Child welfare review begins
Lisa Dyer looks at the pictures on her living room walls and muses that one of the photos should now come down.
It's of a family of four, including her husband, their son and the foster child who came into their life about 21/2 years ago. That child is no longer with them and the last few months have marked a process of transition. What was supposed to be a short-term placement became a longer commitment as her family became part of a process that she says took "too long."
"It just seemed to take a long time for the end to come. When you have a really young child, like a baby, it's just so important that whatever the end result is, happens as fast as possible," Dyer said. "In my mind that didn't happen. It's very hard for foster parents to have a child for a long time and then have to let them go." Her voice is one of among hundreds, if not thousands, that will be heard during the next three months as part of a review on the welfare of the province's youngest citizens. On April 1, the independent panel conducting the child welfare review launched its online consultation plan, one element of a strategy to seek input from people of the province about the welfare of its children. Dyer plans to participate in the review online and hopes to be part of the consultation meetings as a member of one of the stakeholder associations called to respond.
According to a recent news release by the panel, the plan includes a call for written submissions and consultation meetings with "select delegations." Between now and June 30, the review panel will hold in-person meetings, collect written submissions and open the consultation up to the general public online.
A questionnaire can be accessed online by the public, but NDP MLA and social services critic David Forbes said he doesn't believe it will reach those who most need to be part of the review. "I think access is a huge question here," he said.
Efforts will be made to go to those people who might not access the written survey, such as the kohkums group from the Community Clinic, or the single mothers who go to school at the Saskatoon Food Bank literacy centre, said Bob Pringle, the panel chair and a former social worker and former minister of social services.
Forbes also said he wants to see public meetings instead of private meetings with the chosen participants. "In public meetings, you can really get some very good things happening when people are talking and asking questions," Forbes said. "The public deserves to know what kind of things are going on, and what's happening."
But many of those who will participate agreed to do so only under confidentiality, said Pringle, either because they are in the system or the subject matter is too difficult. "There's a lot of triggers for people that touch off a lot of hurt. We'll be having private meetings with people for that reason," Pringle said.
Part of the consultation will involve on-reserve talks with the 18 family and children's services agencies representing 71 First Nations bands. There are also three bands that will be met with individually. Within those communities, people were very adamant they didn't want public meetings, said Pringle. "There's too much pain involved," he said. Of the approximately 3,500 children in care, 80 per cent are of First Nations ancestry, Pringle said.
The independent panel, appointed Jan. 26 by Social Services Minister Donna Harpauer, includes Pringle, Howard Cameron of the Beardy's and Okemasis First Nation, youth representative and former foster care ward April Durocher and former federal Conservative MP Carol Skelton. The goal is to create a new direction for the child welfare system in the province.
The panel will provide its recommendations to the government in the fall. Pringle said the report will be released publicly.
5 April 2010