You & Me BC
Child Welfare In BC: Time To Be Allies, Not Enemies
BC's child welfare system needs to start working with families more instead of framing parents as villains
You & Me BC
June 1st, 2022
The system meant to protect and enrich BC's children and youth often does the opposite. One way to improve it is to stop framing parents and grandparents as villains, and start working together as allies.
THE ORIGINS OF PAIN
It is not always enough to change how things work within existing structures; sometimes that structure must be overhauled.
This is true of BC’s child welfare system, and to see why one should look at its origins: the system in place to help children and youth was formed under conditions which instead did irreparable harm to them.
Starting in the late 1800s, Indigenous children were removed from their communities, and forced into residential schools, in a move that would lay much of the foundation for Canada’s child welfare system.
Under the pretense that they were being removed for their own good, children instead suffered and died, while their parents—who provided much safer and caring homes—unsuccessfully begged for their return.
Not only did they incur various traumas in residential school, the absence of positive parental role models, along with stunted cultural development, harmed their capacity to raise their own children.
But residential schools were just the start.
NEW LOOK, SAME EFFECT
As residential schools began closing in the 1950s, the authority of government encroached onto reserves, as the feds made deals with provinces to deliver child welfare services.
These services were poorly funded, culturally insensitive, and predictably did little good - yet instead of acknowledging its own ineffective policies, government placed blame on the parents and swooped in.
In what is now infamously known as the sixties scoop, thousands of Indigenous children were removed from their homes, and the impact was striking.
At the start of the 1950s, just one percent of youth in care were Indigenous, but by the 1980s that number had grown to twelve percent, and today over half of youth in Canada’s foster care system are Indigenous—with B.C. and Manitoba having even higher rates.
In 2022 children are still being taken from home under the argument that it is for their good, so how do these kids fare?
Constant movement from one placement to the next creates instability and prevents the development of protective relationships.
Without stable and effective support systems, youth in care—whether Indigenous or not—are more likely to experience psychological, social, emotional issues compared to children not in care.
A staggering forty percent of homeless youth have been in the care system, reflecting not only the lack of supports when they age out, but also damaging experiences during their stay which cause them to flee.
Harkening back to residential school days, the system that was supposed to protect and enrich these children often does the opposite.
As former youth in care jaye simpson stated, it is ‘residential school 3.0’.
ALLIES, NOT ENEMIES
It has long been obvious that things need to change, and to be fair, there have been recent improvements.
This year the NDP government increased the age to which youth aged out of care receive government support.
But more must be done to keep kids out of care in the first place, pushing back at government’s tendency to appoint itself the savior of children whose parents, in the eyes of policymakers and bureaucrats, simply do not know better.
This requires shifting from a child protection model to family service, which better recognizes the importance of keeping families together and working with them as a unit.
This involves working more closely with parents—as allies, not as enemies—to identify issues earlier in the process and develop culturally appropriate strategies to address them.
It means reducing the poverty which leaves many parents struggling to provide. Social assistance rates can be raised, claw backs to supports can be reduced, and resources spent on keeping young people in care can be redirected to keeping them out.
And it means reassessing whether many of the youth in the system are actually better off for it.
This June the province holds B.C. Child and Youth in Care Week to celebrate young persons in our care system.
But one celebration a year is not enough, nor is the current model of child welfare. It is time to change the system so B.C.’s kids are not the ones paying.
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of You & Me BC. To get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org