By Cam Martin
The death of another First Nations child in foster care has many people questioning what is being done to protect our little ones. Earlier this month, Port Alberni RCMP responded to a call from a foster parent about a six-month-old First Nations boy. The boy was rushed to the hospital but did not survive. Police have yet to confirm the cause of death and determine whether actions will be taken against the foster caregiver.
Union of BC Indian Chiefs president Grand Chief Stewart Phillip was appalled to hear about the incident. “I’m absolutely shocked and saddened,” he said. “It is troubling to hear of another death while the numbers of First Nations children in government care continue to rise.”
This Aboriginal child’s death is just one of many that have occurred in foster care, and it has First Nations representatives questioning the practices of placing these children into care. How often and thoroughly are background checks completed on caregivers? Are efforts made to help First Nations children develop in a culturally sensitive environment that encourages their self esteem rather than diminishing it?
More than half of the 9500 children in BC government care are First Nations, yet there seems to be very little consideration for their plight. This year, an audit of foster parent living conditions released by the provincial Representative for Children and Youth found that many children placed in foster care with relatives continue to be at risk because of a lack of proper background checks.
The recent tragedy in Port Alberni hit close to home for the family of Caroline Touchie, a four-month-old First Nations girl taken from her mother Rose in September 2007 and placed in foster care. Baby Caroline was found dead in her crib five days later. Police reports indicated that the infant had been deceased for hours by the time she was discovered. Caroline’s aunt, April Sandford, is particularly concerned about the screening process that foster parents have to undergo, and wonders, “Why are so many infants dying in foster care? Was this person trained the same as the one that caused my niece’s death? What is being done for future children?”
One of the challenges for First Nations children on reserve is that the federal government does not fund First Nations child and family service agencies to provide prevention or support services to families and enable them to keep their children in the family home. The absence of critical services is a major reason why so many First Nation children are in care.
The proportion of First Nations among foster children is shocking. One out of ten First Nations children are placed in care, compared to one out of every two hundred non-First Nation children in Canada. There are an estimated 27,000 First Nations children in foster care today—more than three times the number of children in residential schools during their peak of operation in the late 1940s. The residential school legacy of uprooting our people from their communities and families is still alive, and there is a desperate need for a beneficial care system that protects our innocent children, instead of neglecting their needs.