Jolene Brolund, who has only ever worked within Indigenous communities, exemplifies the evolving role played by ministry social workers, who are in the spotlight during Social Work Week, March 10-16, 2019.
Her first assignment was in Burns Lake for Carrier Sekani Family Services. “It was my first experience of working with Indigenous families,” Brolund said, about a town with two local First Nations in the village and four surrounding it. “I was young and had no children then, and it was isolating being away from family. But I immersed myself in that community intentionally because those types of experiences are what you make of them. It was about building relationships in and outside of work. I once told a client to ‘keep me in the loop when the baby comes,’ and she actually showed up on my doorstep in labour.”
Brolund, now a team leader with 13 years experience as a child protection social worker, reflects on a special Welcome Home ceremony in late February at Esk’etemc (Alkali Lake), 40 kilometres from Williams Lake. The special ceremony was meant to welcome back the children from that community, now adults, who had been taken into care when they were young.
Brolund found herself standing in a room full of people including Sixties Scoop and residential school survivors, foster families, community partners and former youth in care. “It was very emotional for everyone who had returned when Chief Fred Robbins said, ‘This is your community. Welcome home!’
“One of the young men who returned that weekend had gone through a particularly tumultuous time. Back then, the community had to turn him away, given his high-risk behaviours. I kept looking for him throughout the day. A number of times, I found him participating in traditional dance, his hair flying in the wind, community members all around him with forgiveness.”
“All those who had returned were led into the gym by drumming and dancing, and then seated in a circle. Then they did the same for caregivers, blanketing them, which is a great show of respect. Indigenous and non-Indigenous were all treated equally and thanked for raising their children.”
“This is an indication of how the ministry is being welcomed now and how the work is different. The government has made it clear to us that as social workers, we can never be too creative to keep a child at home.”
The fact that Brolund and seven ministry colleagues were invited at all alludes to the positive shift in a historically fraught relationship between the ministry and the Indigenous community.
Kelly Durand, Brolund’s supervisor, thinks back to an event last April that also highlights this shift. The ministry office at Williams Lake organized a screening of the film Indian Horse, based on the book by late Ojibwe author Richard Wagamese. Eight local Indigenous communities, children and youth in care, RCMP, schools, and alcohol and drug counsellors were invited. They had to change venues because so many people responded. Afterward, there was a healing circle. “They invited us into circle and that went into the evening. You can’t participate in that and not be changed, not have more understanding, not do better at your work,” said Durand.
“The Indigenous communities we work with here know we’re listening. We recognize they are the experts. They are taking the lead in how we engage and empower their community members. There’s more to do, but we’re stepping up to be in a different place,” Durand said.
- In February 2019, the ministry broadened the 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.
- Over 400 Ministry of Children and Family Development staff and Delegated Aboriginal Agency employees met in winter 2019 to talk about how Indigenous child welfare needs to be done differently. They recommitted to the actions needed to improve the lives of Indigenous children, youth and families.