FSRN: Large numbers of Canada’s aboriginal children being put into foster care

John Beaucage
John Beaucage

In Canada, there’s growing alarm over the increasing number of aboriginal children the government is taking away from their families and putting into foster homes. FSRN's Aaron Lakoff reports from Montreal.

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* Transcript

Some are calling it the “millenium scoop”. Former Grand Chief of the Ontario Union of Indians John Beaucage says more native youth being taken away from their families and placed into foster homes and other institutions today than during the infamous “sixties scoop”, WHEN thousands of native children were forcefully removed from their families . Sponsored by the government and churches, the assimilation program put children in residential schools where they were prevented from speaking their native languages, and often beaten and abused.

Beaucage, who issued a report to the Ontario government in June, spoke with FSRN about some of his findings,

[clip, John Beaucage via phone, 20 seconds]

“Basically, there are about 20 percent of the total children in care across Canada are aboriginal children. And that compares with about 1 and a half percent of the total population in Canada being native. So there's a huge huge over representation of Native children in care.”

According to a 2008 report by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, there were approximately 27 thousand aboriginal children in government care, three times the number of children enrolled in residential schools at their height. The report also found that in some provinces, aboriginal children were 8 times more likely to be in foster care than other Canadian children.

Marie Rana is a manager in the foster care department of Batshaw Family Services, a center in Montreal which helps to place children in foster care. Rana concurs that she sees a growing phenomenon of aboriginal children coming through their centre.

[clip, Marie Rana, 27 seconds]

“As of today, we have 58 children out of 347 children in foster care, so 58 out of 347 are aboriginals. So we're definitely seeing an increase of aboriginal children in foster care, if we compare it to maybe four years ago or so. And we try very hard in the foster care department to recruit foster homes that are aboriginal.”

While residential schools began shutting down in large numbers during the 1970s, the last one closed its doors in 1996. In 2008, Canadian Prime-Minister Stephen Harper issued an official apology for Canada's residential schools.

[clip, Stephen Harper, 17 seconds]

“The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative, and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage, and language.”

Yet the apology was widely criticized by native communities at the time, saying that without an action plan and funding to repair the negative effects of residential schools, the apology was empty words.

Today, the Beaucage report casts further doubt on Harper's apology, as he links the current problem of aboriginal family separation to the legacy of residential schools.

The director of the Native Women's Shelter in Montreal, sees a similar problem in the province of Quebec. According to Nakuset, who uses one name, the province's Youth Protection Act only gives mothers who are struggling with addiction problems one year to get back on their feet before the government takes away their children.

[clip, Nakuset, 24 seconds]

“It really affects the women here at the shelter, because we know that if they have 10 years of trauma, chances are that if they have one year of therapy, they're not going to be able to make it with that deadline that's now imposed on them. So more children will be put into foster care or into adoption, and it's going to be like another 'Sixties scoop'. So we're very concerned about that.”

One of the recommendations of the Beaucage report is for more funding to be dedicated to aboriginal Children's Aid Services, and drug prevention programs, to help deter the abuse and addiction which lead to the break-up of families. Another recommendation is for the government to support programs that preserve aboriginal culture, which could in turn lead to a strengthening of identity and communities.

The Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services says they're working toward implementing some of the recommendations from the Beaucage report, and have already contacted the federal government to ask for more money for aboriginal services.

However, Beaucage says part of the problem is the way that federal funding works. Funding is handed out based on how many children are in care, but fails to be allocated for prevention programs. He says there are a few native communities in Ontario which have no children in foster homes, and therefore don't receive funding for prevention programs. This, he says, needs to be changed, so that the problem can be solved at its root. Aaron Lakoff, FSRN, Montreal.