About the project

Throughout our Shifting the Child Protection System project, West Coast LEAF heard very clearly from parents, community members, front-line family-support staff, and lawyers for the need to build communities that work to support one another when advocating for change.

The ability to come together, break down isolation, and learn from one another around family policing advocacy (formerly referred to as child welfare advocacy) has been missing in the BC landscape.

Through a three-year grant, it is our intention to build out spaces for advocacy that include:

  • Skill building
  • Sharing wise practices
  • Generating and supporting collaboration
  • Supporting system-wide change

This project is aimed at improving outcomes for families engaged in the family policing system, as well as those who serve their interests.

Our intentions are to uplift and amplify the wisdom and expertise of Indigenous leaders, families, Elders, and child and family well-being advocates to transform, shift, revision, and reclaim the family policing system from what’s currently an ongoing colonial intervention system to a system of child and family well-being in which Indigenous children, families, and communities will thrive.


What we’re doing

The project is structured around working groups and a steering committee with representatives from the working groups and may include other child and family well-being advocates beyond the working groups, including researchers, Elders, other advocacy groups, etc. The steering committee provides important oversight through ongoing evaluation, troubleshooting, and ensuring transparency, accountability, and alignment with the project goals.

There are three working groups:

legal advocates working group made of people practicing in the area of family policing. The focus may include sharing wise practices for supporting families in the legal system; seeking opportunities for strategic litigation; and policy advocacy.

This group meets on the third Thursday of every month, 9:30-11:30 a.m., on Zoom. If you are interested in joining this group, please get in touch: community@westcoastleaf.org

front-line advocates working group made of people working in the area of family support and development who work with families engaged with the family policing system. The focus may include sharing wise practices for supporting families navigating the family policing system (including after the removal of children from the home), and policy advocacy.

This group meets on the first Thursday of every month,9:30-11:30 a.m., on Zoom. If you are interested in joining this group, please get in touch: community@westcoastleaf.org

A working group of impacted parents and community members. The focus includes capacity-bridging activities on community-level advocacy. The focus and the strategy of the advocacy is being developed by the community and supported by West Coast LEAF, and may include storytelling activities; developing community-response networks; know your rights modules, etc.


Building on our history

The vision for this project builds on our prior work. In 2018, we embarked on a year-long project, Shifting the Child Protection System. This law reform project assessed whether MCFD was meeting its obligations under section 2 of the Child, Family, and Community Service Act (CFCSA) to provide the necessary supports to families to ensure that parents are able to exercise their right to parent and that children’s best interests are met.

The result of this work was the report Pathways in a Forest: Indigenous guidance on prevention-based child welfare . It was created collaboratively by West Coast LEAF and the families, Elders, and staff at Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Friendship CentreLii Michif Otipemisiwak, and the Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre Association.

Prior law reform work includes our 2016 report High Stakes: The impacts of child care on the human rights of women and children, which analyzed the human rights consequences of BC’s inadequate child-care system, highlighting the increased likelihood of child apprehensions when high-quality, culturally appropriate, affordable child care is out of reach.

In the area of litigation, we are currently involved as intervenors in a complaint before the BC Human Rights Tribunal about discrimination in the family policing system. R.R., an Indigenous mother, brought a complaint against Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society (“VACFSS”) under the Human Rights Code for discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, ancestry, and mental disability.


Naming the Family Policing System

West Coast LEAF has been working and learning in the area known as “child welfare” or “child protection” for several years. As we have taken up this work, we have been privileged to learn from families, Nations, and advocates in BC and beyond who have generously shared their wisdom with us.

As part of our learning journey, we have been reflecting on the power of language to name and describe what is often referred to as the “child welfare system.” Family policing scholar and advocate Dorothy Roberts has advocated for people to challenge their framing and language to accurately reflect the system’s harms.

Through this learning and reflection, we have found a more appropriate term to name this system: the family policing system.

This term describes how the system maintains power and control over the lives of families and children – most often Indigenous families and children – through surveillance, regulation, and punishment.

We use the term “child and family well-being system” to name what we are calling for in place of the family policing system. This broad term encompasses different frameworks, such as social determinants of health and Indigenous determinants of health. A child and family well-being system would involve resourcing and supporting children, youth, families, communities, and Nations to thrive according to their own wholistic understanding of well-being, without interference from the family policing system.

To learn more, read our resource guide: The Power of Language: What do “Family Policing” and “Child and Family Well-Being” Mean?


Parents’ Counsel Listserv

West Cost LEAF is hosting an email listserv for Parents’ Counsel members in BC. The purpose of the listserv is to support parents’ counsel who share common values and goals to build community, share wise practices, assist each other with problems arising in their practices, and collaborate on systemic change. This might include questions or discussion regarding:

  • Case law, legislation, and/or regulations
  • Practices and procedures
  • Supporting clients and meeting their legal and non-legal needs
  • Referrals
  • Systemic issues and concerns, as well as advocacy and actions to support systemic change
  • Particular laws and issues affecting Indigenous clients, families, and communities

If you are interested in joining the listserv, please email community@westcoastleaf.org with the subject line: Joining Parents’ Counsel Listserv. You will be sent a listserv registration before being added. Thank you for your interest in joining!


Get in touch

Sharnelle Jenkins-Thompson (she/her), Manager of Community Outreach at West Coast LEAF, is the project lead.

Sharnelle can provide orientation to the working groups, meeting schedules, and Terms of Reference, and can answer your questions.

Email: community@westcoastleaf.org  


This project is made possible by generous funding from:
Law Foundation of BC logo                    HSA