Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/8/2011 (3546 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In a recently released report on Ontario's aboriginal child-welfare system called Children First, John Beaucage coined a new phrase -- the "Millennium Scoop." It refers to the epidemic rates of aboriginal kids currently in CFS care nationwide, while also paying homage to the past.
The '60s scoop -- which occurred from the 1960s to the mid-'80s -- was an era when thousands of aboriginal children were taken into care, some placed in foster care and others adopted outright to non-aboriginal families. The effects were devastating. Many of these kids grew up without an identity and often in less than ideal conditions.
Beaucage is a former grand chief of the Anishinabek Nation, and Ontario's aboriginal adviser to the minister of children and youth. He says in his report that the CFS system has changed for the better in several respects, but the rate of aboriginal kids in care is still too high.
Aboriginal people make up two per cent of Ontario's population, but 10 to 20 per cent of the children in care.
I got a glimpse inside this Millennium Scoop firsthand just a few weeks ago.
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A woman I'll call Lisa has four kids. All are still very young. Her second-oldest is a four-year-old boy I'll call Evan. There's always been some concern about Evan, who has never spoken much in his life. Some of Lisa's family members think he's got a disability or is autistic, since he's obviously smart but can't seem to talk.
He's also a mini-Houdini.
A few months ago, Lisa went to Winnipeg and left Evan with a babysitter for the evening. The babysitter fell asleep, woke up and noticed Evan was gone. The police were called and the child was found a street away, unhurt.
But now CFS is involved, since this isn't the first time this has happened. It's the third time in a year that Evan has "escaped" and the police were called.
Evan's getaways aren't uncommon, even at home.
Lisa and her kids live with her father and stepmother, and at times the front door has been locked with padlocks and the windows were nailed shut to keep Evan from taking off.
Like I said, he's a little Houdini.
CFS kept Evan for a week and did some tests and exams. They concluded Lisa is guilty of neglect. Besides the escapes, Evan's teeth are in very bad shape and he's never had immunization needles.
CFS took temporary custody of Evan.
After more than a month had passed, CFS told Lisa they're going to keep Evan for a while longer; they are doing more tests to see if he has some kind of syndrome. They believe he's a special-needs child.
They've asked Lisa if she drank alcohol or did drugs while she was pregnant and she said no.
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Lisa has been granted a weekend visit with Evan, and CFS has arranged for a hotel room in Winnipeg so she and all her kids can be reunited.
Lisa's mom invited me to tag along for a visit to the hotel to see Lisa and the kids.
Lisa's mom was part of the '60s scoop and what's going on with her grandson doesn't bother her. Part of her traditional teachings taught her that all things happen for a reason. Despite their difficult upbringing, none of her five kids -- including Lisa -- was ever taken into CFS care.
However, now her grandson is part of this Millennium Scoop.
The hotel isn't the ritziest place in town but it's decent. Lisa's room is clean and air-conditioned, and there's a small fridge, TV, clean water, a shower and bathtub. These are things some people might take for granted, but they are not always things readily available on a reserve.
There is also a kiddie pool on the main floor.
But the most important thing is the big smiles on the faces of Lisa and her kids while they all get ready to go for a swim. This is like a trip to Disneyland for them. They frolic in the pool while an aboriginal CFS worker discreetly watches from a distance. Lisa likes her, and she's there to help Lisa if she needs it.
The aboriginal CFS agency dealing with Lisa and her son is trying to do things by the book.
Lisa's mom can't take Evan, since she works long hours and feels too old to care for a high-needs child. Lisa's father is trying to get custody of Evan, but it's going to take time.
In Evan's case, CFS is going to be in his life for a while, and that's what's best in the long run.
It has taken 100 years to get us to where we are, so it's going to take more than a few decades to get everything right again. The residue of generations of social problems needs time to heal and wash away.
Nothing is perfect in this world, and some of our families -- and CFS -- still have a ways to go. But children should always come first.
Colleen Simard is a Winnipeg writer.