xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil Waututh) / Vancouver, BC, Nov. 23, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society (VACFSS) has received a ruling from the BC Human Rights Tribunal in a very difficult situation involving child custody and an Indigenous mother.
VACFSS regrets that solutions could not be found outside the Tribunal process and recognizes the pain the complainant (identified in the ruling as R.R.) went through, and the challenges her children faced due to their circumstances and history, leading to VACFSS’ involvement.
As Canada’s first Indigenous-led fully-delegated urban child protection agency, VACFSS has provided services to children and families since 1992 that are consistent with Indigenous values, prioritizing processes that empower families to find a resolution focused on sustaining, collaborating, and rebuilding relationships in very complex situations of child safety.
The very mandate of VACFSS is closely tied to the social and historical context in which the complaint arose. VACFSS is an Indigenous-led response to the systemic failures of the child welfare system, which are part of the larger and ongoing story of colonialism in British Columbia. VACFSS recognizes the significant impact of child protection intervention on Indigenous families, including the family affected by this case. Every family that has received services from VACFSS has been impacted by the ongoing, intergenerational impacts of colonialism on Indigenous Peoples.
As a result, VACFSS prioritizes the least intrusive measures and alternatives to care to keep children safe. VACFSS has implemented its own policies to change the trajectory for Indigenous children, youth and families to ensure their rights, safety, well-being, and spirit are protected, honoured and upheld. Where children are required to be cared for outside of their home, our policies ensure that children remain connected with their parents, family members, community and culture.
We are now reviewing the Tribunal’s decision in detail, but note that the focus of the decision was on the rights of the mother, while from VACFSS’ perspective, parental rights must be balanced with the well-being of children and our responsibility to care for and honour each child as a “sacred bundle”.
VACFSS’s restorative practice approach and prioritizing family preservation is apparent in the declining numbers of children and youth entering care since VACFSS assumed full delegation in 2008. One in two children coming into child protection care at VACFSS is placed with extended family members or the child’s circle.
In 30 years of operation, this is the first time VACFSS has been party to a hearing before the Human Rights Tribunal. We do note that the Tribunal decision highlighted that the Board of Directors is comprised entirely of accomplished Indigenous People with a commitment to the urban Indigenous community [para. 50].
The Tribunal also recognized that VACFSS and its employees are genuinely dedicated to doing child protection work in a way that recognizes, and does not perpetuate, the discriminatory impacts of child welfare on Indigenous People.
VACFSS staff undertake immersive training and deliberately design policies to better understand and avoid the discriminatory failings of colonial child welfare [para. 299].
The Tribunal acknowledged that VACFSS already prioritizes policies and training about how to serve Indigenous Peoples in child welfare [para. 390], but we will explore other learnings and continue to enhance and expand on our collaborative efforts and processes, including ongoing partnerships with First Nations communities across Canada.
VACFSS will not have further public comment about this decision, respecting the privacy of all involved in a difficult process.
Statement issued by:
Bernadette Spence Linda Stiller
Executive Director Chair, Board of Directors