Newsletter: Are any Indigenous psychologists doing parental capacity assessments in BC?

This article originally appeared in our child welfare newsletter. In Brielle’s bi-weekly newsletter, she writes about her investigations, community work and the ethical questions she’s wrestling with. She really appreciates feedback and ideas, so if you’re someone with insights on the system, consider subscribing.

Sometimes Indigenous parents who are fighting to get their kids out of foster care have to undergo parental capacity assessments (or PCAs).

What I want to know is, in a system where Indigenous families are vastly over-represented, are there any Indigenous psychologists conducting these assessments? If not, should there be?

Noelle Hanuse first turned me on to these assessments back in March, while I was reporting Justine’s story. As a Family Support Elder at the Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society, Hanuse worked closely with Indigenous parents who were trying to get their kids out of care.

“I read a couple of Parental Capacity Assessments and it just made my toes curl,” she told me. “White psychologists … who know nothing about the Indigenous worldview are writing up our parents, you know, through this white lens. It’s just so, ‘Oh, the mother was quiet,’ you know. What’s wrong with that? And why shouldn’t she be? Just like pathologizing the moms and the dads. Not looking for strengths at all.”

Hanuse’s concerns stuck with me. A month later, I attended a child-protection conferencehosted by the Continuing Legal Education Society of B.C. where lawyers and judges spent the day discussing the ins and outs of child-protection law. During a panel talk about PCAs, one of the lawyers — who works on contract for the Ministry of Children and Family Development — said she’s been trying in vain to find an Indigenous psychologist in B.C. who will do PCAs.

If anyone knows any Indigenous psychologists who do these assessments, please let me know, she said. I’d like to know too. I’m trying to figure out if it’s true that there are no Indigenous psychologists in B.C. currently conducting these PCAs. And if this is true, I’d like to know why — and what the implications might be for Indigenous families.

I’m also interested in learning about any emerging or existing Indigenous-led alternatives to PCAs. Do you have info or insights? Can you connect me with any Indigenous psychologists who do PCAs in B.C. or Indigenous folks who are developing alternatives to PCAs? (For example, I’m trying to find out what’s happening with this Hulitan pilot project.)

If you can help me better understand, please email me or contact me via Facebook or Twitter, or just call me: 778.903.1982. I’d like to get this story out asap.

Meet the fellows

Last year Dylan Cohen and Diana Oproescu joined The Discourse as Youth in/from Care Media Fellows. They taught me and a host of other journalists about how we can show up differently, more respectfully and responsibly, when working with youth to tell stories about the child-welfare system.

I’m so excited to welcome our 2018 Youth in/from Care Media Fellows: Camellia (or Cammy) Lawson and Shae-Lynn Noskye. Here’s a bit from their cover letters about why they applied for this media fellowship:

Shae: “I would want to take the opportunity to stress the importance of reporters listening to the interviewee’s story in the moment and taking notes instead of thinking up their headline while their recorders are on. I’d tell reporters that trauma informed storytelling is best practice, as well as keeping in contact with the person interviewed until the final edit has been shared to make sure that they don’t feel as if their words had been misconstrued or blatantly ignored for the best story.”

“I would want to further my writing and photography skills while working on subjects such as youth homelessness and the link it has to mental health and substance use in both the person being interviewed and their family histories, among many other ideas.”

Cammy: “There is so much power in the media that could be used to help minorities and oppressed individuals who are stigmatized and misunderstood. I have spent the last few years really involved in the youth in care community and learning what the biggest issues were and advocating for change.”

“Journalism has always appealed to me because it can help give people the truth. It can help inform them of true issues. It can help give people a stronger voice. Youth voice has been growing, more and more people are reaching out for youth voice, but not everyone knows how to have youth voice respectfully. Many times youth are being tokenized or victimized in the process. Some will not speak for either fear of or having experienced having their words twisted by the media. I want to help change all of this.”


  • Earlier this week the B.C. government published its new draft principles, which are intended to guide their relationship with Indigenous Peoples. Thoughts?

  • Katie Hyslop spent months researching “Canada’s Indigenous child welfare crisis” for a special Tyee series. Follow Katie on Facebook to stay in the loop as she rolls out more stories. [end]


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