|Laurie Ferland, a foster mother from the Misipawistik Cree Nation near Grand Rapids, Man., says she has applied to adopt the little girl she has cared for for nearly four years. Then, she plans to give up her foster care licence. (Karen Pauls/CBC)|
Foster parents and aboriginal leaders say it's difficult to get foster homes licensed on First Nations communities, forcing workers to send vulnerable at-risk children to cities like Winnipeg.
"The thing that was keeping me back from becoming a foster parent was we didn't have a home. We were living in and out of [my husband's] parents' home and in and out of my parents' home, taking turns finding a place to sleep," said Laurie Ferland of the Misipawistik Cree Nation near Grand Rapids, Man.
"I asked for some help because I really wanted this little girl" — an extended family member for whom she has been caring, she said — "to have a home to grow up in, and I was very lucky that our band here helped me with a home."
It's a problem many potential foster parents face. Even if they're not that far from major cities, some reserves are on bad roads or are fly-in only.
Some don't have running water. Most face housing shortages and overcrowding.
That's a huge roadblock, said Terri McNaughton-Wright, a mentorship trainer with the Manitoba Foster Family Network.
"Our standards for licensing are based on basic middle-class homes, so if you're living in a home with three generations of people and you're already crowded and you need to bring a niece or a grandchild into your home, that makes the system shiver," she said.
"The authorities are bound by the Child Welfare Act, which states all kinds of expectations — everything from the size of your room and the bedding and the safety blinds and all that stuff. So if you don't have running water and you don't have a clear road in and you don't have an opportunity to get clothing … those basic things preclude you from moving forward with providing care."
A former foster parent, McNaughton-Wright said that's a failure of the system.
"They lose tradition, they lose culture, they don't even have similar faces to look at," she said.
"We can find [the] Franklin [Expedition's] remains. Why can't we keep children in their own communities? Why can't our kids stay close to home?"
That's not all.
"There is a possibility one of the family members may have a criminal record that may prevent the agency from being able to license that home," said Ron Monias, CEO of the Northern Authority of Child and Family Services, which is responsible for children in care in Manitoba's north.
"You have a situation there where the foster care applicant has to make a decision. Do they ask the family member to leave so they can license the home?"