Hi there. My latest story is about how long parents are kept waiting — while their kids are in foster care — for the B.C. Provincial Court to determine whether their kids should stay in government care for good or be returned to them.
This is the third story I’ve written about Justine’s family’s experience of B.C.’s child-welfare system, and I’ll be writing more.
No time to read it? Here are a few takeaways about child-protection cases in B.C.:
- The Ministry of Children and Family Development applies to permanently remove about 700 kids from their families every year (not all these cases will go to trial).
- The Provincial Court is consistently missing its own targets for hearing child-protection cases in a timely manner.
- Parents are waiting months, and sometimes years, for their case to be heard from start to finish in Continuing Custody Order trials.
- The numbers of adult criminal and child-protection cases are higher than they’ve been in five years.
- The number of new child-protection cases has grown by 23 per cent since 2012, from fewer than 9,000 cases to nearly 11,000.
- Sometimes child-protection cases get bumped so the court can hear criminal cases, which have hard deadlines.
Last weekend my cousin, who I know to be a hard worker and a loving and attentive father, asked why I’m spending so much time writing about one Indigenous mother’s experience. He had other questions, too, like:
Did it occur to this mother that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to have four kids when she was struggling to support the first child? And has she been holding down a job while she fights to get her kids out of foster care?
I struggled to answer these questions, as I often do when I’m trying to navigate conversations with my family — conversations that are ultimately about race, white privilege and what it means to be colonized, marginalized and traumatized.
I tried to explain that the work of getting your kids out of care is real. As many parents, advocates and lawyers have explained to me, it often requires completing parenting and counselling programs; hunting for safe and affordable housing; explaining your story over and over again to a series of legal aid lawyers; finding creative, low-cost ways to get to supervised visits with your kids who may be living in temporary foster homes across town or outside of your community; doing the incredibly hard work of healing trauma that has built up over generations and manifests in all kinds of ways — all the while fighting the temptation to stay in bed all day because life feels meaningless without your kids and you’re constantly wondering what they’re doing and whether they’re safe and happy.
I thought of Bessel van der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, in which he wrote about the “tremendous energy” it takes “to keep functioning while carrying the memory of terror, and the shame of utter weakness and vulnerability.”
I thought about what I’ve heard, time and again, from family lawyers and family-support workers at Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre — that parents often buckle under the combined weight of past trauma, the feeling that they’re being constantly policed and judged (instead of supported) and the pain of living without their kids. I’m told parents often give up. They end up on the streets. They sink deeper into old addictions or discover new ones.
But Justine — whose real name we’re withholding to protect her kids’ identities — hasn’t given up. Her story was flagged to me by an experienced family-support worker. And after meeting Justine, I decided to follow her case because she is fighting for change, not only for her family, but for other families, too. Also, she was willing to share. She welcomed me into her home, and she let me dig through her documents. She told me she had nothing to hide.
I believe we need to listen to Indigenous mothers, whose children are so grossly over-represented in our child-welfare system, if we want to realize better outcomes for kids and families that have been traumatized and marginalized.
Justine is not the only parent I’m working with. Tomorrow we’re launching a storytelling workshop series for parents and grandparents with lived experience of the child-welfare system. Our community partner, Ray-Cam, is providing space, lunch and childcare support. And counselor Lori Damon will be there to support participants.
Every Friday for the next eight weeks, we’ll explore different ways to share their stories and recommendations for change. I’m excited to support this work — and to develop a model for collaborative journalism that can scale up and out.
Writing for Maclean’s, Aaron Hutchins asks, “In our rush to protect children, have we made good parenting a crime?” This story seems to have struck a chord with people. At least it got a lot of shares (relatively speaking), on my Facebook page.
David Ball is part of a group of journalists I’ve been working with to brainstorm how we can more collaboratively cover the child-welfare system. Check out the series he wrote for StarMetro about Métis kids in care in B.C.
This week the B.C. government introduced a bill which outlines changes they’d like to make to child-welfare legislation. If adopted, the government says, “Indigenous communities will have greater involvement in child-welfare decisions to help keep their children out of care, safe in their home communities, and connected to their cultures.” What do you think of the proposed changes?