Madeline Joe is frustrated that her copy of the Q’ushin’tul (Walking Together) Project report is still sitting on her shelf gathering dust years after it was completed.
She said that the report’s call for a drastic overhaul of the province’s foster care system in relation to Indigenous children seems to have fallen mostly on deaf ears.
“It burns me that almost no action has been taken on these issues,” said Joe, a member of Cowichan Tribes and a co-author of the Q’ushin’tul Project.
“We’ve been waiting 10 years for child welfare legislation. How long do children have to wait?”
The Q’ushin’tul Project report, which was released in 2019, stated that children and youth from Cowichan Tribes and other First Nations are disproportionately being seized and placed in foster care by government workers from the Ministry of Children and Family Development and other delegated aboriginal agencies.
The report, which was also written by Jennifer George, said that as of June, 2019, more than 200 First Nations children from the Cowichan Valley were in the care of the ministry and other delegated agencies, and called for major changes in the child-welfare system.
After numerous interviews and meetings with people who have been impacted by the seizure of children, the report’s writers found many Indigenous people feel marginalized when dealing with the child welfare system.
Many also feel that the processes are too complex to understand, there is a lack of local community-based advocacy services, there is a lack of support for parents whose children have been removed, and there are a lot of concerns about systemic discriminatory practices and racism in the system.
“Indigenous child and family wellness services must meaningfully take into account the social realities of the Hul’qumi’num people [which includes Cowichan Tribes and other local First Nations],” the report recommends.
“There is a need to create and implement a community-based advocacy program that serves the family, while honouring, recognizing and implementing the inherent rights of the indigenous community. There is also a need to develop and implement a family-led, inclusive model of service delivery.”
Joe said since the report was released, Cowichan Tribes has set up an off-reserve service to support children that were taken away from their families and attempts to reconnect them with their culture, language, customs and traditions.
“But no one is stopping the taking of the children in the first place,” she said.
“We need to focus on child-welfare legislation that will keep families together. We need support services on and off reserve that will work with the ministry and parents that would see the parents get the counselling, education and life skills they need. Once child-welfare legislation is put in place, those connections can be made. However, almost nothing is being done and our children are still being taken from their families at the same rates as in the past.”
Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau helped Joe and George research and write the report and said she agrees wholeheartedly with Joe’s concerns.
She said she’s also frustrated that there has been so little movement on the report’s recommendations, particularly from the province.
“When the report was completed in 2019, we went to the Ministry of Children and Families and gave the minister the report and walked her through its recommendations, and I also went to the select standing committee for youth looking for the committee to speak to the authors, but nothing happened,” Furstenau said.
“The scale of the changes needed is enormous, but what we’re seeing is just little changes around the edges. The reality is that the system needs to be transformed to one that supports families, reconciliation and healing.”
Furstenau said this is an important file for her, and noted that there have been some “great strides” made in the Cowichan Valley.
She said the Hiiye’yu Lelum Society’s House of Honourable Mothers, which provides support for mothers and children, is “really fantastic”.
“I’d like to see some of the resources going into the Ministry of Children and Families shifted towards supporting families and communities,” she said.
“The reality is, we have to get away from colonial mindsets.”
Representatives from Cowichan Tribes didn’t reply to inquiries on the issue.