Batshaw to work with Native women’s shelter to improve care for Aboriginal children

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MNSW Director Nakuset

For many Aboriginal people, the name “Batshaw Youth and Family Services” conjures feelings of dread, brought about by the huge number of Aboriginal children in youth protection and foster care. However, an agreement between Batshaw and the Montreal Native Women’s Shelter (MNWS) establishes a new relationship between the youth protection organization and Aboriginal communities.

MNWS director Nakuset called the agreement historic. “It’s almost like a reversal of what the government did taking all the kids away in the Sixties Scoop. This is going to strengthen the bonds between the mother and the child,” she said.

The Collaborative Agreement is intended to provide culturally appropriate services to Aboriginal children and families. Batshaw benefits from the cultural support services of a network of Aboriginal organizations.

This is critical, Nakuset said, to helping provide Aboriginal children the tools to feel they are a part of their culture: to embrace it and to be proud of themselves as Aboriginal peoples.
According to a CTV News report, as much as a third of the 300 English-speaking children in foster care on the island of Montreal are of Aboriginal ancestry – even though this group forms only 0.5% of the city’s population. For many Native families, the experience of dealing with foster care has been profoundly negative. But Nakuset said the MNWS is committed to changing that.

She recalled an encounter with a very pregnant woman several months ago in the MNWS kitchen, during which she asked the woman whether she was expecting a boy or girl and got only the sad and quiet response, “A boy.”

“I found out later on that this woman already has a couple of children who are in foster care,” Nakuset explained. “And when you have children who are already in foster care, Batshaw is waiting at the hospital when you give birth, and they will take that child. They see that you’ve had issues before, and they just assume that you’ll have issues again. So that’s what they do to a lot of women. And then the women are broken: so this is not a woman who’s happy to be pregnant and embracing it. This is not a good thing: ‘I know I’m going to be pregnant for only X amount more days, and then they’re going to take my child.’”

The new agreement is designed to improve this kind of situation, Nakuset said.

As a follow-up to the agreement, Nakuset said Batshaw would soon begin referring to MNWS pregnant women, mothers who have recently given birth and those who already have kids in care. These women will stay at the shelter, where they’ll have access to a family care worker and, if needed, an addictions counsellor. After a proper assessment, the shelter will work with Batshaw to develop a healing plan.

“Batshaw gives the stamp of approval and that woman can stay here with her child,” said Nakuset. “She can have her baby and come back to the shelter and stay here until she can find a home.”

After finding her own home, the mother will remain in contact with Batshaw’s services, as well as with an outreach worker from the shelter. “She’ll be supported by a team to make sure she’s able to keep this child in a good way, and to give her the tools to be a mother,” Nakuset said.

A number of children and families currently being monitored by Batshaw are still living at home, where they are visited regularly by a social worker. The difference, she explained, is that now the social worker will be fully informed of available Aboriginal services and expertise to bridge cultural gaps.

Additionally, the MNWS and Batshaw are working to create a program similar to Big Brothers and Big Sisters. The program would pair kids in the youth-protection system with an older Aboriginal mentor to help guide them, take them to cultural events, speak their language and provide them a positive role model.

Though Nakuset acknowledged that the agreement won’t fix everything between Batshaw and Aboriginal children and families – noting that the organization has hundreds of staff and many different umbrella organizations – she said it’s still a huge step forward, bound to benefit both Batshaw and the children in their care.

“It’s the beginning of something: a better collaboration that’s going to help the kids.”

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