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Child Welfare and Reconciliation: Where do Social Workers Fit in?

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

Last week, we explored the importance of the legal profession’s role in reconciliation and took a closer look at TRC Calls to Action 27 and 28. Although the importance of the lawyer’s role in this relationship-repairing process cannot be overstated, it is also crucial to consider how other professions play a role in reconciliation.

Photo Credit: CBC News

One profession that has a responsibility to play a notable role in reconciliation are social workers. Their heightened responsibility is codified in TRC Call to Action 1(iii) and (iv), which calls on the federal, provincial, territorial and Aboriginal governments to “[Ensure] that social workers and others who conduct child-welfare investigations are properly educated and trained about the history and impacts of residential schools”[1] and of “the potential for Aboriginal communities and families to provide more appropriate solutions to family healing.”[2]

Indigenous children represent 52.2% of children in care in Canada, although they only make up 7.7% of the population.[3] This vast overrepresentation, resulting from the legacy of residential schools, biases, false assumptions, and ignorance, has led to many Indigenous folks having a complicated relationship with the child welfare system. Social workers are in a unique and powerful position. They are entrusted with incredibly important and life-altering decisions each and every day. With this immense power also comes immense responsibility. It is crucial that social workers do their part and make changes to their practices to make positive changes in the profession as a whole.

Although the federal and provincial governments have yet to require social workers to become educated about the history of residential schools, the impacts, and the potential for Indigenous families to provide more appropriate solutions, there have been some positive developments in the area of social work.

Bill C-92 was put into force on January 1, 2020. Although there isn’t guaranteed funding allocated to Indigenous groups, the legislation ultimately allows for Indigenous nations to hold greater power over their own child welfare processes.[4] Although this is a step in the right direction, the lack of sufficient and guaranteed funding still comes up short in providing Indigenous nations with what they need to successfully run their own child welfare programs, and, ultimately, protect their children.

Another positive development in the field of social work in Alberta is the development of Indigenous-specific social work certification programs. The Maskwacis Cultural College offers an Indigenous Bachelor of Social Work Program.[5] This program is “firmly based on Indigenous ways of knowing”[6] and is the “first social work program that has been developed by Indigenous peoples, accredited by Indigenous affirmation bodies and delivered by Indigenous post-secondary institutions.”[7] Programs such as this show that, although the government has been slow to act, some groups are pushing for change, as the current state of the child welfare system in Canada is unacceptable.

In summary, even though the government has not taken specific steps to require the education of social workers in the history of Indigenous people and alternative solutions that may exist to keep children in their communities, Indigenous groups have been pushing for more control over the system that has, for decades, taken their children and left many families and communities feeling helpless. It is the hope that this empowerment can lead to positive change in Canada’s treatment of Indigenous children and families.

Until next time,

Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG

[1] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (Ottawa: Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2015) at 1(iii). [2] Ibid at 1(iv). [3] “Reducing the number of Indigenous children in care” (last modified 17 January 2022), online: Government of Canada <>. [4] “Beyond 94: Truth and Reconciliation in Canada”, online: CBC News <>. [5] “Indigenous Bachelor of Social Work”, online: Maskwacis Cultural College <//>. [6] Ibid. [7] Ibid.

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