Friday, December 4, 2015

'Government is not an adequate parent': Children's advocate calls for better care options



Darlene MacDonald released a special report, Permanency Beyond Foster Care, on Wednesday, recommending the province assess whether its rules and policies meet priorities set out by the United Nations on the rights of children and indigenous people. (Childrens' Advocate)

Manitoba's children's advocate is urging the province to better protect almost 6,000 kids in permanent care by finding "loving family environments."

Darlene MacDonald released a special report, Permanency Beyond Foster Care, on Wednesday, recommending the province assess whether its rules and policies meet priorities set out by the United Nations on the rights of children and indigenous people.

"If we want the child welfare system to operate in the best interests of children, youth and families, leaving a child or youth to languish in care as a permanent ward cannot be acceptable," MacDonald said.

"We need to see the system get more creative and more assertively seek out extended family and community members who can provide stable, loving, long-term options. Involving family and community is the only way in which the long-term needs of children will be met. The government is not an adequate parent."

Overall, the current system lacks stability and permanency, MacDonald said.

"It's concerning because children just stay in care. There are babies who come into the system who do not get secure homes, whether that's through custom adoption or other opportunities with relatives."

In 2014, there were 10,293 children in care in Manitoba and of those, 5,848 (57 per cent) were in care as permanent wards, the Office of the Children's Advocate reports.

Children have a right to grow up in a continuous family environment in which they can flourish, the report states.

"When it is not possible to return children to their immediate family, the government must fulfil its obligations to work in a child's best interest and actively build solutions that provide loving family environments to children in care," it states.

"Developing extended family and community or kin placements must be made a priority for how the child welfare system operates."
First Nations get more say in child welfare under proposed Manitoba law

The report also calls on the government to support custom adoptions that reflect indigenous values for First Nations children.

MacDonald declined to outline what custom adoption should look like, saying she would like to see indigenous community leadership set forth that vision.

"What we've seen is kids want a connection to the community. Kids want to know who their parents are and they want stability," she said.

"We need to work with them so it happens in a safe manner."

Just before the children's advocate's report was released, the province announced it is pursuing legislative changes to the Child and Family Services Act that would see more traditional methods of care put in place for indigenous foster children.