Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

Struggling toward Indigenous Representation and Service Improvement within the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development

Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

Struggling toward Indigenous Representation and Service Improvement within the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development

Article excerpt

The Elders took me out and taught me how to crawl around underneath the trees so I could see the tea. I couldn't see it. "Where is it?" You know what? Unless you are lying on the ground looking, you can't see the tea. The Elder introduced me to the tea and then I could see it and it was everywhere. It's the same with the Ministry--unless you get down on your knees, and you're down here [in the communities] working and experiencing, how do you know what it is? You can't see it. (MCFD Indigenous Professional)

Introduction

Government child welfare involvement with Indigenous Peoples in Canada has had significant and tragic consequences. The result is ongoing intergenerational trauma in Indigenous communities, the over-representation of Indigenous children within Canadian child welfare systems, alongside underfunding and a critical lack of prevention and support services required to address and ameliorate ongoing impacts (Turpel-Lafond 2015; BC Representative for Children and Youth 2013; Hughes 2006; Walmsley 2005; Hudson 1997; Armitage 1993; Johnston 1983). Provincial child welfare agencies struggle to find adequate policy, practice, and resources to effectively serve Indigenous people. The 2016 finding of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, that the current federal child welfare program (which underfunds Indigenous children in comparison to their non-Indigenous counterparts) is discriminatory, has been met by ongoing federal government court opposition (Blackstock and Grammond 2017). To say there is resistance by mainstream Canadian systems to address the need for systemic change would be a clear understatement.

The British Columbia Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) provides child protection, foster care, adoption, mental health, youth justice, and disability services to children and their families. In 2010, when the research this article focuses on was conducted, 56% of children in the care of MCFD were Indigenous (Government of British Columbia 2010). Due to the ongoing nature of oppressive and inappropriate system interventions, Indigenous children now represent over 62% of children in the care of MCFD while Indigenous Peoples represent only 9% of the overall population in the province (Sherlock 2017b). This ongoing dramatic upward trend for Indigenous children in care is alarming and reflects what Canadian Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott recently referred to as a "humanitarian crisis." Katherine Conroy, the British Columbia minister responsible for MCFD, says the ministry is addressing the situation by transferring services to BC First Nations (Sherlock 2018). Conroy also refers to the need to hire more Indigenous employees and to increase cultural competence/safety training for all ministry employees so they may work more effectively with Indigenous children, families and communities. None of these are new strategies for MCFD; all three have been priorities at one point or another, often simultaneously, for the past thirty years (Rousseau 2014; BC Representative for Children and Youth 2013). The transfer of services has notoriously occurred at a slow and problematic pace--often due to inadequate resources. The result being many Indigenous children and families continue to be served within the provincial child welfare system.

This article focuses on knowledge gained through a combined Indigenous and ethnographic research study undertaken in 2010 that examined the unique perspectives and experiences of MCFD Indigenous human services professionals (Rousseau 2014). The research explored the relationship between Indigenous MCFD professionals' identity, values, beliefs, motivations, practices, and experiences and the organizational variables and approaches that either increased and sustained, or detracted from, effective Indigenous approaches--potentially leading to improved outcomes for Indigenous children, families, and communities. Findings indicated that due to a number of barriers MCFD Indigenous professionals struggled to implement program, policy and practice approaches to strengthen Indigenous service outcomes. …

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