Moving toward Reconciliation in Indigenous Child Welfare

By Auger, Andrea | Child Welfare, May/June 2012 | Go to article overview

Moving toward Reconciliation in Indigenous Child Welfare


Auger, Andrea, Child Welfare


The Touchstones of Hope reconciliation movement consists of principles (culture and language, self-determination, structural interventions, non discrimination, and holistic approach) that guide a reconciliation process of truth-telling, acknowledging, restoring and relating to reshape indigenous child welfare led by indigenous peoples and supported by their non-indigenous counterparts. This article describes a reconciliation movement in Canada grounded in Touchstones of Hope principles, involving a reconciliation process between indigenous and non-indigenous individuals, which has enabled culturally relevant concepts of child welfare and plans for child safety to emerge.

More than seven years ago, four collaborating child welfare organizations1 in both Canada and the United States began to see reconciliation in indigenous child welfare as a way to address the harm that has been done to indigenous children affected by mainstream child welfare practices and policies. According to Blackstock, Brown and Bennett, reconciliation "[i]s a dynamic process with an overall goal of peacemaking, whereby everyone's history and reality are validated and respective rights are recognized" (2007, p. 64). In line with this belief, the four organizations brought together 200 indigenous and non-indigenous delegates working in indigenous child welfare from Canada, Australia, and the United States. During the two-and-a-half-day gathering in Niagara Falls, Ontario,2 participants discussed the importance of reconciliation in child welfare, its place and meaning in indigenous child welfare, and the principles and values that guide a reconciliation process (Blackstock, Cross, Brown, George, 6c Formsma, 2006). The views and experiences of participants were grouped into five principles: culture and language, selfdetermination, non-discrimination, structural interventions, and holistic approach, which guide a reconciliation process of truthtelling, acknowledging, restoring, and relating. These principles are meant to be interpreted by indigenous communities and incorporated into all aspects of child welfare-such as policy and practice-in order to build a sustainable change movement that benefits indigenous children and families.

Since 2005, the Touchstones of Hope reconciliation movement has generated interest from organizations and communities in Canada and around the world. In 2008, indigenous communities, six indigenous child welfare agencies, and the provincial government (the Ministry of Children and Family Development) in northern British Columbia decided to engage in aTouchstones of Hope reconciliation movement. This article describes the Touchstones of Hope reconciliation movement in northern British Columbia (northern British Columbia Touchstones of Hope),3 where collaboration and relationship-building between indigenous child welfare agencies, indigenous communities, and individuals in mainstream child welfare has enabled culturally relevant plans to be created. It further provides a reconciliation model that is intended to become intrinsically woven into child welfare practice and policy, assuring that child welfare better reflects the distinct cultures and values of indigenous peoples and ensures better outcomes for indigenous children, youth, and families.

Background

First Nations Child Welfare in Canada4

To begin, it is essential to contextualize child welfare in Canada. Trocmé et al. (2003,2006) and Sinha et al. (2011) explain the complex nature of First Nations child welfare in Canada and the reasons why there are so many First Nations children in the care of child welfare. It is estimated that First Nations children in Canada represent between 22,500 and 28,000 of children in the care of the Canadian child welfare system, three times the number of children who attended residential schools5 at the peak of their operation in the 1940s (Blackstock,2003). According to Blackstock (2009), Aboriginal children were often apprehended by social workers and placed into residential schools, never returning to their family homes. …

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