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born in 2000, illustrates that although the last residential school closed in 1996, for many Indigenous Peoples it has been replaced by a child welfare system that separates children from their families and cultures.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

Nanaimo artist Dave Stevens is displaying paintings inspired by arbutus trees and the Millstone River at Nanaimo Harbourfront Library from now until the end of fall. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo writer and artist’s work goes up at Harbourfront library

Dave Stevens presents work inspired by arbutus trees and the Millstone River

The courthouse in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo man, already in jail, found guilty of sexual abuse of sons

Man previously sentenced for sexual interference involving girl in Nanaimo

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 near Nanaimo

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

Stuffed toys, many with donations pinned to them, are piled in the Lions Pavilion at Maffeo Sutton Park at a vigil May 31 honouring the 215 Indigenous children whose remains were discovered outside a residential school in Kamloops. (News Bulletin file photo)
Thousands donated to child and family service agency following Nanaimo vigil

Toys and money donated to Kw’umut Lelum child and family services

A section of proposed Harbourfront Walkway between White Eagle Terrace and Battersea Road. (City of Nanaimo image)
Nanaimo’s proposed walkway extension project estimated at $25-30 million

City asking for feedback on concepts to connect Departure Bay Beach and ferry terminal

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 near Nanaimo

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 13 to 19

Flag Day, Garbage Man Day, International Panic Day all coming up this week

British Columbia-Yukon Community News Association’s 2021 Ma Murray Awards were handed out during a virtual ceremony on Friday, June 10. (Screen grab)
Black Press Media winners take gold at B.C. and Yukon journalism awards

Publications received nods in dozens of categories

Frank Phillips receives a visit from his wife Rena at Nanaimo Seniors Village on their 61st wedding anniversary, March 31, 2020. Social visits have been allowed since COVID-19 vaccination has been offered in all care homes. (Nanaimo News Bulletin)
B.C. prepares mandatory vaccination for senior care homes

180 more cases of COVID-19 in B.C. Friday, one more death

A Comox Valley shellfish operator pleaded guilty and was fined $10,000 in provincial court in Courtenay earlier this year. Record file photo
B.C. clam harvester fined $10,000 for Fisheries Act violations

Charges against three others were stayed in Courtenay Provincial Court

Small town residents Reed and Dusty, played by drama students Niya Irving and Cole Simpson, contemplate what brought them to a condemned park and what is keeping them there in the Dover Bay Secondary School production of ‘Bethel Park Falls.’ (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)
High school drama students present outdoor performance at Nanaimo’s Dover Bay

Production to be staged in school courtyard with in-person audience

Police in Nanaimo hope the public can help find Sarah Duguay so investigators can check on her well-being. (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo RCMP trying to find woman who called police for help but hasn’t been located

Sarah Duguay, 40, not reported missing, but police want to check on her well-being

Beef to the pet owner who brought his puppy into the cold beer and wine store, where it promptly peed on another customer’s ankle.
Beefs & Bouquets, June 9

To submit a beef or a bouquet to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail editor@nanaimobulletin.com

Chilliwack cocaine trafficker Clayton Eheler seen with a tiger somewhere in Asia in 2014. Eheler was sentenced to nine years jail in 2018, but was released on bail in October 2020 pending his appeal of conviction.(Facebook)
Director of civil forfeiture seeks $140,000 from Fraser Valley drug dealer’s father-in-law

Clayton Eheler’s father-in-law Ray Morrissey caught with money in Fort St. John by B.C.’s gang unit

Most Read