“Are you clear to attend social services with reference to an apprehension of a child?”. Reluctantly, you give the double click on the mike. Signalling ok to the dispatcher. No further words are needed, you will go, even though you know there are no good outcomes.
This type of story plays out daily, across the country, in our largest cities, in the expansive rural areas, and in isolated locations. In the Jane-Finch corridor of Toronto, or the Whalley “flats” of Surrey, it is not particular to any race, cultural or religious background.
However, recently the Federal Liberals and your ruling government have made First Nation and Indigenous child welfare a pillar of their next election platform, and have now made the returning of the jurisdiction for child welfare back to the First Nations and Indigenous groups a priority: to be run by them and for them. They are asking the Provinces to turn over their authorities over these very sensitive and complicated matters of safeguarding the undefended children. They are making this a singular issue, and that issue is now resonating as a talking point in the constant “reconciliation” dialogue. The “Sixties scoop” like “residential schools” are always the cornerstones of their argument.
As recently as January of this year the Federal government led by the infamous two; Philpott and Bennett, proposed a six part plan which they tried to strong-arm to the Provinces. Their plan involved the “drawing down” of jurisdiction on child welfare. In other words, in this “emergency” meeting, they were proposing that the Provincial governments sign on to handing over jurisdiction for Child Welfare back to the Indigenous communities.
Wisely, none of the Provinces signed. As of yet anyways.
Their policy intentions for the First Nations and Indigenous groups is both naive and dangerous. There is no solid foundation to this house of cards, and what they want the general public to believe is more than misleading. It is built on a fallacy, a fallacy which is repeated daily in political circles, the old theory that if you say it enough it must be true.
One needs to explore the grit and grime of what these type of situations are in reality. Invariably, it will be something like this.
You anticipate that the house will be rundown, the evidence of poverty and neglect will be oozing from the either overly hot, or cold, un-finished residence. The kitchen will have stacks of unwashed dishes, grease layered frying pans, and boxes of macaroni or canned spaghetti will be overflowing from any nearby garbage container. The linoleum or worn carpeted flooring will be unswept, the toilets and sinks mineral stained and there will likely be evidence of alcohol or drugs or both. There may not even be running water.
The bedrooms will have clothes strewn about, and their will be piles of unwashed children’s clothes on the floor, encircling the washer and dryer. There will be dogs or cats or both. Children’s toys will be everywhere, misleading evidence of proper care.
And the children if young, will be running about, sometimes in dirty unchanged diapers, there mouths encircled with remnants of the last meal. They will cling to you, seemingly any attention being worth their efforts and affection. They will also be clinging to a favourite doll or stuffed animal. They will be invariably sick, running noses, and slightly fevered foreheads.
The teenagers will be either angry or sullen, rarely making eye contact or yelling at you with no apparent rationale. They will be usually be slumped in a chair or a couch. The girls will have too much makeup, and the boys will have too many cheap gold chains and sporting the latest WWF hoodie. Rap music will be on their ever present headphones as they pretend nonchalance.
The room will be filled with tension, and apprehensiveness, and you will be unable to distinguish which way this will end up. Violence or the threat of violence always simmers below the surface. What parenting is present is expressing incomprehension. We once removed a teenage girl from a residence and the mother did not see anything wrong with the fact that her 10 year old daughter’s morning chores including sticking a needle of heroin to her mother as she lay in the bathtub before she went to school.
The parents will be unable to explain bruises, lash marks from a telephone cord or t.v. cable, or the fractured skull and blurred vision of the child. If drunk, the male or female parent will likely physically try to intervene, screaming at the top of their lungs, dial 911 while you stand there in uniform, or call for the nearby friends and relatives to come to their aid.
The parents will often be teenagers themselves.
As you witness or photograph injuries, the bile will rise in your throat, you will want to hurt the offender who stares at you spitting obscenities.
And you will carry that young thrashing child from the residence, little fists hitting you in the face or pulling at your cheeks. And you will fundamentally realize that it is unlikely that this child will be “normal” again, nor will it likely get to know their parents in any meaningful way. But you may have saved their life.
The children may grow up hating the sight of the police who took them from their parents, or love you because they were terrified, and you were a calming voice. Flip a coin, the result is never predictable.
The ivory tower politicians and academics are never around when this is going on. Their reality is that this is a question of racism. This is not about safety of the children, it is about “cultural genocide”.
Carolyn Bennett, during the meeting with the Provinces, and in the subsequent media scrum, continually made her “impassioned plea” to take away the authority from child welfare agencies of seizing endangered children and placing them in non-indigenous foster homes. Bennett goes on to explain that she wants to not repeat the “mistakes” of the Residential schools, and the “Sixties scoop”, because she does not want to alienate kids from their traditional languages, and “culture” and “support networks”. She does not mention safety of the child.
Philpott calls it a “humanitarian crisis” and also echoes it being reminiscent of the “residential school system”. Philpott describes the seizing of these children almost as semi-conspiratorial, unknowing (white) authorities swooping in, and taking away these children.
There is little doubt that there is in fact a crisis. The Reserves are the epicentre of these child tragedies. Their numbers are staggering.
In Manitoba alone, there are about 11,000 children in custody and 10,000 are Indigenous. Across Canada, there are 4300 children under the age of 4 in care who are Indigenous. There are 40,000 Indigenous children across the country in care of all of the Provincial agencies.
Poverty is almost a guaranteed undercurrent, common to many of these situations. Third generation welfare festers these social wounds. In Saskatchewan 2% of the population is on welfare, while 44% of the people living on Reserves are on Federal welfare.
And the Indigenous population is exploding, and as the population increases, there is a parallel increase in the number of indigenous children in need of care.
From 2006 to 2016 the Indigenous population of Saskatchewan grew by 42.5%. A growth rate four times that of the rest of the population. More children being brought into this world, more children succumbing to poor housing and indentured poverty, more children falling into the child welfare system.
So far Ottawa spent $200 million last year for child welfare to aid the Indigenous cause, and are spending another $256 million this year.
The Liberals are misleading the public. They are perpetrating a myth to further their political goals, in efforts to appease the Indigenous leadership. They want to be the heroes to the Indigenous, with little cost to them, as the Provinces have jurisdiction over Child Welfare. It is a cute move to brag about their moving forward, while at the same time downloading the responsibilities and the problems to the Provinces.
As one who has assisted in such seizures, the seizure of children and placing them in foster care is actually not an exercise born of racism, of wanting to disband a society and a culture, as they would like you to believe. These kids, which Ms Bennett and Philpott want to leave on these Reserves, in the care of “Auntie” are in real physical danger.
They want to give the leadership of these Reserves control over the system which tries to save them from abuse and neglect, they feel that by giving them control of the Child welfare systems, everything will be righted. This logic is indefensible.
The truth is that when social service workers reach a decision to seize a child, it is after undergoing a very lengthy process including a full debate of the circumstances, a review of what has been tried and failed, often after a consultation with First Nations support groups or their own social worker agencies. They have proposed a foster outcome, after they have already explored the potential for other family members to be involved. And to foster these children, it is simple logistics, there are not enough foster homes on the Reserves, there are not enough capable “Aunties” to take all these children.
There is no need to accept this proposition, one just needs to explore the cases.
Lets take the case of “Levi” (a pseudonym) which is a case out of Alberta. His tragic eventual death was a glaring example of how cases flow through systems in all the Provinces which are struggling to deal with the Indigenous cases on the Reserves.
Prior to Levi even being born, the family, mom and step-Dad were the subject of Child Welfare authorities for the preceding eight years. If the problems of the family could be summed up, there are the usual obvious patterns; family violence, parental addiction and homelessness. Throughout Levi’s story addiction treatment was used, mental health treatment was given, parental supervision orders were issued repeatedly, and foster care was the final approach tried.
When Levi was 18 months old, living in a blended family of five other kids, his mother voluntarily asked that he be taken from her and placed in foster care. Instead, the Ministry worked with Mom, keeping Levi in the house.
Things settled down a bit, but it wasn’t long before the police were dealing with the family as there had been further assaults and restraining orders which resulted in charges.
A Family Supervision order was issued when Levi was 5 years old. When Levi was 6, Mom again requested that all three kids be placed in foster care, and this time her wish was granted, and in arriving at foster care, the kids were found to have head lice and needed extensive dental work. A week later, an uncle requested the kids back, got them back for about a month, but then he gave up, and he sent the kids back to foster care.
Levi eventually was sent home to mother once again, who had undertaken addiction and mental health courses as had the now back again step father. Living with mother lasted two months, and then he was sent to live with grandmother. While visiting his mother who lived nearby Levi was exposed to another serious assault, and also a suicide which occurred in the house. So another month went by, back to foster care he went.
By now Levi was in Grade 3 but reading at a Grade 1 level, and Levi now was asking that he be able to stay with his foster parents. But on his 9th birthday, Levi was once again returned home to mother, again under another Supervision order. The violence and the drinking continued, and on his 11th birthday, Mom again asked that he be put back into foster care, but nothing happened.
When Levi was 12 years old the police attend to a residence where everyone was intoxicated, and this time Mom said she hadn’t seen Levi for a week. He was found living in a tent, saying he couldn’t handle the drinking and fighting any longer. For the next three years little is heard of Levi.
At the age of 15 Levi was taken to hospital for intoxication. He was cared for and sent home, but after a couple of weeks, and after talking about suicide by intoxication, Levi went to the hospital once again suffering from severe intoxication, but this time he didn’t recover. Levi died.
There are many other examples from many secondary sources. Some further examples come from The Office of the Child and Youth Advocate in Alberta. In three other cases; the cases of 5 year old Sarah, 2 year old Anthony, and 1 year old Mikwan. (again all pseudonyms), the same pattern emerges, the same depressing attempts to save these children. Their complete stories and their deaths can be read in the full report of July 2107.
These three were all small defenceless children, all born to parents with multiple kids, with alcohol and drug addictions, and a history of domestic violence. All the parents involved neglected and abused these children, all were returned to them after repeated counselling for violence and addictions, after repeated trips to foster care, and a litany of Temporary Guardianship and Supervision orders.
Throughout the workers, including workers from the DFNA (Delegated First Nations Agency), visited, wrote reports, questioned the parents during multiple visits. In Mikwan’s case they actually moved into the house on a 24 hour 7 days a week basis so worried were they about the parents.
All three died at the hands of their mothers, all died of “serious head injury”, “cardiac arrest” “injuries to brain and spine” and “acute head trauma” in these cases. And in all three cases Mom was charged with their deaths.
In summarizing the Mikwan case, the review, that there was a continuing “commitment to work together (between the DFNA and Child Family Services)…and although the policy is in place it does not appear that it is consistently applied.”
If you listen to the Indigenous leadership, all is blamed on lack of funding. There is the circular argument that the Residential schools and the 60’s scoop ruined people and their ability to function, but in the same breath, they say the kids need to be kept within their community, despite inhospitable and dangerous environments.
More money for child welfare, more money to train Indigenous social workers, the ability to run their own child welfare system will cure all according to these leaders. FSIN former chief Sol Sanderson who has spoken for many years about the need for indigenous rights and “reconciliation” says, “we have to do this, if we don’t it will be a disaster”. Mr Sanderson with all due respect, look at the roots of what is going on. It is already a disaster.
By all means spend the billions of dollars some estimate to do all this, put the process in place, find those foster care residences that could not be found before, find all those in-house social workers who are willing to intervene and seize children, those willing to live in isolated communities, and seize children to whom they may be related. And this is after you fix all those social ills that plague the Reserves so that the children can be returned safely.
Maybe then you can take risks with the children. All the money in the world is not going to fix those problems overnight.
But until then, leave the children out of it. They are not pawns, they have no representatives, they can not vote.
For some reason, the cases like Levi, rarely get the public attention, or the attention of the Fifth Estate. Why would that be? Children are being harmed on the Reserves at a horrendous rate. Just look at the numbers.
However, we do hear about the Indigenous groups blaming a failed foster parent. We do hear about the girl winning a case back from the courts who had seized her child. Or the teenage Indigenous boy who was left in a motel at the age of 15 and committed suicide. Not much on the kids that were returned to their families with disastrous results, or when the removal saved the children.
We are not hearing from the social workers, no doubt in fear of being branded racist, or in fear of losing their jobs, as they have always been a politically correct group. There are several cases which show that in an effort to appease the family, was the priority and times when they did not seize the children and they should have.
Case after case, patching emergencies, striving to keep kids with families, many times leaving unconvinced that their supervisor order or plan will work. Every seized child is after a long litany of other possibilities have been tried. The idea that these children are “scooped” up willy nilly is simply wrong.
We are not hearing from foster parents. The majority of foster parents have been vetted, do it for a number of years and they are difficult to find. To think that all will be solved, according to Ms Bennett by finding “Auntie” to take care of the kids is insulting to those that deal with this on a daily basis. To think that all these cases can be absorbed in the Reserve communities on their own is absolute fallacy.
Climb down out of your ivory tower. Ride the social worker police patrol car for six months, bear witness to man’s inhumanity to child, witness the damage being done to those who can not defend themselves. Then tell me it is ok, as long as they don’t lose their culture.
In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a well accepted theorem in the psychological, social, and judicial community. In the hierarchy of needs, there are five stages of needs for a person to arrive at self-actualization. The order in terms of priority are: a) biological and physio logical; air, food, warmth and shelter b) Safety c) love and belonging d) esteem and finally self- actualization. The first four must be met before there is any chance of self-actualization. Culture and language are in that fifth place slot, long after the basic needs are met.
The children in the Sixties scoop and in the current child welfare system are being taken in because their basic needs are not being met. Without that happening, without their physical survival, without their ability to be safe, the ability to be culturally aware is of little use or importance.
Political expediency is the obvious motivator here. In a story from a couple of days ago, the Liberal government announced that they are now going on to the Reserves to plan early “engagement initiatives, and cultural training for staff to better serve Indigenous voters at the polls next year”. Pathetically obvious.
Today in another story from the CBC, they tell the sad story of a mother, Lillian Semaganis, who opened a paper in April 1973 to find pictures of her kids which had been seized being posted up for adoption in the United States. She goes on to explain that all “six” of her children had been taken by Saskatchewan Child Services. Not one question as to why all of her children were taken?
To their credit, the author actually spoke with a person who ran one of the programs Otto Driedger, who said the only goal at the time was “finding children permanent homes”. The alternative he no doubt patiently explained was for them to be in foster homes “because of the neglect there was, or the abuse that there was in families”. The intention of the program he said was not placing them with “white families” that was not the “basis of the child welfare program”. Clearly he is a lonely voice in the debate, who has finally chosen to speak up, however he is being drowned out by the First Nations and Indigenous frenzied claims.
So we now have the Federal government proposing another payment for the “60’s scoop” totalling $800 million. Money to compensate for the robbing of these children of their culture and their identity. No case by case review, no questions as to whether removing the children saved those children. Saving the children does not factor into it apparently.
So let this be a warning to the Provinces and to the Federal politicians who are grandstanding on this issue. First walk a mile in the child welfare shoes, be there, experience the conditions these children are in, look at what alternatives actually exist, and then tell me how this plan will work.
Everyone needs to start looking in the mirror as to real solutions for this crisis.
The first child that someone decides is not to be removed or placed in safety, in the interest of avoiding “cultural genocide”, and that child dies from broken bones or untreated disease as a result. The agony and death of that child will be on your hands.
Using children to further your political agenda will never be forgiven.
This blog is dedicated to “Joe” who played shortstop, while I played third base on a men’s team. He was a good baseball player and we laughed together a lot. The always smiling Joe was part of the Nuxalk nation in Bella Coola.
Joe had a job, a girlfriend, but lived in a home like Levi’s.
While still in his early 20’s “Joe” got excessively drunk, and put a rifle to his head, and pulled the trigger. He and his girlfriend had a fight, and he knew no other way of coping. His family environment dictated and predicted his demise.
As one of the four police officers in Bella Coola, I had to answer that call, and pick up what was left of Joe. In doing the next of kind notification, his family looked at me, incomprehensible.