Alberta’s foster child system under fire

By Eric Mathison

Since a 15-month-old boy from a foster home in southern Alberta was hospitalized earlier this month, questions have been raised regarding the conditions foster children face. RCMP are investigating the circumstances that led to the injury; no comments have been made regarding criminal charges. The foster program in Alberta did not receive much attention before this incident and the state in which it is run is certainly in need of review.

The most remarkable statistic is that while four per cent of Alberta’s population is native, native children make up 63 per cent of foster children. What’s more, the media has given lots of attention to the concerns of the biological mother. Her statements demand comment.

The 21-year-old woman from the Tsuu T’ina Nation gave two children up for adoption. It isn’t clear whether they are fraternal twins or were born at different times. What is also unclear is why the mother is being questioned at all. While any mother has an interest in knowing the well-being of her children, it is a right that should be considered compromised when she chooses not to raise the child herself. The system we should promote is one where the children, when they reach an age where they are able to make the decision, choose whether they wish to have contact with the parents. Every member of society should be upset that an accident has occurred (and there is not yet reason to think it was not an accident); the mother’s views should be treated with the same weight as my own.

Of more concern, the mother has stated her disappointment that the children were given to non-native foster parents because no native parents on reserve were available. Short of that, she says, they should have been placed with native parents in Calgary. What the ethnicity of parents has to do with this case is cloudy, but two things should be noted. First, if the foster parents passed the screening process, then there was no way to know that this incident could have been prevented by the child staying on reserve. Second, while First Nations people are the most vocal group in Alberta in terms of cultural survival, would similar efforts be made to put a child of Irish parents with Irish foster parents? Should such efforts be made?

While it is a good time to review the foster program, it is also important for the aboriginal community to address this issue as a group. Forces within and without have contributed to the high suicide, crime and substance abuse problems of native people. There is no ethnicity in Canada that faces worse discrimination and, like so many indigenous groups around the world, the attainment of equality has been a constant struggle. Steps should be made to provide greater access to sexual education, contraception and abortion services.

While abortion is never a preferred option, the worry that you won’t be able to look after your child should provide reason for thought– at least enough to use protection. Should the child be born, the point of adoption is a bad time to start negotiating the conditions the child will be placed in once adopted. The community focus of First Nations has done a tremendous amount of good, but a group already burdened with so many problems can not be expected to take on more. The solution must address all issues and must come from within the communities themselves.

The foster system is the next best solution for parents that can’t look after their children. The sacrifices foster parents make are tremendous and the work they do– always with children from troubled backgrounds– is not commended enough. In fact, many aspects of determining foster parents would do well to be applied to all potential parents: courses on parenting, perhaps an interview to ensure they meet requirements and a long talk so they know what they’re getting into. Many churches require it before marriage, kennels suggest it for dog owners and universities demand it for admission. Not all people should get married, own dogs or go to university– we should stop assuming all people can be good parents.

Leave a comment