Murray/mamawi.com)

There are approximately 11,000 children in foster care in Manitoba and the vast majority of them, nearly 90 per cent, are indigenous. Numbers like these have some looking for alternative systems of child protection and family services.

Now, a Maori group from New Zealand is visiting the province, to showcase a new approach that has worked in New Zealand. It's called Family Group Conferencing or FGC. Katie Murray runs a social service agency in New Zealand that has been using the indigenous-developed method.

Murray speaks with As It Happens host Carol Off about how FGC might work in Manitoba. Her group has already shared its approach with the Winnipeg community organization, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre Inc. Here is an excerpt from their conversation.

Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre Inc is presenting the Maori Family Group Decision Making Learning Conference on Nov. 17th 2015. (mamawi.com)
Carol Off: Ms. Murray, if you would, what is Family Group Conferencing?

Katie Murray: It's a model that was developed in our country by my indigenous people, Maori. It was placed into the legislation that we have over there and it calls families together of children who are in care or in need of care. The Family Group Conference will pull families and professional people together to make a plan to either stop children from going into care or, indeed, to exit children out of care.

CO: What difference did it make for Maori children once you had this Family Group Conferencing?

KM: It meant that we could go in and develop a plan alongside the immediate family. We could go develop a plan either as a non-government organization or as the wider family. All the concerns were taken into consideration when we make the plan but it also meant that we held those families accountable. They were being held accountable by their own wider family group as well as the community. Also, what the FGC process does is it engages in or with the organizations that need to be part of the FGC plan, like health provider, early childhood provider, all of those components were in so they could add value to the family group conference plan. Families weren't going to try and have to do it by themselves. They were given lots of support from the professional sector as well as the community sector.


CO: You're in Winnipeg now, talking to people about how you do things in New Zealand. What did you think when you heard these numbers of children in care in Manitoba, close to 90 per cent of them indigenous?

KM: I couldn't believe it. Well, 89 per cent of 11,000 children in care, are indigenous. That is an unacceptable level and we hope that the information that we are sharing will help Ma Mawi reduce the kids in care and certainly slow the flow of their children into care because that's unacceptable. When we look at what they've been through so far with residential schools, and a whole lot of other things, we have to think about what legacy that has left. We can see it when we hear that there are 11,000 children in care. We need to create a new legacy and we know that certainly Ma Mawi is an organization that is there and ready to change that legacy.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

To hear the full interview please click on the Listen audio link above.

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