As part of a coalition of organizations, including our friends West Coast LEAF, Rise Women’s Legal Center, and Feminists Deliver, Battered Women’s Support Services has written to the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD) on necessary reforms to social work practice within MCFD.
Any meaningful reform of social work oversight must first acknowledge and address the role of social workers in the historic and ongoing colonization of Indigenous children, youth, families, communities, and Nations.
Cindy Blackstock’s research reveals that as early as 1946, the Canadian Association of Social Workers and Canadian Welfare Council were not only aware of residential schools but were active participants in the placement of Indigenous children in residential schools until as late as the 1960s. Social workers’ ignorance of, or willful blindness to, the systemic impacts of colonization and their support for assimilationist and racist colonial policies contributed to the removal and displacement of thousands of Indigenous children over many decades, including the Sixties Scoop.
The removal of children from their families, communities and lands is not an act of history; today’s Millennium Scoop is an ongoing, colonial act of dispossession, displacement and alienation from community, kin and homelands. The failure to support and empower parents, families, communities and Nations throughout their engagement with MCFD has specific acute impacts which ripple out from the child, their parents, and kin to the broader community, and which persist for generations. Apart from the impact on children being taken from their parents, families and communities, there are negative health outcomes for parents as well. This includes but is not limited to: a significantly increased risk of overdose in the period following the child’s apprehension; increased risk of homelessness for families following the removal of children; and an intergenerational cycle where children who are removed from their families are more likely to experience their own children being removed through the family policing system.
Therefore, it is necessary to align MCFD social work practice with the province’s commitments to advance reconciliation and implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA) in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which recognizes that Indigenous families and communities “share responsibility for the upbringing, training, education, and well-being of children.”
As we explain in our letter, we call on MCFD to prioritize the following in addressing social work oversight:
- Acknowledging and addressing the longstanding and ongoing colonial harms of social work on Indigenous parents, families, and children;
- Upholding family and parental rights and recognizing that the maintenance of family and cultural ties is essential to the well-being of children;
- Accountability and transparency to families, Indigenous Nations and communities; and
- Establishing a timely and responsive complaints process in the Child, Family and Community Service Act (CFCSA.)
Overall, the current state of a lack of accountability has resulted in an unhealthy and unjust power dynamic between MCFD staff and the families that come within the Ministry’s purview. This dynamic makes parents’ interactions with social workers traumatizing and adversarial. It also perpetuates distrust that vastly undermines prevention efforts. Parents must not be made to feel they are at the whim of social workers or be required to abandon all rights to their dignity and autonomy in order to meet shifting requirements from those who hold such incredible power over them. Parents and families cannot continue to be subjected to suspicion, surveillance, regulation, and punishment.
In our letter, we offer a number of recommendations towards decolonizing change by upholding family and parental rights, shifting from apprehension to prevention, prioritizing family and cultural ties, and ensuring accountability and transparency for parents, families, Indigenous Nations, and communities.