A Foster Mothers response to "Justice for Our Stolen Children" protest demands.

The issue of child welfare, fostercare, and adoption of indigenous children is a contentious subject for many. It has a way of touching nerves and rubbing salt in old wounds. When it comes to this subject the fires of division and fear are so easily stoked and rhetoric takes on a life of its own. That just seems to be the way it is, even though I don't think that's how it should or could be. It's a subject I want to approach honestly, humbly and thoughtfully because it is important and requires those things. 
Our kids deserve the best we have to give. 

Some background information on me for those who have just stumbled across this blog. I have been a foster parent here in SK for exactly 10 yrs.  In that time we have also adopted four children. Three of our children are indigenous. This is something we celebrate in our home and something that is a part of the fabric of our multi-racial family.  Each of our 7 kids learns to be proud of their various ancestry, their unique genetic traits and their cultural heritage as we blend it all into our own unique family culture. Above all we are family. We are living examples of the quote that Trudeau is so fond of saying "diversity is our strength". 

This is a list of demands that was posted online after the protesters/campers were awarded a meeting with various government ministers.  I want to address each of these from the perspective of a foster parent who has been neck deep in social services, case workers, home studies and adoption process for a decade. I am also a mother raising indigenous children with a vested interest in issues facing First Nations people and communities. Click here and here for some context and background on the protest. 

#1 Clear data on the number of Children in care and the duration of care.

This information is fairly easily accessible online both on government sights and the Child Advocacy report. For those who are unaware our province has a Child Advocate who acts on behalf of the wellbeing of children in our province. Our current child advocate is Corey O'Soup a Saulteax First Nations man. This organization keeps track of stats, makes recommendations and holds social services accountable.

Last year there were 5,248 children in care of the Ministry of Social Services, including those whose files have been transferred to First Nations agencies, and children in the care of a "PSI" (person of significant interest...typically a relative or someone within their community). Duration of care depends on individual situations.

 Many children only stay in fostercare for a short amount of time before they are reunified with a parent or begin living with extended family. Many indigenous children taken into care of social services have their files transferred to a First Nations agency where longterm homes are found by them, and kept under their own oversight.

#2 A review of all permenant wards

 "Permanent Ward" is a legal status that is obtained after all efforts to reunify the child with parents or extended family have been exhausted. That is the precise language used in court.

Priority one for social services is reunification with parents. The next step, if the first is not possible, is "family find".  The search for extended relatives begins. Most children end up being placed with relatives. This process can be completed quickly or it can take a very long time. If the child is First Nations a First Nations Agency will receive the child's file.  During that search process "Family" can also include anyone within the same First Nation that the child's parent is registered with. If a person is willing to take the child they are paid to do a homestudy and they receive financial assistance. Only once this process comes up dry is a court date set for permanency. Often those court dates are adjourned repeatedly because the process is meticulous and detailed.

 By the time a child "goes permanent" months or years worth of reunification effort has already taken place. During that time the child has been in fostercare, waiting in limbo, for adults to give them some stability. A permanency hearing is a sober time as biological parental rights are legally severed and the child becomes a "ward" of the state. The positive aspect of this status is that a permanency plan can then begin and the child is given an adoption worker who will begin processing the child for adoption. The reality is that many "permanent wards" in our province have never lived with a biological parent or even had a visit from them. This was true for some of my foster/adoptive children. Being given "perm ward" status is their chance to have the love and security of a family. To belong somewhere and to no longer be a "foster kid".

Permanent ward, inspite of it's name, is a temporary status. It is the stepping stone between a reunification focus and moving toward adoption planning. If this legal status can be undone at the demand of activists it essentially means nothing. If children cannot attain perm ward status they will be held in limbo indefinitely, and most likely age out of fostercare without a family.

The time and resources it would take to "review" all of these cases (to what end?) would take time and resources away from areas where it's desperately needed. These cases have been decided in court, a specific process was followed and it is all documented meticulously.  I'm not sure what benefit there would be to go backwards and re-hash the process that was already done.  It is certainly not in the best interest of the child at that point. Children need stability. They need to either be reunified with biological family in a timely manner or they need to move toward other options for a secure and loving family. Children cannot be put on ice while adults take years to get their acts together. That's not how human development and attachment works. When we pretend that kids can just wait in limbo for years we are creating a crisis. That crises includes devastating psychological disorders that will pay society back for decades to come.

#3 A review of all long term wards to see if any long term wards can go home based on updated information. 

This one confuses me. Fostercare is temporary and the first goal is reunification with family. There is no incentive to keep a child in fostercare indefinitely without moving towards either reunification or a permanency plan like adoption. There may be teens where this permanency planning becomes more complicated, which is why many teens end up in groups homes. Even then the child still has a caseworker who updates their information and is required to visit the child every 6 wks. Their information is never not being "reviewed". If they are not perm wards a biological family's rights to the child have not been terminated.

Foster parents can specify whether they prefer "emergency", "short term" or "long term" placements however all of these things are very fluid and are not a legal status. A "short term" placement can end up staying for years eventually be placed for adoption. A suspected "long term" placement can have a relative pop up and the child be moved the next day. Case plans are ALWAYS changing and they are hard to predict. The parent who is on track to be reunified with a child quickly can relapse into addictions, disappear, or land in prison. The absent, negligent, parent who showed no interest in reunification can suddenly have a change of heart and do what is required to have successful reunification.

#4. Demonstrate the use of in home supervision in lieu of apprehension. 

I honestly have no experience with this as a fosterparent. I do know there are many resources and supports available to families both before and after the apprehension of a child takes place. I actually wonder what "in home supervision" means.  I'd be interested to learn more about this practice, how it's done, what it costs, and what the outcome is. Providing some families with a wrap around support system, even in home, could be exactly what some parents need. It also seems like it could be difficult to implement.

#5 Go do Red Pheasant as was originally arranged.

I have no idea what the goal or purpose of this is.

#6 Place a moratorium on adoptions and planned expansion of fostercare system.

This one really rubs me the wrong way. This puts in jeopardy the very children these activists claim to be seeking "justice" for.

On the same list that they are demanding social services use extra resources and work hours to satisfy various demands, to "review" things that are already regularly reviewed and produce "data" that already exists online, they are demanding that social services also be shackled and underfunded. The fostercare system is seeing a steady increase of children coming into care yet they want a "moratorium" on any planned expansion to meet that demand. The only outcome of that is lower standards, over-worked burnt-out caseworkers, and longer case processing times. All of that is bad for kids.

A moratorium on adoptions, if implemented, would be utterly devastating to the children in our province and our society as a whole. I really don't think these demands were thought through logically or with any sort of understanding about how the system actually works.

There are valid reasons that children come into care. These children are not simply rounded up by some sinister plot or because of their race. They come into care over serious issues like child abuse, dangerous neglect, devastating addictions, and crime. As a foster parent I have witnessed the heart-crushing harm done to children.

Gang and drug culture is filling our foster care system. Instead of addressing those issues honestly activists are insisting that these children are "stolen", that our province's foster families are the moral equivalence of residential schools, and that our adoption and fostercare systems should be racially segregated. All of that rhetoric is harmful. None of that brings justice to children.

If adoptions in our province ceased the fostercare system would be filled with masses of permanent wards or long term fosterkids doomed to spend their childhoods bounced around various group homes and foster homes. If you demand that adoptions cease while at the same time hamstringing the foster care system and stigmatizing fosterparents you have created a perfect storm. A humanitarian crises. It's like building a dam on a fast flowing river and expecting that to stop the flow of water from it's source.

It is already difficult to recruit and retain foster parents because, as much as we love the kids (they are the reason we do what we do),fostering is exhausting, heartwrenching and stressful. The more foster parents are vilified in the media, by myths and untruths, the fewer foster parents will be recruited and retained. When it is being made clear to potential adoptive parents (willing to adopt a child of any race) that they are not wanted or needed it makes sense that they will decide against it.

In countries where in-home, family based, care options (foster care/ adoption) do not exist for children what you get are orphanages and children living in the streets, eating from dumpsters and being used by traffickers of all sorts. If you shut down adoption the number of children remaining in fostercare will far exceed the capacity of 504 foster families in our province. If the public continues to vilify foster families, and social services throws them under the identity politics bus, that number will drop significantly. This will necessitate many new large "group homes" which will essentially be a reintroduction of institutionalized care of children.  This would be a disaster.

The process to adopt a child in our province is excruciatingly long, methodical and intensive. The process that moves a child from "protection" to "permanency planning" is lengthy, precise and meticulous. Everything has to be done exactly right in order for anything to proceed. If something is missed the process will be put on hold or be reversed. Our most recent adoptions took 2 1/2 yrs from the time the children (who were already in our home) became permanent wards to finalization. Doing a general adoption takes considerably longer.

7. Develop a full report on children in care including details on their cultural and developmental needs.  

Once again this would take considerable resources to accomplish, taking staff and resources away from the front lines where it's needed most. While at the same time being undercut with the "no expansion" demand.

Since this protest is focused in indigenous children one has to wonder why these demands aren't being made to the FN leadership and agencies that have files of children in their possession and who are in charge of placement, safety and oversight?

There is also the component of privacy. As a foster parent I cannot simply demand more information about case plan, extended family or the child's history and expect to be handed that information. I certainly cannot demand detailed information on other children in care. As a foster parent I am not even entitled to know which specific drugs the newborn, shaking and convulsing in my arms, is withdrawing from. I cannot demand to know whether the foster toddler I'm raising was exposed to alcohol prenatally. Those things are held in confidence until that child is placed with me for adoption and I am handed a heavily redacted white binder that contains those important details. After spending 10 yrs navigating those frustrating shrouds of privacy it baffles me that any group of protesters has the audacity to think they can simply demand information on children because they set up a campground on a government lawn.

No one is more personally invested in the well being, healthy development and needs of the child in fostercare than the person caring for, meeting the needs of and loving that child 24 hrs a day. And yet as fosterparents we have zero say in what happens to the child and are not entitled to demand a child's personal information.

As far as "cultural needs" go I don't know any foster or adoptive parents who ignore cultural identity or heritage.

8. Create a review practice for all foster homes in the province. 

The protesters should be thrilled to know that there is already a "review practice".  The homes that fall outside of these strict standards and constant scrutiny are on-reserve homes, kinship and PSI homes. I can assure you that foster homes under the watch of the Ministry of Social Services lack no oversight.

 Every 6 wksacase worker is in our homes. At that time they check on the child, update any changes in health and development over the previous 6 wks. They also take a look around the child's bedroom and inspect the bed (there are high standards set regarding where children can sleep).  Beyond that, every 6 months we have a resource worker come into our home for a bi-annual home inspection and mounds of paperwork. This visit takes hours. Every corner of our house and yard is carefully inspected and a long check list of rules and requirements is ticked off one by one. Then we sit down at the dining room table, read over and sign a mountain of policies and requirements covering everything from how to swaddle or not swaddle a baby (the rules are always changing) to discipline to cultural requirements. Every minor injury or illness must be recorded and reported to the case worker. In our 10 yrs of fostering these 6 month thorough inspections were never missed. At that time the resource workers also updates our Family Development Plan, a written report on every aspect of our family dynamics and how we care for children.

9. A cost analysis relative to how the Ministry is resourcing families so that they can stay together or efforts for reunification, relative to the costs that are paid to agencies such as Ranch Erhlo that house children in care. 

This is a bit difficult to understand but I'm interpreting this sentence to mean that they are requesting a cost comparison of how much money is being given to families vs. what it costs to fund youth in therapeutic residential care. That's a fair question and I can see why someone would be curious about that. As far as Rancho Ehrlo mentioned: this is their website.   Maybe they are referring to resources like in-home drug rehab, therapy, and mental health treatment. I'm not totally clear on that.

I strongly recomment that people who are concerned about child welfare in our province, who want to know more about whats being done, read over the last several years worth of Child Advocy reports.

I would also encourage anyone who is eager to jump on any bandwagon, that throws our child protection system and foster families under the bus, to get to know some actual foster families as well as some multi- racial familes. What you see might surprise you. Learn more about our system and whats already being done. Chat with child protection case workers, listen their stories and hear their passion for the children in care. The stories of foster parents and caseworkers are mostly unheard because we remain silent. We are not free to share them publicly. 

Unfortunately that leaves a very lopsided narrative being presented to the public.

I promise you we're not villains and we're not stealing kids. 

We love the kids that are placed in our care and we also care about their families of origin. Our hearts ache for the situations and brokenness that bring kids into fostercare. We are very aware of the over-representation of First Nations and Metis children and it would be wonderful if more prevention efforts were made. We support reunification and do what we can to encourage and support biological family who are making those efforts.  

Fostercare is a heart breaking reality with many complex root causes. However, pretending that children are not in care for valid reasons does nothing to address the real problems. I feel confident to speak on behalf of foster parents when I say....we would love nothing more than for every baby to be loved and cared for by the parents to made that child. We would love nothing more than for every child to be wanted, protected and safe in their first homes. 

As much as I utterly adore my adopted children, and love them just as much as any of the children that I carried in my womb, I wish that adoption was entirely unnecessary. It crushes me that they experienced trauma and separation from biological parents. My heart breaks for biological parents who have missed out on so much. I hope and pray that someday there will be healing and restoration of those relationships. Despite that loss, my children have known nothing but love and security since they first day they came into my home (or I started visiting them in the NICU). They are happy, healthy and thriving. I know that they will grow up to be confident and capable indigenous adults who will have a connection to their cultural heritage and a strong, diverse, support network. 

The kids in our province, particularly our First Nations and Metis children, deserve the best that we have to give them. They deserve and need to be put first. Above all other agendas, power struggles, biases, ambitions or priorities. The system is far from perfect, trust me I know, but it's also far from the child snatching caricature that is being painted by some activists. In order to find solutions to the flow of children, particularly indigenous children, into fostercare we need to be courageous enough to look at tough issues honestly. 

I believe that we all want to see more healthy families and more parents raising their own children. To this end we must come together to find solutions and ways to heal cycles of brokenness. 

We can't afford to have an us vs. them mentality when it comes to the well being of children. 

Meet a couple Saskatchewan foster families here in these videos: This is fostercare. 

No comments: