Imagining Child Welfare in the Spirit of Reconciliation

19 March 2019

“Imagining Child Welfare in the Spirit of Reconciliation: Voices from the Prairies”
Edited by Dorothy Badry, H. Monty Montgomery, Daniel Kikulwe, Marlyn Bennett, and Don Fuchs
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Keith Foster
$39.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-575-6

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about Indigenous child welfare and the Sixties Scoop, where Indigenous children were scooped up and placed with non-Indigenous families. A symposium held in Winnipeg, MB by the Prairie Child Welfare Consortium in 2016 addressed these and other serious issues. Imagining Child Welfare in the Spirit of Reconciliation is an outgrowth of that symposium.

This is volume 6 in the Voices from the Prairies series, focusing specifically on the well-being of Indigenous children in the three Prairie provinces – Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba. The authors and editors are passionate about promoting Indigenous rights, particularly for children. And by Indigenous or Aboriginal, they’re referring inclusively to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples.

This volume looks at four main areas – policy, practice, research, and education – in twelve chapters written by two dozen scholars well-versed in Indigenous culture and the child welfare system. Each chapter ends with a series of questions and list of references. These thought-provoking questions and their equally thoughtful answers are one of the bonus features of this book.

Weighing in at more than 300 pages, this primarily academic study involves some heavy-duty reading. It includes indexes for subjects and authors, plus biographies of the contributors and abstracts of their respective chapters.

A problem with the current child welfare system, according to the authors, is that policies designed to protect children can sometimes lead to further abuse. This is especially true of vulnerable Indigenous girls, or when children undergo numerous placements, resulting in further trauma with each move.

One chapter focuses specifically on FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder), a disability caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. This chapter includes the heart-wrenching stories of two women who share their experiences as mothers of children with FASD.

An issue raised at the symposium was whether Indigenous foster children should maintain links to their Indigenous culture and heritage by staying in contact with their birth parents so they could learn who they are and where they came from. But the authors found that “Many foster parents felt ill equipped to deal with high levels of family dysfunction.”

The symposium searched for solutions to Indigenous child abuse and neglect, such as better training for social services staff with an eye specifically to Indigenous needs, rather than policies with a “one size fits all” approach. The authors advocate a holistic approach to child-rearing, involving not just parents but other family members, relatives, and indeed the entire community.

The authors note that voices for change are calling for “justice and compensation for historically misguided practices such as the wholesale adoption of First Nations children into non-Aboriginal families.” They advocate accessing Indigenous knowledge and culture as a means of throwing off the shackles of colonialism.

Imagining Child Welfare in the Spirit of Reconciliation not only suggests solutions, more importantly, it offers hope. One spark of hope lies in that magic word – imagining. If we can imagine a better world, we can create a better world.


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