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Indigenous people to have greater control over child welfare under new B.C. legislation

4 Indigenous governing bodies preparing to take over jurisdiction
Mitzi Dean, Minister of Children and Family Development, announced changes to the provinces legislation on child welfare on Oct. 26, 2022, that will give First Nations greater control over Indigenous children and youth. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)

B.C. social workers will soon have to consult with Indigenous governing bodies before taking one of their children into provincial care, under new proposed legislation.

Changes to the Child, Family and Community Service Act and the Adoption Act will give Indigenous communities jurisdiction over the treatment and care of their own children for the first time since colonization. This will impact some 3,403 Indigenous children.

Once passed, the new legislation will allow someone reporting a child in need of protection to contact Child Protection Services or, alternatively, one of the four Indigenous governing bodies – Cowichan Tribes, Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations, Splatsin First Nation and Sts’ailes First Nation – preparing to take on jurisdiction. If someone takes the traditional route of reporting their concerns to the province, a social worker will be required to connect Indigenous children with a governing body and work with them to ensure a culturally-appropriate care plan.

“The colonial era of the province controlling child welfare must come to an end – and this legislation cannot be passed soon enough,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, said in a news release.

The child welfare system has been criticized by many as the modern-day equivalent of residential schools, taking Indigenous children away from their families and separating them from their culture. Despite only making up 10 per cent of the general population, Indigenous children represent 68 per cent of those in care.

Putting control back into the hands of Indigenous communities is expected to lower that number, Mitzi Dean, Minister of Children and Family Development, said.

“We know that the current child-welfare system is a continuation of harmful colonial practices, and the solution is to re-assert jurisdiction over their children, youth and families in accordance with their customs, traditions and Indigenous laws.”

READ ALSO: ‘The bond is broken’: Data shows Indigenous kids overrepresented in foster care

Changes to the legislation would make B.C. the first province in Canada to explicitly recognize Indigenous Peoples’ inherent right to determine how their children are cared for. It would also align with a federal act passed in 2020 – an Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Metis children, youth and families – which recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ inherent right to self-government, and several standards in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

So far, Cowichan Tribes, Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations, Splatsin First Nation and Sts’ailes First Nation are developing a plan with the province and federal government. Within the coming months they’ll begin working with the province to transfer the care of Indigenous children already in the system and determine how best to care for those just entering it.

It’s likely other Indigenous governing bodies will also emerge as funding from the federal government is determined and they’re able to develop their own child-welfare services, the province said. The new legislation also calls for an Indigenous child-welfare director within the Minister of Children and Family Development to aid in coordination between the province and Indigenous communities.

READ ALSO: Child welfare system must focus on sense of belonging for Indigenous Peoples: report


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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media.
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