TRC Call to Action #1: Child Welfare

Aboriginal Futures, Brian Giesbrecht, Commentary

Five Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Report concerns child welfare. Basically these calls focus on increasing funding for Indigenous welfare, establishing national standards for the various agencies, keeping Indigenous children in culturally-relevant homes, and reducing the number of Indigenous children in the welfare system in comparison with non-Indigenous children.

There is a frightening number of Indigenous children who are not being cared for properly in the homes of their biological parents and many of these children are being cared for in non-Indigenous homes. In provinces like Manitoba, with a relatively large Indigenous population, the lion’s share of the children in the care of child welfare agencies are, in fact, Indigenous. Although Indigenous people make up roughly 10% of the population, more than 90% of the approximately 11,000 children in care are Indigenous.

The simple reason why so many Indigenous children are in care is because of a drinking and drug taking lifestyle by their parents.  

The 1967 Caldwell Report examined nine residential schools in Saskatchewan, eight rural and one urban. The eight rural schools had upwards of 80% of the students enrolled there by the Indian Agent because the home conditions–this usually meant drinking—and the homes were unsafe  or dangerous for the children. As the federal government had no mechanism to apprehend Indigenous children until well into the 1960s, Indian Agents used residential schools to protect children. Children from homes in which there is considerable drinking tend not to do well in any school.

But both the federal government and Indigenous advocates exacerbate the problem by providing parents with excuses for their irresponsible behaviour. The excuses include the usual–colonialism and residential schools racism, etc. The result is that parents are absolved of their responsibility and there is little incentive to change their behaviour.

This is one of the major cause that is neglected in the TRC Report. Fault is found with everyone except the people who could actually do something about it– the parents themselves. The Report pretends to treat Indigenous people as responsible adults, but in fact insists that Indigenous parents are helpless victims incapable of managing their lives. Everything is blamed on historical events they have no control over.

All five of the TRC Calls to Action concerning child welfare reflect this troubling thinking. Government is called upon for yet more legislation and more money to deal with child welfare despite the fact that a truly staggering amount of money has been spent on Indigenous child welfare and things have only gotten worse not better. However the Report continues to pretend that more legislation  and more funding will solve this massive problem.

The problem here is that governments are very limited in what they can do about what are essentially lifestyle choices. If people insist on living a drinking and drug-taking lifestyle, governments can legislate and they can cajole, but their powers are very limited. When this is combined with the truly irresponsible policy of giving parents excuses in advance, it produces the alarming Indigenous child welfare results that we have in this country.

The TRC child welfare Calls to Action only perpetuate this way of thinking and guarantee that the problem will persist for years to come.