Mary Teegee is chair of a forum that represents agencies providing child and family services to approximately 121 First Nations across B.C. She is also the executive director of Carrier Sekani Family Services. (Chris Corday/CBC) A long-time Aboriginal youth advocate says the B.C. government should have done a better job consulting First Nations before introducing legislative changes to improve Indigenous child welfare.
More dialogue between the Ministry of Children and Family Development and the communities involved is needed get the heart of the problem of children going into care, said Mary Teegee, chair of the Delegated Aboriginal Agencies Provincial Forum.
The forum represents agencies providing child and family services to approximately 121 First Nations across B.C.
"As a partner, working with the province and also with the federal government, we were not consulted," Teegee told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC’s The Early Edition .
"The normal practice is they make a change to the act, they don’t include us or they make a change to the policy and tell us after the fact."
Teegee works closely with children and youth as president of the B.C. Aboriginal Child Care Society and with the Carrier Sekani Family Services.
"There are a lot of issues and concerns and we haven’t even had the time to digest what those are," she said. Proposed changes
The changes aim to keep Indigenous communities involved in children’s welfare decisions in order to help keep youth out of government care.
Currently, the ministry can only reach out to communities with a parent’s consent or to ensure the child’s safety and well-being. That can make it difficult for social workers to find alternatives to removing children from their home, the ministry says.
Under the proposed changes, announced earlier this week, more information will be shared with Indigenous communities early on to keep children from coming into care in the first place.
But Teegee said the changes don’t help solve underlying problems.
"I’m not saying that it’s not a step in the right direction. However, there are many other bigger issues that should be looked at by the ministry," she said.
Teegee is concerned there are practical and ethical issues in at play, including neglect, privacy concerns and the definition of whether a child is at risk.
"Let’s look at the issues of poverty and why children are going into care in the first place and come up with solutions together," she said. Interim step
The ministry said it did consult with relevant communities ahead of the proposal.
"We held briefings with a number of Indigenous communities individually, sought specific advice from experts," and sought feedback from Aboriginal child welfare agencies, said Katrine Conroy, the minister of Children and Family Development in a written statement.Conroy said the proposed changes are an interim step in response to the over-representation of Indigenous children in care."We understand that some Indigenous communities would have preferred we consult more before making any changes," Conroy said. "But others have told us it is time for action and we agree." With files from The Early Edition .
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