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Last week, the government of Alberta released a report titled A Stronger, Safer Tomorrow with 39 specific actions to strengthen our child welfare system.
As the C5, we are five agencies working with children, youth and families every day who will be impacted by this plan. And we believe that, when fully implemented, it will affect their lives for the better.
The importance of working within a cultural and spiritual context is embedded throughout the plan. Imagine how significant this is for children and youth: culture is at the heart of their identity, the foundation from which to build a path forward, their touchstone for when life feels out of control.
Many Indigenous children and youth currently involved in the system have that lifeline to wellness just out of their grasp; connection to kin, community, land and culture are kept at an arm’s length from children and youth who currently live on the land of their ancestors. These elements of care (although not in every instance) were treated as fluffy side issues, not integral to the work or care for these children.
This action plan seeks to change that: keeping children safe where they feel comfortable is acknowledged with a more robust investment in kinship care outlined in the plan. This means that auntie, grandma or another family member is more effectively supported in assuming the role of caregiver in what are often challenging circumstances. In our work, we witness the positive impacts and outcomes for children and youth of kinship care.
Listening to the advice of Indigenous people and elders, the implementation of Jordan’s Principle (ensuring that all children get the help they need when they need it and wherever they are) and other actions demonstrate unprecedentedly meaningful action on embedding the Indigenous world view in children’s services. This is more than lip service.
The plan also contains longer-term actions aimed at prevention and early intervention: obviously it makes more sense to invest in families before a crisis hits. Obvious, yes, but our current system has remained virtually unchanged for decades and continues to net the same unfavourable outcomes, erecting significant barriers for families.
Families have different needs and often face multiple issues. If, for example, you want help with your mental health issues, you’ll be put on a waiting list. When you eventually get an appointment, you’ll probably have to take multiple buses with your children in tow and share your most private fears with a stranger in a short appointment.
What if you’re new to a big city and have trouble finding your way around? Or you find an office-like, formal environment intimidating? And this is just to address one issue. You may also need help with affordable housing; finding a job; feeding your family; or advice on parenting your difficult toddler.
Each means a different outing, multiple trips and new forms to fill out. We believe we can, and we must, do better for families. Our work as the C5 aims to deconstruct silos and ease individuals’ and families’ path through the system, while empowering them to build their own resources and supports within the community.
We are encouraged to see that A Stronger, Safer Tomorrow acknowledges the importance of dealing with families holistically and acknowledges that the family’s voice should be at the centre of decision-making.
All of us want the strongest possible system for our most vulnerable children – a system that protects and provides what’s needed for children to grow into healthy adults. We will hold the government to account in implementing the plan and making the necessary investments.
And we commit to strengthening our partnership with the government to build on our work in communities, ensuring that every family has whatever they need to give their children a loving and safe home.
By Cheryl Whiskeyjack, Erick Ambtman,Julian Daly, Karen Mottershead and Laurie Fagan
7 July 2018
Cheryl Whiskeyjack is executive director of the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society; Erick Ambtman is executive director of the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers; Julian Daly is executive director of Boyle Street Community Services; Karen Mottershead is executive director of the Terra Centre for Teen Parents; Laurie Fagan is executive director of the Norwood Child and Family Resource Centre.