Social workers have some of the most challenging jobs in the province, and Social Work Week, from March 10 to 16, is about honouring the tremendous contribution the thousands of social workers throughout B.C. make in the lives of British Columbians.
For social worker Alysha Brown, integrating and honouring culture is a huge part of her job – and her own personal journey.
“I’ve been on a journey for about 15 years to reconnect with my culture,” said Brown, the team leader at Surrounded by Cedar Child and Family Services, a delegated Aboriginal agency in Victoria. “My mother is Swampy Cree from northern Manitoba and was adopted at a young age. My father is English. I was very much disconnected from family, community and culture and moved around a lot as a child.”
Brown is heartened by changes she sees happening around child welfare in B.C.
“I consider this a really exciting time, potentially. It’s a shift in the way we practise Indigenous child welfare,” said Brown, who is now working on a master’s degree in Indigenous social work. “There are new amendments to the Child, Family and Community Services Act as well as the implementation of the Aboriginal Policy and Practice Framework. The Province is doing the work to begin to change the landscape. It hasn’t always been this way.”
There are 23 delegated Aboriginal agencies in B.C.
Surrounded by Cedar in Victoria, where Brown works, is one of three that serve a primarily urban population. The agency received delegations in 2002 to offer services to children in care, voluntary support services and to recruit and approve foster homes.
“We hold our social workers accountable to get culturally specific, which means we expect them to learn about the cultural heritage of the kids in their care and ensure that the kids’ foster caregivers are aware of it and nurturing their cultural identities as much as possible,” said Brown. “We view Indigenous people from a place of empowerment and resiliency. That slight shift in perspective can make a big difference in how we work with Indigenous children and families.”
In the last two years, Brown said, they’ve successfully reunited five children with their families, which “may seem like a small number,” but she assures that it is major progress over the past.
Indigenous children account for 52.2 per cent of children in foster care in private homes, according to 2016 census data.
“Historically, ongoing and regular access for families was rarely encouraged after a continuing care order was granted, let alone reunification being considered as a viable permanent option for children in government care,” said Brown.
Brown’s own healing has come from her immersion in the urban Indigenous community, including her involvement in a Victoria drum group called the All Nations Strong Women for Education and Reconciliation (ANSWER).
The work Brown does at Surrounded by Cedar and the weekly drum group share the common goal of creating better outcomes for Indigenous children, families and communities, she said.
In February 2019, the Ministry of Children and Family Development broadened the acceptable education and experience requirements for front-line child protection positions in order to increase diversity, based on a recommendation in Grand Chief Ed John’s report on Indigenous child welfare in British Columbia. It also boosted the pay for child protection workers which will take effect in April.
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