Indigenous agency receives foster care licence

Mnaasged Child and Family Services announces that it's received its foster care license approval from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. 21 June 2021. (Screenshot from Zoom)

An Indigenous agency in southwestern Ontario can now provide foster care for First Nation children and youth.

Mnaasged Child and Family Services announced Monday that it’s received its foster care licence approval from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.

Executive Director Mike George said the approval means Mnaasged’s Alternative Care Program will now be an option for children and youth in the region when alternative care is required by the Children’s Aid Society.

George said the program will change the lives of many Indigenous children.

“We expect that the Alternative Care Program will provide additional opportunities for members of our communities to volunteer as potential foster parents — alternative care parents — in order to increase the likelihood and the possibility of our children starting out in a good way.”

George said with this announcement, Mnaasged is one step closer to agency designation, which he expects will occur in 2024.

Director of Services Melissa Patriquin said they’ve been working hard for many years at Mnaasged to try to change the child welfare framework.

“Child welfare has not been very kind to Indigenous people and children for over a century now.  The history before that as well has not done our families or our children any great service.  At Mnaasged, our main goal is to make sure that our children are healthy, that they’re balanced.”

Patriquin said they have the tools to ensure all people who wish to become foster parents meet all of the requirements.

“We could have very easily just taken some policies and slapped our name on them and hurried up and done this quickly, but we didn’t want to do that.  We have hundreds of years of trauma and grief to undo, and we wanted to make sure that we were doing this in the best possible way.”

Children’s Aid Society London-Middlesex CEO Chris Steven said the agency is fully supportive of this development.

“The alternative care license will permit First Nation’s children to be connected culturally and spiritually to their communities in ways that our organizations have not been able to provide,” said Steven. “We acknowledge the colonial and systemic racist history in child welfare in Ontario, and in particular how it’s led to the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the care of Children’s Aid Societies.”

Steven said CAS is looking forward to working with the staff at Mnaasged.

“Although across Ontario, Children’s Aid Societies have pledged and worked in recent years to address those issues, it’s fair to say that most mainstream agencies can’t do it with the wisdom and the traditions that First Nations themselves can.”

Mnaasged provides services to Chippewas of the Thames, EELÜNAAPÉEWI LAHKÉEWIIT (Delaware Nation), Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, Munsee-Delaware Nation, and Oneida Nation of the Thames.  The agency covers the geographic area of Lambton, Kent, Essex, Elgin, and Middlesex counties.