Alysha Brown knows what it is like to grow up disconnected from her extended family, her community and her culture — and she brings those insights to the Indigenous children and families she works with at a Greater Victoria delegated Aboriginal agency.
Brown is just one of thousands of social workers throughout B.C. that Social Work Week, March 10-16, 2019, exists to honour.
“I’ve been on a journey for about 15 years to reconnect with my culture,” said Brown, the team leader at Surrounded by Cedar Child and Family Services. “My mother is Swampy Cree from northern Manitoba and was adopted at a young age. My father is English. I was very much disconnected from family, community and culture and moved around a lot as a child.”
Her journey back has included cultural immersion, ceremony, tribal canoe journeys alongside youth and returning to her Grand Rapids Misipawistik Cree Nation a few years ago.
There are 24 delegated Aboriginal agencies in B.C. Surrounded by Cedar is one of only three that serve a primarily urban population. The agency received delegation in 2002 to offer services to children in care, voluntary support services and to recruit and approve foster homes. Some children in care may have adoption as their long-term plan, others may live with extended family caregivers and many, sadly, end up aging out of care.
“I consider this a really exciting time, potentially. It’s a shift in the way we practise Indigenous child welfare,” said Brown, who is now working on a master’s degree in Indigenous social work. “There are new amendments to the Child, Family and Community Services Act as well as the implementation of the Aboriginal Policy and Practice Framework. The Province is doing the work to begin to change the landscape. It hasn’t always been this way.
“We hold our social workers accountable to get culturally specific, which means we expect them to learn about the cultural heritage of the kids in their care and ensure that the kids’ foster caregivers are aware of it and nurturing their cultural identities as much as possible. We need to be sure that children are learning about the realities of their specific culture regardless of where that is in Canada. And in urban Indigenous communities, people come from all over Canada. We have something called a Cultural Continuity program where we bring children and youth back to their home territories.
“We view Indigenous people from a place of empowerment and resiliency. That slight shift in perspective can make a big difference in how we work with Indigenous children and families.
“In the last two years, we’ve successfully reunited five children with their families, which may seem like a small number, but success is measured by looking at the complex history of Indigenous child welfare in this country. Historically, ongoing and regular access for families was rarely encouraged after a continuing care order was granted, let alone reunification being considered as a viable permanent option for children in government care.”
Her own healing has happened because of her immersion in the urban Indigenous community in Victoria, her work in the community and through a drum group called the All Nations Strong Women for Education and Reconciliation (ANSWER). When they come together weekly to drum, and when they perform, they wear traditional regalia and integrate ceremony into their daily lives. It is an experience, Brown said, that connects her heart to the other women, creates a sense of community and informs the work she and her team do. They share a common goal to create better outcomes for Indigenous children, families and communities.
- In February 2019, the ministry broadened the acceptable education and experience requirements for frontline child protection positions based on a recommendation in Grand Chief Ed John’s report. Broadening the credentials and experience requirements enables increased diversity and potentially more applicants for hard-to-recruit areas.
- Starting April 2019, child protection workers will receive a pay increase as one more recruitment and retention tool specifically meant to attract employees to occupations with skill shortages.
- In partnership with the BC Public Service Agency, the ministry has initiated a formal recruitment and retention strategy intended to achieve ideal staffing and retention numbers, and will be completed by 2020.
Learn more about the delegated Aboriginal agency Surrounded by Cedar: https://www.surroundedbycedar.com/