The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs explored the child welfare system in Manitoba from the perspective of the people who must deal with the system directly including children (now adults), parents, grandparents, workers, and support service organizations that are established to help the people.
Through a two‐day Open Citizens Forum along with numerous video and written submissions, personal heartfelt and often traumatic stories have been shared. These stories illustrate the devastating impact that the policies and practices of the current child welfare system are having on the First Nations children and families in Manitoba. In witnessing the expression of actual experiences of children and parents and how the system has affected their lives, it can be concluded that the current approach merely deals with the symptoms of the deeper underlying challenges in people’s lives. The implementation of all recommendations put forth by Justice Hughes in “The Legacy of Phoenix Sinclair: Achieving the Best for All Children” might make slight improvements within current system practice but the fact remains that the legacy of the Manitoba Child Welfare System is an extension of the cultural genocide experienced by the Residential School years and Sixties Scoop.
The real life impacts of the current child welfare system informs us that a lot of resources are being put into a failing system. Based on the outcomes that are a result of being involved in the child welfare system, it can be concluded that system practices must change immediately. Further to this, there are critical system additions required including, family support, advocacy, and intensive holistic healing opportunities.
Overall, there must be a transition to a First Nations System that is based on the original systems of child rearing, education, and nurturance of individual spirit. Resources must be used in appropriate ways to break the existing cycle to restore spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional health and well‐being. The only way out of the current child welfare crisis is to develop a completely new system based on the First Nations principles of: love, compassion, respect, and dignity.
With the guidance of the First Nations Elders and Grandmothers, clear direction on how to do this will come from a higher power of Spirit. In order for this new path to be successful, it will be imperative for First Nations to never compromise the long‐term goals of “Bringing Our Children Home”.
In March 2014, the Chiefs in Assembly supported a resolution (Mar‐14.06) “to hold and participate in a Special Chiefs Assembly, and an Open Forum for Concerned First Nations citizens, on the topic of First Nations Families and Children Welfare”. The purpose of the resolution was to provide a voice to those impacted by Child Welfare and to provide First Nations an opportunity to develop a response to the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry Report. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs hosted an Open Forum on May 1st in Winnipeg and May 13th in Thompson. AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak and others identified on the listening panel heard directly in testimonies from over 90 parents, grandparents, workers, and individuals who grew up in the care of the CFS system. The submissions included verbal, written, video and one‐on‐one interviews. There were 216 individuals who attended the forum. A strategic planning session was held on May 29th, 2014 to review findings from the forum and to develop recommendations to present to the Chiefs in Assembly June 10 & 11th, 2014.
What did we hear?
➾ Children are being told they cannot be with their mom and dad or grandparents. Children in Care contemplate suicide because they don’t feel connected to anything/anyone and many have been abused in foster care.
➾ Many children of the Sixties Scoop are having children who become involved with the system.
➾ Children are growing up alone, isolated, feeling abandoned; feeling like nobody cares about them. Once a child becomes a teenager, they often experience even greater instability, moving from group home to hotel room to short term foster home. Children will run away frequently, always in search of their parents. They refuse to give up on being reconnected to their family.
➾ The child’s education suffers once in care. No supports to help them understand what’s happening or what’s going to happen. The lack of stability in placements results in constantly changing schools. Moving from foster home to foster home does not allow for parental involvement with education