Colonization & Child Welfare

The Canadian Encyclopedia defines child welfare in Canada as “a system of children’s aid societies established by provincial and territorial governments, at times in partnership with private organizations, to provide services that supplement or substitute for parental care and supervision”. Which seems fine. Its a system often framed in the context of helping both children and their families achieve what’s best for them. However, upon any further inspection its history with colonization and the cultural genocide of indigenous people becomes plainly clear.

To begin with, the welfare child system is sometimes colloquially called “the millennium scoop”. And that within itself, that already says a lot. The name itself is a callback to the Sixties scoop, in which Indigenous children were taken (without either their parents or band’s consent) and readopted/redistributed into almost always non-Indigenous and middle-class families. This wave of family separation in 1951 and began to falter in the 1980s. Social workers were not obligated to have any sort of training or knowledge of Indigenous Welfare. Up to the 1980’s they weren’t even obligated to tell bands about the removal of the child. As one might expect, the mass forced separation of Indigenous families came with adverse repercussions for both the family and the child. Readopted children reported experience feelings of shame, isolation, and a total loss of cultural identity, and some reported sexual, physical and other kinds of abuse by their “adoptive” families. In almost all cases, the “adoptive” families were not capable of providing culturally specific care. To make matters even worse, birth records were kept hidden unless parents and children consented. This meant that many adoptees learned the nature of their heritage much later in life.

This act of cultural genocide was completely legal at the time thanks to the Indian Act. Specifically, section 88 which allowed provinces’ power over Indigenous child welfare.
The federal policies which Indigenous communities were dealing with (for example, the Indian Act and Residential schools) made many of this community’s prime targets. The combination of various legacies of colonialism and this new jurisdiction led to the mass removal of Indigenous children from Indigenous communities. Families living on reserves were especially affected, as they were even more likely to be dealing with poverty, socio-economic barriers, and high death rates. The “scoop” was framed as a solution, an act of “kindness” towards Indigenous children and communities (to problems which were created by settlers). However, it was little more than a thinly veiled extension of a legacy of recurring colonialism.

We can use the sixties scoop as a benchmark to judge the progress of today. Between the time when the sixties scoop began to recede and the current day there has been little change. There is a lot of talk about improving child welfare in BC, especially for Indigenous communities, but virtually nothing of substance has changed. Indigenous children are still disproportionately represented in the welfare system. Indigenous children are fifteen times more be in government care compared to non-indigenous children. To better illustrate this, in 2018 6,698 youth were in BC care, and 4,252 were Indigenous. This statistic is worsened by the fact that Indigenous children only make up 10% of the child population. Social workers often cite low income, inadequate housing, food insecurity and health concerns as reasons why Indigenous children should be removed. Like the past system, child welfare doesn’t take into account intergenerational trauma, systemic racism, marginalization, and disparities in social health. All of which are direct products of colonization.


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