By Katrine Conroy
Minister of Children and Family Development
Nov. 22, 2017
Discourse Media asked journalists throughout B.C. to contribute stories today for Child Welfare Media Day. I applaud every effort to highlight the needs of some of B.C.’s most vulnerable children and youth, and I am committed to changing a system many British Columbians perceive as “broken.”
As B.C.’s new Minister of Children and Family Development, I am honoured to stand up for kids and families from all backgrounds. I am optimistic about the role this Ministry can play in improving lives, I’m determined to challenge the status quo and excited about the positive change we can make.
I recognize there are problems that must be fixed, and we have much work ahead of us. It starts by choosing to invest in children and their families. This means offering supports to ensure children, especially Indigenous children, don’t enter the care system in the first place.
Parents and families deserve a system that works for them, not against them. Our commitment to struggling families is to support them in every way we can, and our first priority is connecting them to the services and programs that can help.
We will continue to step up and care for those children who need our temporary or, sadly, sometimes our long-term protection. And we know we can do more to keep children safely with their extended families, close to their friends and communities and connected with their culture.
For kids coming into government care, our every focus is on connecting them with a safe, nurturing environment. Where that hasn’t happened by the age of 19, we can’t afford to turn our backs and leave them to fend for themselves. I didn’t say “see you later” to my four children when they reached 19. As the parent to kids in care, we need to provide the same supports their friends can rely on.
That’s why one of our first big announcements as government was to expand the tuition waiver program so that all 25 of B.C.’s public post-secondary institutions now grant tuition waivers to young people who have spent time in our care.
There’s still more to do on this front. Every young adult takes a different path and faces different struggles. We need to ensure our services help all youth aging out of care who need it, not just a few.
Our government is committed to implementing the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It’s time to shift our practice and embody the principle of “nothing for us without us” with respect to the needs of Indigenous children, families and communities and acknowledge that system-wide assumptions and practices have failed them and their families.
As guided by Grand Chief Ed John’s report, we are working to reduce the number of Indigenous children in government care, supporting our Delegated Aboriginal Agencies (DAAs) to provide services at the same level offered to non-Indigenous children and families, and delivering our services in a way that respects traditional practice. We are also committed to a new approach to the jurisdiction and funding of child welfare and are working very positively with Indigenous leaders and communities on this goal.
Just last weekend we saw a big step forward on reconciliation with the Métis with the establishment of a new DAA, Lii Michif Otipemisiwak Family and Community Services, which is receiving $2.7 million for staffing, program delivery and operational costs to take over responsibility for 50 Métis children currently in government care in the Kamloops area.
Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting foster families and hearing how two young people’s mental health and well-being improved because their foster fathers connected them with their Indigenous community.
I have also been encouraged by the enthusiasm, intelligence and dedication of the members of our Youth Advisory Council. I know that these young people – and the many former foster kids who participated in the Fostering Change rally last month – represent so many others throughout B.C. who are giving their time and energy to improve the system for children coming after them. Working with their input, I know a better future for youth in care is possible.
We can and must do better for all children and families in our province. I’m inspired by the healthy public discussion we’re seeing today. I hope the stories published on Child Welfare Media day help shine a light not only on the challenges but also the successes and the opportunities.