The provincial government is taking the first steps towards the premier’s pledge to keep aboriginal children out of government care.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development is launching a pilot program called the Aboriginal Family Court.
MCFD Minister Stephanie Cadieux says the program will have band elders participate in proceedings when children don’t have family members to fight to keep them at home.
“We do what is called ‘family development response,’ and we try to work with the family to deal with the issues that are potentially going to mean that the ministry needs to step in and remove children for their protection.”
Cadieux says the hope is to try to balance the system’s outcomes so that aboriginal kids have an experience more in line with those not from aboriginal backgrounds.
“Ideally, we step in, we help the family to deal with whatever issue it is that they are having; develop some skills and then prevent the need to have children come into care. We’ve been very successful with that on the non-aboriginal side of our ministry. We have not had the same response with our aboriginal partners, and their aboriginal families.”
The Ministry says up to 15 families will take part in the year-long pilot, which has qualified for $90,000 funding.
According to MCFD data more than 4,400 indigenous children were in the province’s care as of last May.
That’s 60% of the ministry’s cases, while indigenous peoples make up just 5% of the province’s population.
Back in September, Premier Christy Clark pledged to create a system that would keep aboriginal kids out of government care, both through changes to the Adoptions Act, and by preventing children from coming into the system in the first place.
That promise came on the heels of a string of high-profile deaths of aboriginal youth either in, or subsequent to, receiving government care.
In November, the province received a report on indigenous child welfare which made 85 recommendations, most of them aimed at the MCFD.
Among the recommendations, it asked the ministry to provide every B.C. First Nation with a list of children currently in care, and a boost in funding for social workers to the tune of $8-million.
With files from Emily Lazatin