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The foster care system provides children and teens under the age of 19 with substitute parenting for youth who are unable to safely stay under the care of their primary caregivers, whose families need specific or short-term help or whose families are in a time of crisis. The benefits that children receive from a foster care include physical care such as shelter, clothing, and food as well as emotional support which includes acceptance into the family, love, guidance, and positive role modeling. The foster care system in Canada is funded and administered by the federal government. However, every province differs in regard to the foster care regulations put in place. A majority of provinces have third-party groups that serve as support both for youth in the foster care system and youth who have aged out of the foster care system. This paper will focus on the foster care system at the provincial level, in British Columbia.
Three pieces of legislation are used to determine how a child comes to qualify for childcare. First off, the “Child, Family and Community Service Act” can be applied to two situations. The first situation is when the child’s primary caregiver signs a formal agreement for care with a Delegated Aboriginal Agency (DAA) or the ministry because the parents are temporarily unable to care for their child. The second situation is when the child is removed from their primary caregiver’s home due to the fact that they need protection. Moreover, the second piece of legislation is called the “Infants Act” which applies when a guardian or parent dies and there is no legal guardian appointed by will. The third piece of legislation is the “Adoption Act” which describes a situation in which the primary caregiver consents to the adoption of their child. During the adoption process, the child might be temporarily put in foster care homes.
In order to become a foster parent, many steps must be completed. First off, parents are asked to take part in both information sessions and orientations during the screening process. The purpose of these sessions and orientations is to provide parents with the necessary information for the recruitment process, teach them about the unique needs of the children, educate them on effective parenting styles and lastly, define the expectations held for potential caregivers. The intention behind these sessions and orientations is to give parents a realistic understanding of what being a foster parent will look like. Moreover, the second step involves potential foster parents having to go through a complete assessment and screening process. The screening process includes a submission of three references, a home study, a criminal record check, a medical reference and finally, a check of past and current contacts with the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) or DAAs. Lastly, once parents are approved as foster parents, they must complete the BC Foster Care Education program within the first two years of being approved.
Foster care parents receive a monthly maintenance payment in order to provide proper care for the child. The range of salaries received differs based on the age of the child and the type of care they need. The typical monthly rate for a child aged 11 and under is $1005.32 and the typical monthly rate for a child aged 12 to 19 is $1,107.96. Moreover, the salaries vary for youth who require specialized family care homes. Children are placed in specialized care due to various reasons such as emotional or behavioral problems, physical disabilities, and mental health issues. Foster parents who provide specialized foster care receive a service payment in addition to the typical salary per child, due to the extra parenting skills needed and time required to care for these youth. There are three levels of care outlined which take into account both the number of children in the specialized care home and the severity of their needs. In level one in which there are up to six children with many developmental needs and difficult behaviors, parents receive $458.02 for each child. In level two, in which there are up to three children with severe developmental needs, health needs, and interfering behaviors, foster parents receive $1,140.40 for one child, $1,968.68 for two children, and $2,692.92 for three children. In level three in which there are a maximum of two children in the home who require the most extensive daily care, families receive $1,816.66 for one child and $3,113.12 for two children. Moreover, the social worker is the one to ensure that the child receives medical benefits such as medical coverage, medical supplies and equipment, assessment and developmental supports, mental health services, dental and orthodontic benefits, and optical benefits.
The MCFD runs the foster care system and works with 5400 community social service agencies in an effort to deliver services to support the children, youth, and families involved in the foster care system. Additionally, the ministry has an official contract with the BC Federation of Foster Parents Association (BCFFPA).
The BCFFPA is a provincial non-profit organization, which aims to bring together foster parents and social workers in an effort to work toward enhancing the care for children under the foster care system. The organization offers recruitment services to the ministry, supplies information about foster care to the general public, and provides education and support to foster parents.
The Federation of BC Youth in Care Networks is a non-profit organization run by youth and was created for the purpose of improving the lives of foster kids from the ages of 14 to 24 both when they are in and out of care. The program brings youth together to help them build community, talk about challenges and find their home away from home. The non-profit host’s retreats distribute resources, provide funding for educational opportunities, and support those pursuing leadership and training opportunities.
The Federation of Aboriginal Foster Parents (FAFP) is a non-profit organization that is run by and catered to Aboriginal foster parents in BC. This organization recognizes the specific needs of the caregivers of Aboriginal children and aims to ensure that these children grow up in an environment that recognizes and practices their culture.
If a child or teen is deemed eligible to enter the foster care system based on the three pieces of legislation described in the previous section, the next step is to determine the specific form of care needed. There are five different types of care identified that a family care home provides. First off, there are some situations where a child or teen needs “temporary or short-term care,” which can be as little as one day but does not exceed 24 months. In these situations, a solution is being found at their primary caregiver’s home to address the issue that led to the placement of the child. The ultimate goal is for the child to return to their family. Secondly, “long-term care” is required if the child does not have a legal guardian to take care of them. Furthermore, if the foster parents were given less than 24 hours notice to take care of a child, this is called “emergency care”. These placements only last up to 14 days. “Respite care” is a unique type of care in which family care homes take care of a child for a day or a few days at a time and might do this a couple of times a month. Respite care is provided to the child’s primary caregivers as a family-support service, and the purpose of this care is to give families a short break. With respite care, the families have full custody of their children. Lastly, “relief care” is the same as respite care except for the fact that the break is given to foster parents.
In terms of the types of family care homes, there are five different homes a child could end up in. A child can be put in a “kinship home,” a “regular home” or a “specialized home,” which the specialized home includes three different levels. Firstly, children are placed in a kinship home if they know or are relatives of the foster family. The second home is a regular home in which the child does not know the foster parents beforehand. Lastly, children are placed in specialized homes if they have behavioral issues, emotional issues, or developmental problems. There are three levels of specialized homes specified and children are matched to a certain level based on the severity of their special needs.
When a youth is 16 to 18 years old, they may qualify for a Youth Agreement, which is a legal agreement made between the youth and the MCFD when that teen is in dire need of either protection or assistance. If a teen is seeking this agreement, the MCFD office will first complete a thorough assessment of their circumstances, and if they qualify, they will provide that teen with assistance such as finding a place to live, helping them cope with mental health issues, education opportunities, teaching them life skills and more.
The Ministry ensures that when a child enters the foster care system, a team approach is taken. The team involved in taking care of a foster child involves not only the foster caregiver and the child’s family but the social worker, the resource social worker and other service providers involved in the child’s life. The most important aspect of foster care is to make sure that the child’s best interests are at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts.
Between the years of 1870-and 1925, a high volume of children was brought from Britain to Canada in where they were forced to work as domestic servants and agricultural laborers. When the children came to Canada, foster placement took place for the first time. However, during this time, the foster care system did not have the best interests of the children in mind. In an effort to remove the children from these undesirable environments, philanthropic movements arose, and the state took action to finance child-welfare services. After much effort, in 1891 the first Children’s Aid Society was put in place in Toronto and following that, in 1893 the first Child Protection Act was passed in Ontario. The Child Protection Act was important because for the first time, child abuse became an indictable offense. During the next 20 years, there was an apparent shift away from the belief that children should contribute to the labour market and a newfound belief that children should spend their time in formal education. These attitude shifts occurred due to the fact that people recognized that children should be free from harm. As a result, there was an increase in the development of child-welfare services. However, although this time benefited some Canadians, the Indigenous community suffered.
Data shows that 52.2% of children in foster care under the age of 14 are Indigenous. However, only 7.7% of children under the age of 14 in Canada are Indigenous. Thus, Indigenous children are overrepresented in the foster care system. These statistics are attributed to an event known as the “sixties scoop.” In 1960, Indigenous communities were under-resourced, underserviced and under control of the Indian Act, which granted the provinces jurisdiction over Indigenous child welfare. Out of a desire to assimilate Indigenous children into Canadian culture, the provincial child welfare agencies removed Indigenous children from their homes, families and communities and placed them into foster homes. A majority were eventually adopted by white families throughout both Canada and the US.
A strength of the foster care system is that they recognize that each child entering the system needs something different. For example, family homes are divided into five categories to accommodate for a child’s specific needs. These five categories take into account whether that child needs a temporary stay, long-term stay, an emergency stay or a couple of days of care to give their caregivers a break. All in all, it is evident that the foster care system has introduced programs that care for the specific needs of children since all children need foster care for different reasons.
The amount of foster care children finding permanent care homes has increased throughout the years. In 2014, the MCFD made it their goal to place 600 youth in adoptive homes within two years. With the help of partners such as the Adoptive Families Association of BC and the Indigenous Perspectives Society, not only did they meet their goal, but they surpassed their goal. Reports demonstrated that between 2014 to 2015, there was a 20% increase in adoption placements in which 276 children had been placed in forever homes. By the end of 2015, 368 more children were adopted, making it a record for BC. Moreover, at the end of 2016, a budget of $3 million was distributed for adoption efforts such as adoption education programs, Aboriginal agencies focusing on permanency planning as well as support for youth making the transition from foster home to a permanent home.
Another strength of the foster care system is that the MCFD funded the FAFP to help Aboriginal children as well as the Aboriginal community by implementing training for Aboriginal foster families, targeted development, and recruitment. Evidently, the “sixties scoop” had a significant impact on the Aboriginal community and on the lives of the children who were involved. Although the MCFD can never make up for the injustices of the “sixties scoops,” they are doing everything they can to ensure that history does not repeat itself by ensuring that when Aboriginal children are placed in the foster care system, they will still be surrounded by their culture.
Finally, an apparent strength of the foster care system is that there are a plethora of resources available to new foster parents as well as foster children. For example, third-party sources such as BCFFPA and FBCYICN provide parents and youth with the opportunity to build community, seek help if needed, and access important information about the foster care system. Additionally, government websites contain easily accessible information such as advice on what to do in difficult situations and helplines to contact.
A weakness of the foster care system is that once foster children age out of the system, they are only provided with minimal support. The lack of support that youth experience when they leave foster care leads to many negative outcomes. For example, a study found that 60% of homeless youth had been involved in the child welfare system. This statistic reflects the fact that when youth leave the system, they are left to fend for themselves, with no knowledge of how to do so. Statistics show that only 33% of youth leaving foster care have basic resources such as a co-signer for a lease, essential housewares, a driver’s license, health benefits, and cash. Also, oftentimes youth leave the system with no form of social support, making the transition to adulthood even more difficult. Furthermore, in addition to homelessness, aged-out youth also have higher rates of addiction, mental health disorders, unemployment, early parenthood, criminality, and poverty.
The aging out process is particularly difficult for Indigenous youth. As mentioned in a previous section, Indigenous youth are overrepresented in the foster care system. The Indigenous community is overrepresented in the system due to the fact that they enter a cycle of poverty that is nearly impossible to escape from. Firstly, due to the history of oppression and discrimination that the Indigenous community faced and continue to face today, they have several disadvantages such as low levels of education, high unemployment rates, poverty, poor housing and health problems. As a result of all these disadvantages, parents in the Indigenous community are not able to properly care for their children. Studies reveal that the most common reason Indigenous children are sent to foster care is due to neglect at home. This neglect, however, is a result of the discrimination toward Indigenous people which led to their disadvantages and inability to properly care for their kids. When these children are placed in the foster care system, they eventually age out and experience all the challenges explained in the previous section such as homelessness, mental health issues and addiction. When they have children of their own, the cycle merely continues.
A study conducted by One Vision One Voice suggests that white supremacy, anti-Black racism, and colonialism have been woven into the policies and practices of child welfare. Statistics revealed that 41% of youth in child welfare programs in Toronto are of African American descent, however, African Americans only represent 8% of the population. Thus, African American youth are extremely over-represented in the welfare system. To figure out why African American youth are overrepresented, a study was conducted. The study found that although there were no statistical differences in the rates of child maltreatment when comparing children from white homes and African American homes, children from African American homes were more likely to be reported to child welfare than white children. This suggests that as a result of systemic racism, African American children are being treated unfairly in the child welfare system.
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