Jennifer Charlesworth is B.C.’s third Representative for Children and Youth. (InWithForward)

Jennifer Charlesworth is B.C.’s third Representative for Children and Youth. (InWithForward)

Child welfare system must focus on sense of belonging for Indigenous Peoples: report

Watchdog’s report focuses on Skye, a teen who fatally overdosed after years in care

Editor’s note: The following story may describe scenarios that are disturbing. For support, consider:

The BC Crisis Centre: phone 1-800-784-2433 or online chat: www.crisislines.bc.ca

The First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line and On-line Counselling Service: toll-free at 1-855-242-3310 or through hopeforwellness.ca

The KUU-US Crisis line: 24/7 toll-free at 1-800-588-8717 to provide support to Indigenous people in B.C. For more information, visit: kuu-uscrisisline.com

The Métis Crisis Line: available 24 hours a day toll-free at 1-833-MétisBC (1-833-638-4722).


A watchdog for the care of children and youth in B.C. is calling on the provincial and federal governments to do more to make sure that Indigenous children remain involved in their culture even when they are taken into foster care.

In a report released Thursday (June 10) by the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth, representative Jennifer Charlesworth described how failing to do so led to the death of a 17-year-old First Nation girl.

Skye, as she is called in the report, belonged to the Teetlit Gwich’in Band, whose traditional lands are in the present-day Northwest Territories.

In her report, Charlesworth notes out that the discovery of the remains of 215 on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops by the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation, while shocking to non-Indigenous Canadians, is a weight and legacy First Nations, Inuit and Metis have had to live with for many generations.

Charlesworth said that the story of Skye, who was born in 2000, illustrates that although the last residential school closed in 1996, for many Indigenous Peoples it has been replaced by a child welfare system that separates children from their families and cultures.

“They are different chapters of the same continuing saga – the story of colonialism and the devastating damage it has done, and continues to do, to First Nations, Métis, Inuit and Urban Indigenous children, families and communities across Canada,” Charlesworth said.

Skye was removed from her mother’s care when she was five years old. According to the report, once Skye was removed, the Ministry of Children, Family and Development (MCFD) focused on finding her an adoptive home instead of trying to get Skye back to her mother’s care or at least maintain a connection.

“That focus resulted in three failed adoption plans for Skye before she was 12,” the report stated. “These took a heavy emotional toll and resulted in the severing of any continuing relationship between Skye and her sister.”

The report notes that a potential placement with an Indigenous foster family and a connection with a counsellor were “inexplicably severed.”

Skye moved 15 times during her 12 years in case, lived in eight homes, attended eight schools and have 18 different social workers.

“She wasn’t provided with opportunities to connect with her Dene culture in any meaningful way and she never got the chance to visit her home territory of Fort McPherson, N.W.T., despite clearly expressing her desire to do both,” the reported stated.

According to Charlesworth, this lead to a search for identity stemming from a lack of belonging. Skye fatally overdosed on her 17th birthday in August 2017.

But the report does not only focus on the tragedy that took Skye’s life. She’s described as a “cheeky and mischievous child with a great sense of humour and an infectious laugh. She was spunky, outgoing and vivacious, with a zest for life – a child who bubbled with energy.”

But at times Skye could also be “emotionally reactive and intense,” a child who needed to stay busy and loved rock climbing, swimming and horseback riding.

Charlesworth said that her office chose to investigate Skye’s story because it reveals the experiences of many Indigenous youth in B.C.

While Indigenous Peoples make up just 10 per cent of the population, 67 per cent of the children in government care in the province are Indigenous and MCFD statistics show that an Indigenous child is 18 times more likely to be removed from their parents.

Charlesworth said that Skye’s story also shows the harms of intergenerational trauma; her mother was taken from her family during the Sixties Scoop, a period of systemic removal of Indigenous children from their homes.

“As a child, Skye’s mother experienced extreme abuse at the hands of people known to her and as a result suffered severe and life-long mental health and substance use challenges,” the report noted.

Charlesworth said there is no one solution to the intergenerational trauma that residential schools, the Sixties scoop and ongoing colonial systems cause to Indigenous Peoples.

“The representative strongly supports the resumption of jurisdiction by Nations and Métis and Inuit communities over their own child welfare services that has been enabled by the passage of the federal Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children and families,” the reports stated. “However, the transition process from legislation to actual realization will not be a quick or easy one.”

The recommendations include:

MCFD to conduct a systemic needs analysis of cultural and family support resources required to ensure that social workers are better supported to promote a sense of belonging and identity for Indigenous children and youth in care in relation to their families and culture. However, because the need is urgent, the report said a substantive investment of new resources should be made immediately that can be considered a down payment on the resources identified for the longer- term plan.

  • That MCFD conduct a comprehensive review and revision of all relevant care-planning and case management standards, policies, practice guidelines and training materials with the goal of aligning those materials with the dimensions of belonging, as described in this report.
  • That MCFD distribute Skye’s Legacy: A Focus on Belonging to all staff who work with and plan for children and youth who are in care or who may come into care.

B.C.’s response

Mitzi Dean, Minister of Children and Family Development, released a statement following the release of the report.

“I agree with the representative that, beyond what we’re already doing to improve the child-protection system in B.C., we can and must do more to ensure children and youth who come into care stay connected to their families and their culture, and feel a strong sense of belonging in all aspects of their lives. This is especially important for Indigenous children and youth,” Dean said.

Charlesworth, in a press conference after the report’s release, noted that while Dean did not explicitly, formally accept the recommendations, she did accept “the spirit” of the report.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Indigenous

Just Posted

A concept rendering of the proposed seven-unit, two-storey development at 1129 Riverside Ave. in Sicamous. (District of Sicamous graphic)
Proposed luxury development in Sicamous sparks parking concerns

Seven-unit commercial-residential building planned for Riverside Avenue

The Shaw Centre and the SASCU Recreation Centre are the two largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions on City of Salmon Arm properties. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
City of Salmon staff surprised COVID not cause of drop in greenhouse gas emissions

2020 sees emissions on city-owned properties decrease well below 2019 totals

Shuswap Litas and Son of Stomp head out from uptown Askew’s parking lot on Thursday, June 10, some with teddy bears and stuffies, to ride to Pierre’s Point by Adams Lake community hall to show their support for band members in the wake of the confirmation of 215 children buried at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Shuswap bike clubs ride to support Indigenous communities

Motorcyclists go to Pierre’s Point in solidarity with bands in wake of residential school findings

Interior Health is offering mobile vaccination clinics for the first dose only of COVID-19 vaccine in the Shuswap from June 15 to June 19h. (Interior Health image)
First-dose vaccinations for COVID-19 offered via mobile clinics in Shuswap

Clinic in Salmon Arm scheduled for June 15, other clinics in Sorrento, Malakwa, Chase

The price per litre of regular gasoline was at 145.9 cents at several gas stations in downtown Salmon Arm on June 11, 2021. (Zachary Roman - Salmon Arm Observer)
Gas prices pumped up in Salmon Arm and Sicamous

Price spikes from 131.9 to as high as 145.9 cents per litre

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system also takes Indigenous children from their families, communities and nations

Nathan Watts, a member of the Tseshaht First Nation near Port Alberni, shares his story of substance use, a perspective he said isn’t seen enough. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Watts)
Public shaming, hate perpetuates further substance use: UVic researcher

Longtime addict Nathan Watts offers a user’s perspective on substance use

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
More than 75% of B.C. adults have 1st dose of COVID vaccine

The federal government has confirmed a boost in the Moderna vaccine will be coming later this month

Airport ground crew offload a plane carrying just under 300,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine which is developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
1st batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines won’t be released in Canada over quality concerns

The vaccines were quarantined in April before they were distributed to provinces

The rainbow flag flies beside the Canadian flag outside the University of the Fraser Valley’s Chilliwack campus on June 26, 2020. Monday, June 14, 2021 is Flag Day, and also June is Pride Month. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 13 to 19

Flag Day, Garbage Man Day, International Panic Day all coming up this week

57-year-old Kathleen Richardson was discovered deceased in her home Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Her death is considered a homicide and connected to the slain brothers found on a Naramata forest road. (Submitted)
Condolences pour in for Kathy Richardson, Naramata’s 3rd homicide victim in recent weeks

Richardson was well liked in the community, a volunteer firefighter with a home-based salon

British Columbia-Yukon Community News Association’s 2021 Ma Murray Awards were handed out during a virtual ceremony on Friday, June 10. (Screen grab)
Black Press Media winners take gold at B.C. and Yukon journalism awards

Publications received nods in dozens of categories

Most Read