B.C. Green MLA wants changes to how child welfare system handles Indigenous cases

FILE - BC Green MLA Sonia Furstenau says the time is now for the government to act on changes needed in the child welfare system. File photo

According to BC Green MLA Sonia Furstenau the ongoing case of the government apprehending an Indigenous mom’s baby soon after birth highlights that the child welfare system, which she said is skewed by paternalistic and colonial attitudes, needs to change.

She asked Children’s Minister Katrine Conroy in question period why removing a baby from Indigenous parents is the first step, and added that Indigenous mothers are still having to prove they can raise their own children.

“We can do so much better than this,” said Furstenau in question period on Wednesday.

Furstenau said the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) is going in the wrong direction.

They’re back at B.C. Supreme Court appealing a decision that gave the mother daily access to breastfeed and bond with her child.

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“I’m concerned that they are doubling down, and that they seem more committed to protecting whatever decision-making process went on to start this process than they are at looking at, ‘How do we solve this?'”

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She said she doesn’t buy the minister saying they’re working on changes but have only been in power for seven months, and added that change needs to happen now.

“Look at the over-representation of Indigenous children in our foster-care system and recognize, as the minister says, there are systemic issues at play here, and it is time for a directive from that minister to say, ‘Stop.'”

Furstenau’s riding has one of B.C.’s highest child apprehension rates.

Conroy agreed that changes need to be made, and said the government is working with groups across the province in order to make them.

She said in the last year, the number of Indigenous children in care has dropped, and that she agreed changes aren’t being made fast enough.

Speaking to Global News, B.C.’s Children and Youth representative Bernard Richard said the case that was brought up isn’t a one-off, and said there are issues of systemic racism in the way child welfare services are provided.

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“That should be pretty obvious to everyone. I don’t think it’s shocking to hear, when we live in a province where eight per cent of the children are Indigenous, but 63 per cent of the children in care are Indigenous.”

Richard said the case is extremely frustrating.

He added the case is complicated, but it shouldn’t be if the intention is to leave the child with their mother, and that it shouldn’t be complicated to allow for breastfeeding and to provide necessary support for the mother to stay in her community.

“In fact, the community has really come out quite strongly in support of this mom. They’re providing resources to her, [and] they’re asking the court to be able to help her stay in close proximity to her baby.”

Richard said ideally, the ministry will either show that there are protection issues involving the mother, but if they aren’t able to, they will take every measure to ensure the baby stays with the mother.

He added any other issues in the case could be dealt with later, but his immediate concerns are for the best interests of the child.

“But unfortunately, the ministry has failed in that regard, up to now.”

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