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.”