At our AGM on September 24, 2019 friends and supporters gathered for the release of our new report, Pathways in a Forest: Indigenous guidance on prevention-based child welfare.
The report highlights efforts by Indigenous families, communities, and Nations to revitalize Indigenous approaches to child welfare, develop comprehensive community-based supports, and fight for self-determination.
We spoke with 64 caregivers who shared their stories of fighting to keep their children out of government care, and identified key causes of the harms they experienced: ongoing colonialism, pervasive and systemic racism, gaps in supports and services that could keep families together, and a lack of accountability for state actors.
Families told us that local community-led programs and solutions are the most effective way to support families and communities:
The support programs in the communities have helped me and my family, mostly me, so then I can care for my family. There are a lot of great programs but I had to go and seek them out on my own, there’s not a lot of information on programming. You kind of have to get to one organization and they help you branch out to other community organizations. — Storytelling circle participant
The stories we heard make it clear that we are nowhere near a system that is equipped – in law, policy, resources, and practice – to support Indigenous families to stay together. As one community member told us:
My motto now is: I’m not raising children anymore… I’m not. I’m raising warriors. You better believe that I am going to help them use their voice. And if you see something wrong, it doesn’t matter what you feel about the person. You gotta do the right thing. — Storytelling circle participant
Self-determination must be at the heart of making the child welfare system work for Indigenous families. Communities and Nations must have full jurisdiction over child welfare for all their children, including those living off reserves, and they must be provided with resources to provide the same level of services to their children as are offered to non-Indigenous children.
We’re so grateful to the families, Elders, and staff at Tillicum Lelum Friendship Centre, Lii Michif Otipemisiwak, and the Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre Association, whose insights and guidance make this report a reality.