Alberta fails to place children in culturally appropriate foster homes

The Alberta Government has by its own standards, been unsuccessful in placing the majority of Aboriginal children in foster care in First Nations’ homes.

According to the most recent Human Services report, the Alberta Government has fallen over 10 per cent short of its intended goal to have at least 50 per cent of Aboriginal children paired up with First Nations caregivers.

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada comments, “If you weren’t able to take care of your child, you’d want them in a home that teaches the same values and the same spirituality. You’d want them in a home that would keep the child within their own family, neighborhood and school.”

“With Aboriginal people it’s very similar. And because of colonization our cultural groups have been really under attack so it’s important for us to do what we can to maintain our cultural identities,” says Blackstock.

But there are several reasons that account for the Alberta foster care system’s inability to support that process.

Many people like Coordinator of the Native Students Centre at Mount Royal University, Cory Cardinal believes that part of the problem is that government social workers’ lack of knowledge about First Nations people, makes it harder for them to recruit Aboriginal foster parents for Aboriginal children.

“As a Native, I’m tired of government in my life” 

-Tania Big Plume, Aboriginal foster care parent

“I think something like mandatory Indigenous studies should be part of the programming because a lot of their clientele are going to be Aboriginal,” says Cardinal, “It would help them just to have some understanding of why and what that community is about. They are trying to phase it in here at Mount Royal but it’s still not required to get a degree in social work.”

For many Native people, the baggage of colonialism still weighs heavily and makes them reluctant to again open up a relationship with the government through the foster care system.

“As a Native, I’m tired of government in my life, you have it constantly, from birth you’re marked, you’re numbered” says former Aboriginal foster care parent Tania Big Plume.

Big Plume and her husband decided to withdraw from the foster care system and seek private adoption instead after many years of frustration with the countless regulations and guidelines imposed on them.

“I’m going to be in this child’s life for 18 years and the government still tells me where I have to take them to the doctor, where I have to send them to school and ultimately the government has more say in the parenting of the child than I do,” says Big Plume, “It’s very discouraging.”

Cory Cardinal with the Native Students Centre at Mount Royal University.

Photo by Jennifer Dorozio Blackstock agrees that there are several flaws to the foster care system in Alberta and that placing Aboriginal children in culturally appropriate homes is beneficial for the children, but is often ignored by foster care agencies.

“Although I’m sure they are making great efforts, off-reserve agencies don’t have the level of cultural knowledge or community knowledge in order to leverage or identify those placements,” says Blackstock.

When asked about the discrepancy between the amount of aboriginal children being placed in culturally compatible homes and the provincial government’s target, Kathy Telfer, communications director for Alberta Human Services commented, “We are committed to working with our provincial and territorial partners in the coming months to explore ways to improve support to families and the child welfare workforce to reduce the number of Aboriginal children in care.”

Services like the Signs for Safety and First Nations Designate programs are designed to ensure that Indigenous children are being placed in safe homes and remain connected to their culture have been deemed successes by Human Services Alberta.

“only as a last resort consider foster care as an option”

-Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada

“We know that we are making a difference. There has been an 11 per cent decrease (5,594 to 4,997) in the number of Aboriginal children in care in the second quarter of 2014/15 compared to the second quarter the year before,” says the representative.

Though placing First Nations children in culturally appropriate foster care homes is vital, both Blackstock and University of Calgary sociology professor, Bruce McLaurin agree that the best way to resolve this issue is through preventing children from being removed from their homes.

“What we want to do is to keep these kids healthy first and to prevent them from ending up there in the first place,” says Blackstock.

“When families go through difficulty, let’s get in there and support that family to be able to safely care for their kids at home or within their extended family unit and only as a last resort consider foster care as an option.

knorr762@cjournal.ca, jdoro286@cjournal.ca