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B.C.’s Indigenous youth and their families have good reason to be angry because the system continues to fail them.
Fourteen years after the federal and provincial governments explicitly agreed to eliminate the gap between graduation rates of Indigenous and other students, it hasn’t happened. Indigenous kids are still much less likely than other students to graduate from high school and much more likely to say that they don’t feel welcome at school.
Graduating from high school means gaining access to better jobs, as well as post-secondary education, which in turn correlate to better health and well-being.
Kids with the most complex needs require residential care. But many haven’t been getting what they need because B.C.’s Children and Family Development Ministry hasn’t been able to match children’s specific needs with services.
Worse, it has no idea of the quality of care given by the 100 contracted service providers because it wasn’t monitoring them consistently and had no set standards.
Those failings affect all kids in care. But Indigenous children and youth are 15 times more likely to be in care than other kids and comprise 47 per cent of the 1,148 who were in care last year.
Progress is being made. But B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer pointed out in two reports released this week that there is much more that needs to be done.
In 2005, the B.C. and federal governments signed an agreement promising that the education gap would be eliminated within a decade. So far, Bellringer’s report found that it’s only narrowed. Last year, 70 per cent of Indigenous students graduated compared with 86 per cent of other students. But that’s the average. Students living on reserves, Indigenous kids in care, as well as those in particular school districts, had lower graduation rates.
It’s considerably better than it was in 2000 when only 39 per cent of Indigenous children completed Grade 12 — a rate half that of other kids.
Bellringer first sounded the alarm in 2015 with a report that made 11 recommendations, most of which have been accepted and enacted. That report talked about the “racism of low expectations.” That’s one of the things that hasn’t been entirely eliminated. There are still school districts granting school completion or Evergreen certificates to Indigenous students who don’t have special needs that prevent them from working toward graduation. Without a high school diploma or Dogwood certificate, students aren’t eligible for post-secondary education.
Yet, the ministry has only directly intervened in three school districts. Others with consistently low results for Indigenous students haven’t been addressed.
There’s been no evaluation of whether targeted funding and enhanced agreements have made a difference. There is still no Aboriginal education strategy. A 2017 draft was never signed off on and never released.
In its response to the auditor’s report, the ministry says it’s working on addressing those problems. It has, for example, hired a director of Indigenous analytics and their website is tracking Indigenous and non-Indigenous students’ outcomes in all 60 school districts.
Still, it’s concerning that in the ministry’s 2019 Enhanced School District report Aboriginal students from Grades 4-12 indicated that they don’t feel nearly as welcome at school as others do.
Bellringer paints a bleaker picture of residential care within the long-beleaguered child protection system. Her report described gaps in services, no established standards, no monitoring and a continuing failure to provide culturally appropriate residential services. Caregiver screening is lax since the ministry doesn’t monitor or assess the skills or experience of staff working for contracted service providers.
In addition to her concerns that affect all children in care, the auditor noted that Indigenous kids are growing up disconnected from their cultures, traditions and customs because there aren’t enough caregivers able to do that. Some service providers had no Indigenous staff or staff who didn’t know or understand the impact of colonialism and residential schools.
Bellringer also said the ministry hasn’t consulted enough or established needed partnerships with Aboriginal agencies that have the delegated responsibility to provide service to 42 per cent of the Indigenous children and youth in care.
In her response Wednesday, minister Katrine Conroy accepted all of the recommendations and made a personal commitment to adopt them as well as continue to make other improvements to the child-protection system.
A private firm is currently completing financial audits on contractors, as well as compliance audits on their employee screening policies.
Since April, foster parents now receive an additional $179 a month, while extended family members now get the same amount as foster parents — a 70-per-cent increase.
Since last summer, 634 children-and-youth in residential care have been visited and interviewed by social workers. Of those, 57 were found to be in inappropriate placements. By January, the auditor reported that 24 had moved to a different residential service, foster care or emergency care. Eight had returned home and two were living independently. Three had aged out of care, which means the ministry no longer has contact with them. And, one is missing.
Change keeps being recommended and promised. It’s even happening. But it’s not happening fast enough for kids. For them, a year is like a lifetime and, more importantly, what happens during those crucial childhood years sets their course for a lifetime.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019