Kelowna aboriginal women call for changes to how government deals with families - InfoNews

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Kelowna aboriginal women call for changes to how government deals with families

Bill C92
May 15, 2019 - 7:00 AM

KELOWNA - They were few in numbers but their voices rang loudly and clearly across Kelowna  — they want their children to stay with their families and in their communities.

A small group of Indigenous women and children in Kelowna marched from the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Centre, past the Law Courts and to the Ministry of Children and Family Development — where they burnt sage — this week to express their support for Bill C92,  new legislation the federal government said would effectively hand over decision making to First Nations communities in an effort to tackle "crisis" levels of First Nations, Métis and Inuit children in foster care.

Fewer than 10 per cent of Canadian children are Indigenous, but they account for more than half of all kids in foster care, a fact the women who were marching know all too well.

Judy Francis has spent more than her fair share of time on the losing side of the system. 

“I was a foster child myself, I was raised in foster care, got out on my own in independent living when I was 16 years old,” she said, while her two young boys, born just 18 months apart, played nearby. 
“I lived in gutters and didn’t find myself valuable until I had my son.”

Her two sons were taken into care by the Ministry of Children and Family Development and she went to rehab to deal with her longstanding issues.

“I wasn’t educated in the way of the system,” she said. “(Social workers) told me they were there to work with me and their goal was to keep mothers and children together, but the month I got out of treatment they (started the process to adopt out my children.)”

Francis said that there’s a two-year window for getting parents and children back together, but she didn’t know about it. 

She’s not alone. Several other women with her said they also didn’t know how to navigate the system once they were in it. In a support group at the Ki-Low-Na friendship centre where Francis found herself in those early days of trying to get her children home, there were 20 aboriginal women who were in the same shoes. She’s one of two who persevered and got custody back.

“No one gives us a map to the wonderland,” she said. “They say, ‘we took your kids, now figure it out’. Most people don’t know their rights.”

Francis found help through her culture and more than one of the women who walked alongside her said it’s been key in their journey to better mental and spiritual health, guiding the way to sobriety.

It’s not, however, well woven into the prevailing system, which has seen multiple failures to the local aboriginal community in recent months.

One of the women there said that she was shocked when her two sons — whose names are protected— had been stolen from while in ministry care. They filed civil suits against the ministry, their social worker, Robert Riley Saunders, and the financial institution that dealt with the funds.

"I never expected that," said their mother.

So far 17 people have filed a complaint against Saunders, who was fired from the ministry in May 2018, for allegedly siphoning off thousands of dollars in financial benefits from children in care.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development said in a response to a notice of civil claim filed in November by the public guardian and trustee that it admits “vicarious liability for the acts and omissions” of  Saunders.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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