Critique of the Child Welfare System
It is our observation that those agencies mandated by the Province of
Manitoba to provide child and family services have done little to establish
helping networks within the Métis Community. First, their location is often
distant from the people served and they usually provide only itinerant
social work service delivered on a crisis basis. Second, preventive
services such as parenting courses and teen treatment groups are seldom
offered. Third, the intervention of these agencies is culturally alien and few
workers speak the languages common to the Métis population. Thus the
service offered (as with the youth justice system) is little more than
physical removal of the child from the home community.
In a study of child and family services commissioned by the Manitoba
Métis Federation, Ryant (1988) reported that although agencies were
aware of the fact that services should reflect the cultural and linguistic
heritage of the client there was an evident lack of priority given to this. The
number of Aboriginal workers on staff – if any – is minimal in most of the
mandated agencies, and “the apparent lack of priority for Native
awareness could imply a lack of cultural sensitivity when dealing with Métis
families. This affects the effectiveness of service and could mean that
more Métis children end up in care than necessary.” He went on to note
that if there were more focus on preventive and supportive services which
are culturally appropriate there could be a significant reduction in the
number of Métis children in care.
Ryant (1988) also found that there were many impediments (mostly
financial), to alternate care being provided to Métis children within the
Métis community. He recommended the following measures to rectify the
1. A greater use of special needs foster care rates thus
allowing more Métis families to provide foster care.
2. Implementation of Section 73 of the Child and Family
Services Act, which deals with subsidized adoption.
The use of subsidized adoption would assist Métis
families who wish to adopt but cannot do so without
3. Section 5(1)(f) of the Social Allowances Act states
that financial assistance may be made available to a
child whose parents “are unable to contribute to his
maintenance and who is wholly dependent on
another person for his basic necessities.” Too often,
the income security workers ignore the fact that the
can be given the needs test for eligibility and
test the care-providers instead. Because the foster
family is not in dire straits, aid to which the child
Child Welfare System 43
would be entitled in his or her own right is withheld. A
different implementation of 5(1)(f) would permit more
Métis children to be cared for by relatives or
4. Another impediment to many Métis homes being
accepted for foster care may involve the standards
set for approval of provincial foster homes. Physical
requirements of space, availability of running water
and material resources may not reflect the life
circumstances of many Métis families and
communities. Often, those who design these
standards are not familiar with cultural and traditional
values of Native groups. Standards may be both
inappropriate and extremely difficult for many Métis
homes to reach.
Under these policies and this method of service delivery it is
estimated that, from the 1960’s to the early 1980’s, about 3,000 Aboriginal
children were removed from their homes in Manitoba and exported out of
the province for adoption. In most cases they were placed with urban non-
Native families. “The Indian and Métis children were submerged in another
culture, and their Native identity soon disappeared. They became a lost
generation” (York, 1989:206). At the beginning of the 1980’s from 40 to 60
percent of all children removed from their families in western Canada were
Indian or Métis. For Canada as a whole, five Native children were removed
from their families for every non-Native child placed. York states that in
1981 about 55 percent of Manitoba’s adopted Aboriginal children were
sent out of province while the rate for Caucasian children placed out of
province was only 7 percent.
Indian and Métis communities had virtually no control over
the children who were seized from their homes. Until 1976
there was not a single native-controlled child welfare
agency in Manitoba. Decisions about the future of native
children were made by white social workers and urban-
based bureaucrats (York, 1989:207).
In 1981, the Manitoba Métis Federation acted on the available public
information regarding the numbers of Métis children being exported to the
United States and to other provinces to non-Native families. It had been
learned that many of these children had experienced post-adoption
breakdowns that were having a disastrous effect upon them. Others had
become the victims of physical and sexual abuse. Therefore, the MMF
lobbied successfully for the Government of Manitoba to institute a
moratorium on out-of-province adoptions and out-of-province placements
for “treatment”. The MMF developed a rural and urban strategy for
implementation to ensure increased Métis involvement in the child and
family service jurisdiction.
In March of 1982 the government of Manitoba agreed to impose a
moratorium on out of province placements of Aboriginal children. The
province also established a Review Committee on Indian and Métis
Adoptions and Placements headed by Associate Chief Family Court Judge
Edwin Kimelman. After reviewing the file of every Native child who had
been adopted by an out-of-province family in 1981, Judge Kimelman
stated in the committee’s 1984 File Review Report: “having now
completed the review of the files… the Chairman now states unequivocally
that cultural genocide has been taking place in a systematic, routine
manner” (Kimelman, 1984:51).
The statistics given by Judge Kimelman were even worse than the
Métis people had suspected through anecdotal reports.
TABLE 3: STATISTICS OF MANITOBA CHILDREN PLACED
OUT OF PROVINCE IN 1981
The Review Committee noted that 53% of the children placed outside
of Manitoba were sent to the United States and 86% of the children placed
out-of-province were of Native ancestry. Meanwhile at the end of 1981 the
departmental statistical bulletin indicated that there were 145 adoption
homes in Manitoba which had been approved but were not in use and
there were 1,377 adoption applications which were awaiting study for
approval. Was it any wonder than that Aboriginal groups felt there was a
racial bias in operation?
Judge Kimelman was of the opinion that the political and
administrative acquiescence to these practises had served to delay the
development of Aboriginal resources and specialized services to
Aboriginal people. “Rather than providing the resources on reserves to
build economic security and providing the services to support responsible
Number Palced Percent of Total
Registered Indians 52 48%
Indian (other) 4 4%
Métis 37 34%
Non-Native 15 14%
Totals 108 100%
Source: KImelman, 1984:23
Child Welfare System 45
parenting, society found it easier and cheaper to remove the children from
their homes and apparently fill the market demand for children in Eastern
Canada and the United States.”
He also noted that under the guise of providing children with a family
of their own, children were not only separated from their parents, but were
also separated from their siblings. The study also revealed that for the
majority of older children who became wards, the chances of adoption
were remote, and the reality for most of them was to be placed in a series
of foster homes and institutions with the ” …real possibility of spending
some of their adult years as residents of the province’s correctional
In 1982, the MMF established a Board committee, which was to be
responsible for the operation of the Métis Child and Family Support
Program. The MMF also submitted a position paper to the provincial
government, calling for local control over child and family services for Métis
The MMF immediately established local community-based Métis child
and family service committees. The committees assumed responsibility
a) developing community awareness of needs of children;
b) assessing community needs and currently available resources;
c) developing resources and participating in training;
d) con-joint planning with social workers from mandated agencies, in
order to reach decisions on child and family services issues
respecting the community;
e) strengthening Métis families in the community;
f) reviewing and recommending changes to relevant legislated
standards, policies and practices to more properly reflect the
needs of Métis children, families, and communities.
The MMF readily identified the following difficulties involved in the
implementation phase of this specific mandate:
a) lack of an agreed upon definition of Métis people;
b) lack of access to existing child and family service files;
c) provincial regulations regarding foster home standards and
payment rates, which excluded potential Métis foster homes;
d) lack of knowledge of referral procedures within the mandated
e) lack of MMF resources to respond to the volume of referrals;
f) referrals so late in the process that effective plans could not be
formulated in the time available.
The MMF began support service delivery under the terms of a
Over the two year time period the following referrals were received:
The mandated agencies have not moved with alacrity on this
standard. It is obvious that Policy Directive 18 (and its replacement, known
as Standard 421) are not meeting their intended purpose. It is estimated
that of the 3,803 children in the care of mandated child and family service
agencies, 1,027 are Métis children (27%), 1,235 are Indian children
(32.5%), and 1,540 are of other ethnic backgrounds (40.5%) (Longclaws,
1989). Given the large disparity between the number of Métis children
brought into care and the actual number of cases that are referred to the
MMF, one has to doubt whether the government has any commitment to
implement its own policy and standards.
An MMF survey of members (University of Manitoba Research Ltd.,
1988) found that child and family services were a key concern for 90% of
those surveyed. Eighty-three percent stated that they would like to see
child welfare services provided by a Métis organization. Over 7% of the
respondents indicated that they have a child under the age of 18 placed
away from home. Ten percent of the families indicated they were raising a
child who was not one of their own. This is convincing evidence that the
Métis community is carrying the bulk of the burden for child and family
services without payment and out of its own resources through custom
adoptions and placements with relatives. These matters are not being
referred to the “official” agencies. Thus, Métis people are not receiving
their fair share of government resources.
Manitoba Community Services rivate Mandated
Regional Services Child & Family
Eastman 0 C&FS Central Manitoba 0
Interlake 0 C&FS Western Manitoba14
Norman 2 C&FS Eastern Manitoba 3
Parklands 5 C&FS Winnipeg West 2
Thompson 2 C&FS Notheast Wpg. 2
C&FS Winnipeg South 0
C&FS Northwest Wpg. 11
C&FS Central Wpg. 0
Total 9 Total 32
TABLE 4: REFERRALS TO MANITOBA METIS FEDERATION
There are a number of reasons for reluctance to approach the
mainstream system, one of which is a survey showing that 71% of
Winnipeg Métis respondents feel that child welfare does not give enough
consideration to Métis culture (University of Manitoba Research, 1988).
Another reason is the previously cited finding that potential Métis
foster homes are often turned down because of a lack of material
resources. Since this has become widely known potential applicants are
now reluctant to come forward.
In a study commissioned by the MMF (Ryant, 1988) it was revealed
a) Even with Directive 18, Native children are still being placed in
non-Native foster homes, because agencies, using existing
resources, have not been able to develop a sufficient supply of
Native foster homes.
b) There is an inappropriate concern with material standards in
approving potential foster homes in the Indian and Métis
c) There is unwillingness (or inability) on the part of agencies to
authorize special foster rates where these would clearly be
appropriate for Native placement.
d) There have been cases where the child caring agency has not
made use of a placement resource which was referred by the
e) Oftentimes, notification of a Native child in care comes too late in
the process for the designated resources to locate a culturally
The deplorable situation described above has been made worse by
changes to Directive 18. A section which clearly identified procedures with
regard to non-status Indian and Métis families was removed. The current
standard, Native Child Placement, Section 421 (Manitoba Community
Sercies, 1984: 1-7) in the Child and Family Services Program Standards
Manual, effectively buries the reference to Métis children.
It is the current assessment of MMF child and family service staff
(Moar, 1989) that:
a) The majority of child and family services social workers in
Manitoba are poorly informed or uninformed regarding Directive
18 and Program Standard 421. It seems the only persons who
have a working knowledge of these are Native social workers and
b) People are asked to declare as Métis only if the workers “think
they are Métis”.
c) It was only with much badgering that MMF began receiving
d) When the MMF forwards names of Métis families wishing to foster
or adopt, many are placed on waiting lists and many are never
contacted for home assessment.
e) The MMF has not been able to push for more referrals due to lack
of staff and budget.
f) The 1982 moratorium has resulted in fewer Métis placements
outside the province, but has not reduced the number of Métis
children placed outside the Métis community.
g) The MMF was effectively left out of negotiations on the
development of Standard 421, and did not receive a satisfactory
reply to its submitted negotiating document.
h) As the proportion of Métis children removed from their homes
under the Child Welfare Act so closely approximates the
proportion removed from home under the Young Offenders Act,
there is strong evidence to support the MMF thesis that Métis
people are subjected to a high degree of social control while social
development needs have gone unmet.
Although the thrust of the Kimelman report,
No Quiet Place
(Kimelman, 1985), and the intent of subsequent child and family service
revisions to placement and adoption standards, was to ensure that Indian
and Métis children were either placed or adopted into culturally appropriate
homes, our research reveals that there are still significant numbers of
aboriginal children being adopted into non-Native homes, a practice which
Judge Kimelman had earlier denounced as “cultural genocide” (1984:51).
In the period between January 1988 and October 1989, 29.2% of
registered Indian adoptees went into non-Native homes and 55.8% of
Métis adoptees went into non-Native homes. Furthermore, 62% of all the
Aboriginal children placed by way of adoption during this time period were
Clem Chartier has argued that under the Canadian Charter of Rights
and Freedoms (Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982), the practice of
adoption of Métis children into non-Métis homes violates what should be a
recognized group right in addition to the child’s right to remain in the
group… “based on the section 7 security of the person provision (of the
Charter) particularly as it applies to cultural heritage. In the absence of this
right, and in the face of the continuing removal of Métis children from the
Métis community, Canada could be viewed by the international community
as committing ethnocide, which is basically a form of cultural genocide”
An additional issue is the repatriation of Métis children who were
Child Welfare System 51
Camperville and surrounding area indicated that approximately fifty
children were missing, no known whereabouts. Remote communities
attending a meeting in Thompson where the subject arose “Where are the
missing children?” led one very quiet mother to say,” They took my boy a
long time ago, he would be fourteen years old now, they said they would
send me a picture, they never did” (Hourie, 1989).
It is our assessment that there are a number of factors which account
for the high number of Métis adoptions in comparison to the number of
children at risk and these same factors account for the fact that over one-
half of these adopted Métis children go into non-Native homes.
1. The Métis do not have an agency of their own mandated to provide
2. The Manitoba Métis Federation Child and Family Service is not
funded to provide province-wide preventive services.
3. Referrals to MMF Child and Family Services come infrequently or
too late in the process to make a difference. Although adoptions
account for only a small proportion of the Métis children removed
from their families, over the last two years MMF received only 41
referrals under Standard 421, while the provincial government’s
own figures show that there were at least 43 Métis children placed
for adoption alone.
These studies and material lead to the obvious conclusion that Métis
children and families have not been served well by traditional child and
family service agencies. In fact the consensus of Métis people is that they
have received inadequate and inappropriate services. The feeling of the
Métis community as a whole (at least as expressed by their elected
officials on the Board of Directors of the MMF) is that this disparity in
service is racially motivated. The MMF applied for recognition and funding
of a child and family service agency that would lead to a full mandate to
deliver these services to Métis people. They have received no positive
response to date.
1. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors, and do not
necessarily represent those of their employers.
2. J. M. v. R., Manitoba Court of Appeal, October 2, 1986 (unreported).
3. A. L. v. R., Manitoba Court of Appeal, October 3, 1986 (unreported).
4. These figures and those contained in the table which follows were
obtained through interviews with departmental officials of Child and
In the Best Interest of the Métis Child
. Saskatoon: University of
Saskatchewan Native Law Centre.
1988 The Métis Family and Métis Futures. Paper presented at the
Second National Métis Child Care Conference.
Métis Association of Alberta.
1989 Letter to the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, re Métis Adoptions,
1984 File Review Report. Report of the Review Committee on Indian
and Métis Adoptions and Placements. Winnipeg: Manitoba
No Quiet Place
. Final report of the Review Committee on
Indian and Métis Adoptions and Placements to the Minister of
Community Services. Winnipeg: Manitoba Community
An Implementation Strategy Proposal that Ensures an Orderly
Development Plan for Establishing Incorporated Métis Child
and Family Service Agencies in All MMF Regions.
Manitoba Métis Federation.
Manitoba Community Services, Child and Family Support
Directive #18 Respecting Procedures of the Placement of
. Winnipeg: Government of Manitoba.
Manitoba Métis Federation Inc.
Research and Analysis of the Impact of the Justice System on
the Métis: Submission to the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry.
Winnipeg: Manitoba Métis Federation Inc.