The child-welfare system’s full of fed-up women — and it’s no wonder

Ministry audits show foster kids and vulnerable families are getting short shrift.

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I’m tired of women being undermined, under-resourced and undervalued.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to know dozens of Indigenous mothers (and some fathers) who are at odds with a child-welfare system that is deeply rooted in anti-Indigenous, colonial ways of thinking and being. I’ve sat in courtrooms full of women, often divided along racial lines: white social workers on one side and Indigenous grandmas and aunties on the other, all of them seemingly exhausted.

I get the sense that regardless of race or position, most women want to realize a more just system. One where Indigenous kids are not grossly overrepresented. Where families living with intergenerational trauma can access the supports they need. Where social workers registered with the B.C. College of Social Workers — 86 per cent of whom are women, according to the College — have manageable caseloads and the support they need to do this complex work.

But we’re not there yet. Right now, the system is full of women who are fed up — and when you take a close look at the government’s self-evaluations, it’s no wonder.

Our latest investigation took a critical look at the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s own performance audits from 2014-2018. As part of the Spotlight: Child Welfare collaborative journalism project, we worked with community members to pull data from 37 audits measuring the performance of MCFD’s social worker teams across B.C.

When we look at the data as a whole, we can see that the ministry gave itself a failing grade on nearly 40 per cent of its critical performance measures.

Social workers aren’t assessing potentially urgent calls for protection quickly enough, the audits show. They aren’t completing safety assessments on time, or sufficiently monitoring the well-being of kids placed in foster or adoptive homes, either. And those are just a few of the critical measures we examined.

“I look at the data and it’s crystal clear. People are routinely out of compliance with really important policy directives and standards,” University of Victoria social work professor Susan Strega told us.

“This should be a four-alarm fire.”

Many of the social workers and instructors we interviewed told us part of the problem lies with the unmanageable caseloads frontline workers are trying to juggle, which leads to a lack of support for vulnerable kids and families.

“Caseloads are absurd,” says Langara College social work instructor Margo Nelson. “There’s too much to do to actually get it done.”

I’d love to hear what you think about our findings, especially if you’re a woman who’s likewise fed up. And if you’d like to follow our ongoing reporting — this story marks the first of many to come by journalists in this collaborative — follow Spotlight: Child Welfare on Facebook and Twitter.

People are talking about

  • In this National Post story, former federal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says the federal Liberals are short shrifting reconciliation commitments by making incremental instead of substantive changes to Indigenous policy and law.
  • In her column in the Vancouver Sun, columnist Daphne Bramham takes readers on a discovery of what Indigenous food is, and says one path to reconciliation is through people’s palates.
  • The Surrey Leader-Now is reporting that the B.C. Court of Appeal has ruled that a Langley pedophile’s sentence for violating a court order not to drink was excessive because it didn’t take his Métis heritage into account.
  • In his Saskatoon Star Phoenix column, Indigenous columnist Doug Cuthand gives his take on how Indigenous communities are returning to traditional customs of justice such as banishment, and how to reconcile this historical method with the new reality of crime in Indigenous communities.

What makes life harder

Nicolas Crier hopes to change attitudes towards drug users like himself.

Nicolas Crier wishes society would better support and understand its members who use drugs.

“Drugs aren’t the problem. It’s how we treat each other,” he says, reiterating the slogan from the Megaphone Speakers Bureau, a program that hosts talks with speakers who have lived experience of drug use and overdose prevention.

Nicolas, who is Cree, a freelance writer and public speaker and an overdose responder, works as a coordinator and facilitator for Megaphone. He is also a drug user himself, and has felt society’s stigma against drug users first-hand.

“Stigma is a very pervasive issue that’s so subtle,” the 41-year-old says. “You know, it’s — all the hate you can’t prosecute, right?”

He sees his work with Megaphone as a good step towards changing attitudes towards drug users. He says the program stems from the realization that there is “so much potential in the lived experience” of drug users to educate others.

It’s “a natural extension” of some of the work that’s been happening for years in the Downtown Eastside, he says. It represents a shift  “in the local urban consciousness towards sustainability, towards tolerance and acceptance.”

You can catch Nicolas at the May 14 Speakers Bureau event, which will “explore the significance of community during the overdose crisis and how to build a community better able to support drug users.” You can register for the free event here.

Written by Cloe Logan

Let’s gather.

  • May 3: In New Westminster, the Columbia Theatre hosts the Amicus Performing Arts Society’s 1000 Drummers of BC, with performances by the Git Hayetsk Dancers, Cassius Kahn and the Charm Dance Company. Tickets here.
  • May 4: The first in a three-part series, 5 myths about the Indian Act: Nothing is Free! starts today at the Deer Lake Gallery, featuring mixed media artist Brandon Gabriel (Kwelexwecten). The workshop challenges the concepts of land, taxation and education as a past-tense narrative in media. Information here.
  • May 7: The Walrus Talks Inclusion arrives at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts with a panel on how design, technology and education can remove barriers for people with disabilities. Speakers include Neil Belanger, executive director of the B.C. Aboriginal Network on Disability Society, and Rich Donovan, CEO of The Return on Disability Group and author of Unleash Different. Full details here.

Compiled by Sean Murphy

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