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Indigenous Children and Canada's Foster Care System


In 2021 many indigenous children were found in unmarked graves near residential school areas.

Residential schools were an inhuman tool used to assimilate native children into society, but they left many children with intergenerational trauma from the range of abuse they suffered. This also resulted in some of the children not being able to properly connect to their culture until early adulthood. Advocates say children welfare programs in Canada have replaced these residential schools.

Image is courtesy of APTNEWS.

Foster care system today

Today Canada’s foster care system has an overpopulation of indigenous children. In a 2016 census, 52 percent of children in foster care were counted as indigenous.

According to BBC The welfare systems services on reserves are severely underfunded. Cindy Blackstock, Executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society said, “In 2016 we actually got a legal order for them to stop that discriminatory provision of services because it was driving these kids unnecessarily away from their families in numbers that far exceed residential schools. The government welcomed the decision and then didn’t comply.”

Image is courtesy of MACLEANS.

Ways to reduce numbers

It is necessary to review neglect cases, provide correct materials, and train and educate social workers about the history and impacts of residential schools. These were the initial and second steps to reduce the representation of indigenous children on welfare programs. The third was to implement Jordan's principle, a legal requirement with the purpose of eliminating inequalities of services for First Nation children.

According to Blackstock, a lack of proper assistance was a contributing factor in children entering welfare programmes. According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the care system is a funnel that leads to imprisonment, with 31 percent of people incarcerated in 2018 and 2019. This figure does not correspond to the 4.5 percent of adults who are incarcerated, implying that Indigenous people are overrepresented in imprisonment statistics.

Furthermore, Blackstock says the federal government must address socioeconomic conditions that lead to child separation from their parents. High child poverty rates, above-average suicide rates, and long-term water and housing infrastructure concerns on reservations are examples of these issues "funnelling" children into welfare programs, according to BBC.

On January 4 2022 the Federal Government and First Nation Leaders struck a deal worth 40 billion dollars to compensate affected youth from Canada's welfare system. Half of the money is geared towards compensation while the other half is for reform of the system on the reserves, as stated by CBC . If approved, compensation would begin for children on reserve and in Yukon for children who were taken from their homes between April 1 1991 and March 31 2022.

The Assembly of First Nation predicts that 200,000 children and youth will be qualified for the agreement, however, how they will receive is still unknown. Patty Hajdu said, "Our expectation is that $40,000 is the floor and there may be circumstances where people are entitled to more." Parents and caregivers may also be eligible for payment.

Resources and Further Reading:

Article Author: Idil Gure

Article Editors: Stephanie Sahadeo, Sherilyn Wen


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