Release: New report: Indigenous families share their vision for transforming the failings of BC’s child protection system

VANCOUVER – Today, West Coast LEAF released a report setting out the experiences of Indigenous families who have had engagement with the provincial child welfare system. Pathways in a Forest: Indigenous guidance on prevention-based child welfare highlights efforts by Indigenous families, communities, and Nations to revitalize Indigenous approaches to child welfare, develop comprehensive community-based supports, and fight for self-determination. The report centers the voices of 64 caregivers who share their stories of fighting to keep their children out of government care.

Pathways in a Forest reveals the government’s failures to meet its obligations to provide adequate, accessible, and culturally safe prevention-based supports to Indigenous families. The stories set out in the report demonstrate that even where there have been changes in policy, ministry practice is uneven and reflective of an outdated and ineffective approach to child welfare.

Participants shared their experiences of families and communities continuing to be disrupted and separated by the child welfare system in BC. They identified causes of the harms: ongoing colonialism, pervasive and systemic racism, gaps in supports and services that could keep families together, and a lack of accountability for state actors. These failings undermine prevention-based efforts and perpetuate harms to Indigenous children, families, and communities.

“Despite the government’s emphasis on improving prevention-based services for Indigenous families, long-standing apprehension-focused practices permeate the system,” said Elba Bendo, project lead and West Coast LEAF’s Director of Law Reform. “What we heard from families clearly was that local community-led programs and solutions are the most effective way to support families and communities. The stories we heard make it clear that we are nowhere near a system that is equipped – in law, policy, resources, and practice – to support Indigenous families to stay together.”

She added: “Self-determination must be at the heart of making the child welfare system work for Indigenous families. Communities and Nations must have full jurisdiction over child welfare for all their children, including those living off reserves, and they must be provided with resources to provide the same level of services to their children as are offered to non-Indigenous children.”

Frances Rosner, a Métis lawyer and a member of the project’s advisory committee, said: “We need a paradigm shift in how we view child protection. The current system is marked by fear, power imbalances, and arbitrary decision-making. Pointing the finger at an Indigenous parent who has survived colonial violence and expecting them to carry the burden of intergenerational trauma alone is cruel. BC clearly has a failed child welfare system in desperate need of a complete overhaul.”

This report is the outcome of a collaboration between West Coast LEAF and families, Elders, and staff at Tillicum Lelum Friendship Centre, Lii Michif Otipemisiwak, and the Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre Association. A total of 64 caregivers and 11 organizations and Nations shared their experiences and insights and guided the project team in drafting recommendations for systemic change.

Read the Executive Summary and the full report.