Native Groups Model Radical Alternatives for Approaching Foster Care

The Unites States and Canada have been facing major problems with the foster care system for decades. Too often there are more children who have been removed from their homes than there are safe places for them to go. Many states are struggling with the budget for foster care. Aside from the logistics of the system, there are the long-term effects on the children involved. Trauma can occur when a child is taken from their home and family by a stranger with none of their personal belongings to comfort them.

Some indigenous groups are recommending radical changes. Well, what seems radical to us is merely procedure to them. For over 10 years, the Nisichawaysihk Cree First Nation in Northern Manitoba has been removing the parents from the home, not the children. Once there has been a report, an assessment is made about the family and home situation. At that time, if action is needed, the parents are taken from the home and placed with extended family. A respite worker is assigned to live in the home for 48 hours. If it is determined that the parents need to stay elsewhere longer, an available family member with move into the home with the children until the case is resolved.

In Winnipeg, the Metis Child and Family Services Authority has a different approach that they believe is beneficial to everyone involved. The program, called LIFE, has the parents and kids taken from the home and put into foster care together. The family stays with a “life mom” who takes care of everyone and teaches valuable skills to the parent. It’s sort of a three-part process. Initially the “life mom” is in control of everything while the parents shadow her. In the middle time frame they work alongside each other with the parents doing most of the work and the “life mom” occasionally sharing guidance and instruction. In the last bit the parents are in control, with her behind, just observing. The process takes a different amount of time for everyone, but when the last part comes around naturally, she knows the parents are ready to be on their own.