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Child Welfare Report Sites Need for Change

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 1983      v13 n01 p05  
Artwork The damage being done to Native children, families and communities by their contact with Canada's child welfare system may outweigh the benefits they receive. That is the conclusion of a major report entitled Native Children and the Child Welfare System released March 10 by the Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD).

The report presents statistics to demonstrate that the number of Native children (including status Indian, non status Indian, Metis and Inuit children) who are in the care of child welfare authorities is extremely high both in absolute and relative terms. The problem is particularly acute in the four western provinces and the two territories where the Native population is largest. In 1980-1981 in those jurisdictions, the proportion of children in care" who were Native ranged from 37% - 64%.

The most accurate statistics pertain only to status Indian children, but they demonstrate the extent of the problem. In 1980, .96% of all Canadian children were in care. By contrast, 4.6% of all status Indian children were in care. And, while they constituted only 2% of all Canadian children, status Indian children made up almost 10% of all children in care in Canada. Not only are the numbers of Native children in care highly disproportionate but the vast majority of Native children are placed in non-Indian settings. For example, in 1981, 77.2% of all status Indian children placed for adoption were adopted by non-Indian families.

This phenomenon has had devastating consequences for many Native children, families and communities and a variety of factors combine to explain why the number of Native children in care is so highly disproportionate. The report highlights two in particular: a jurisdictional dispute between the federal and provincial governments and a misunderstanding of Native cultural values.

The report also notes the jurisdictional battle has resulted in discriminatory treatment of status Indians and has placed Canada in violation of the United Nations' Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

A number of recommendations are contained in the report and would entail changes in federal and provincial legislation, policies and practice. Increased participation by Native people in the provision of child& welfare services, the report argues, is a prerequisite for change.