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Child protection must include First Nations: Paulina Roche

'Who is advocating on behalf of the parents?' says N.W.T. Native Women's Association president

CBC News

The president of the Native Women's Association is calling for the Northwest Territories to involve families and communities when a child is removed from a home.

Paulina Roche says the current approach to child protection replicates the residential school system.

She says band councils, like the one she manages in Deline, and other organizations can help support parents and ensure families stay together and stay healthy.

"We want them to work with the leaders, work with our First Nation,” Roche says. “If it's our First Nations children, we want them to work with us."

Ninety-five per cent of children in care in the Northwest Territories are aboriginal.

For Roche, the issue is personal.

Just a few months ago, child protection workers apprehended the son of her niece.

Roche travelled to Yellowknife to lobby the Department of Health and Social Services to allow her niece's case to be moved back to their home community of Deline.

Roche worries that had her family not been involved, her niece would have struggled to believe she could get her child back.

Now they're both back in Deline, and this week the boy is expected to move back in with his mother.

"She made really good changes for herself,” Roche says. “She just needed somebody to help her, somebody to do something for her. The system was failing for her and we had to come together as a family too to help her."

Roche knows that isn’t the outcome for all families.

She says the way the child protection system limits access of parents to their children is often so discouraging to parents, they don’t make positive changes in their lives.

She says involving band councils can help ensure children get to spend time with their birth parents — even when they're in foster care.

And says involving families and communities can help ensure there are plans of care that benefit both parents and children.

"Who's helping the parents?” Roche asks. “Who is advocating on behalf of the parents? We just leave them high and dry and say, ‘You go work with family services department.’"

Roche says health authorities could set up better plans of care for children if the First Nations are involved.

For instance, bands could help ensure parents struggling to keep their kids get access to housing.

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