Alberta's foster child system under fire

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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.





March 23, 2009

Dear Mr. Eric Mathison,

Your concept and depiction of those persons who access Ministry assistance for their children over-whelms me in its narrow view. Frankly, I find it quite difficult to address issues respectfully due to ignorance displayed; but suffice it to say I shall do my best and - possibly in attempt to enlighten - may better educate you and others who are mistaken about various issues which encompass Alberta's foster care system.

First of all, let me begin by clarifying that I am not a member of the public who is of Native heritage, thus, no excuse can be placed upon view that might otherwise be attributed to a disgruntled "targeted ethnic group". In fact, I am a white, middle-class, professional person who works in the health-care and education sector. Yet, I, too, know the tragic challenges faced by scores of persons who are forced - not chose - as you so inadequately misrepresented fact, to relinquish their child in effort to secure funding and services for extraordinary needs. Truly, the greatest sacrifice that can ever befall a loving parent is to be placed in such a situation that he/she must 'choose' to forfeit their parentage in effort to allow the child opportunity to flourish. You insult not only Aboriginal groups with your limited foresight, but all Nationalities, Irish included!

Furthermore, to declare abstinence and abortion as an option preferable to out of home placement of a child is ludicrous! You de-value the lives of many individuals who deserve love and protection and have every right to be born - as God intended - alongside all human-beings. What of families who produce a child in the union of love? A child who is immeasurably wanted, dreamed of, and planned for, but to everyone's shock is born with significant medical issues and delays... this occurring without any fault of the parents? What if the Ministry of Children's Services steps in offering financial support, but explains that in order to receive services, guardianship must be relinquished to the Ministry and an out of home placement secured? More concisely: "The kindest thing to do is surrender your child" so that he/she has hope of opportunity to live? That as a natural family, you will not be allowed the same level of services or funding available in foster care. Is that parent, too, deemed to love his/her child less because they are forced to perform the greatest sacrifice of their life; placing trust in 'expert' Representation that this stipulation is the sole way to secure their child's well-being?

Shame on you, for you have crossed the line in your pretence to know the true nature of natural families reaching out in good faith to help their beloved child; in turn, many failed by far worse scenarios than had the Ministry not intervened with their archaic version of care! Before you intercede and declare that such a scenario must naturally be a unique blemish on the part of the Alberta Government, I can assure - respectfully - that this view represents numerous instances of similar tragic response to families who have born a child with medical and developmental needs. This, however, is not an Alberta dilemma alone, but one that is encountered across Canada, the United States and abroad.

Forgive me if my attitude towards your misguided attitude is harsh. That is not my intention for I feel that it is only with clarity and without fear of the unknown that we can avert ignorance. That is not always easy to manage; especially so: While in the midst of commentary to you, Global News Edmonton displayed the Ottawa case of "Baby Penelope", the family of a child who - born with severe developmental disability - has needed to surrender guardianship to achieve out-of-home care where round the clock nurses are available for extraordinary care needs. Families are doubly plagued and injured by the indifference towards the very real difficulties associated with the birth or development of severe needs. Governments respond that funding is now available to assist, but limited resources exist in the daily challenges that arise. Very basic needs are unable to be met including ability to even maintain employment because aides are not available to provide care to the child so that a parent can achieve an income, nor is a parent able to attend the limitless appointments a child with medical needs must visit without fear of loss of employment. We need to address issues from a point of view that incorporates sensitivity and strategically incorporates direction towards Family-Centred Care where all individuals lives are valued, basic human rights honoured and respected.

Yours sincerely,


The story that the above is referring to, about the severely disabled child is probably a reference to this. The spam catcher doesn't like this. One more try and then I'm giving up.