Illustration courtesy Marlyn and Raven Bennett. Design and logo by Ian Regier
Oct. 22, 2018
National conference builds momentum for change in Canada's child welfare system
The numbers basically speak for themselves. Indigenous children, under the age of 14 make up over half — 52.2 per cent — of foster children in Canada. Considering that Indigenous children make up just seven per cent of Canadian children, the numbers can rightly be called staggering, even alarming.
Arlen Dumas, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, characterized the situation by saying, “It’s truly looking more and more like a second generation of residential school.” Last November, Jane Philpott Canada’s minister responsible for Indigenous Services referred to Indigenous children in care as a “humanitarian crisis.”
Groundswell of change building
Against this backdrop, on Oct. 23-26, Canada’s child welfare experts, leaders and practitioners will meet in Calgary to discuss the Future of Child Welfare in Canada. The sold-out conference, which is being hosted by the University of Calgary Faculty of Social Work, is the first gathering, of this scope, to address these issues in Canada.
“This conference comes at an important time in the history of child welfare in Canada,” said University of Calgary social work professor Dr. Dorothy Badry, PhD, one of the organizers who is well known for her work in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder. “As researchers, advocates, practitioners and policy-makers it’s my hope that we can have conversations and make connections that will help to spark real change in this country.”
Alex Scheiber, deputy director of child welfare in British Columbia, and leader of the National and Provincial Directors of Child Welfare, says the conference reflects a growing determination to address the underlying issues in the child welfare system and to spark a truly national conversation.
“There's a huge wave of energy across Canada to move toward a better system, a dramatically different system of child welfare,” says Scheiber. “What we've been doing for the last 50 years has been more or less the same model. We need to look at dramatically different systems and approaches. My hope is that we can share information, we can share strategies, and we can build on that significant momentum and produce a report that inspires everyone to continue with that charge.”
Senate of Canada
Murray Sinclair and Mike Downie headline keynote speakers
The conference, which is being held at the Sheraton Cavalier hotel, brings together the provincial and territorial directors of child welfare with the 9th Annual Prairie Child Welfare Consortium conference. Organizers say the gathering provides a unique opportunity for everyone involved or affected by the child welfare system — including researchers, policy-makers, bureaucrats, Indigenous leaders, and front-line practitioners — to share information about models and proven strategies that are working for Indigenous communities.
The gathering will also feature an impressive list of keynote speakers including Senator Murray Sinclair, chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC); Mike Downie, co-founder of the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund, and Graydon Nicholas, former lieutenant governor of New Brunswick and the first Aboriginal person to hold this office.
In many ways it’s fitting that the University of Calgary Faculty of Social Work hosts this gathering as it reflects leadership role the faculty has taken over the years in moving to address these issues.
“My hope is that this conference can provide an opportunity for the deep conversations we need to have about protecting children in Canada right now,” says Dr. Jackie Sieppert, dean of the Faculty of Social Work. “I am also hopeful that a collaborative and constructive national conversation, building on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Human Rights Tribunal and other significant national Indigenous strategies will create a watershed moment in child welfare in Canada. We owe that to our children.”
Raven Sinclair (below), scholar and survivor of the '60s Scoop/Indigenous Child Welfare system, will present on the '60s Scoop at a free public lecture Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m. at the Glenbow Museum. Get your tickets.