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born in 2000, illustrates that although the last residential school closed in 1996, for many Indigenous Peoples it has been replaced by a child welfare system that separates children from their families and cultures.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

Carina Stokes, bar manager at Enderby’s Small Axe Bistro, was recognized as one of four exceptional B.C. restaurant workers by the British Columbia Restaurant and Foodservices Association Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (Contributed)
Enderby bar manager recognized as ‘stand-up’ B.C. restaurant worker

Small Axe Roadhouse’s Carina Stokes one of four to receive special recognition from the BCRFA

Dawn Low is the first female CAO for the City of Revelstoke. (Jocelyn Doll/Revelstoke Review file)
Armstrong welcomes new CAO

Dawn Low previously served as CAO in Revelstoke since 2019

18-year-old skier Logan Leach follows his guide, Julien Petit, down an alpine track. The Lumby athlete who is visually impaired has been named to Alpine Canada’s Ski Team ahead of the 2022 Paralympic Games in Beijing. (Contributed)
Lumby’s Logan Leach named to national ski team

The 18-year-old visually impaired athlete officially joins Canada’s Para-Alpine roster ahead of Beijing 2022

Sovereign Lake Nordic Club is the first ski area in Canada to signify its commitment to ending working poverty, by paying all its staff and contracted workers a living wage. (Contributed)
Vernon ski area first in Canada to pay living wage

Sovereign Lake Nordic Club invests in staff and contracted workers

Fair-goers take a ride at the 120th annual Armstrong Interior Provincial Exhibition and Stampede Aug. 28-Sept. 1, 2019. (Katherine Peters - Morning Star)
Armstrong’s IPE not eligible for COVID-19 grant designed for major attractions

Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo criticized the rigidity of the provincial program’s criteria

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

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Police cars are seen parked outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Saturday, January 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police officer charged with assault during an arrest in 2019

The service has released no other details about the allegations

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Christian Eriksen in stable condition, Euro 2020 match resumes

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

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 takes Indigenous children from their families

Most Read