Zero Coast Salish Youth Enter Foster Care Since 2015

Coast Salish youth are returning to the community, a testament to NIȽ TU,O’s preventative care approach.

The traumatic impact of the colonial child welfare system on Indigenous youth drives agencies like NIȽ TU,O to do everything in their power to keep youth home in community. The numbers since 2015 show their work is paying off. 

NIȽ TU,O is a Delegated Aboriginal Agency (DAA). DAA’s receive delegated power from the Ministry of Children and Family Development to care for Indigenous youth. In NIȽ TU,O’s case, the agency is responsible for providing guardianship and care services, respite services, and more for children and families in the Beecher Bay/ Scianew, Pauquachin, Tsartlip, Songhees, Tsawout, Tseycum and T’Sou-ke communities. 

In addition to carrying out the support functions delegated by the Ministry, NIȽ TU,O proudly provides preventative, needs-based support by offering Family Strengthening Programs for Coast Salish families requiring additional support. In this way, NIȽ TU,O hopes to strengthen families proactively, before placing a child in care ever becomes a consideration. 

All of NIȽ TU,O’s work is built on the foundation of the teachings of the elders, prioritizes providing culturally-safe care, and comes “from the perspective of NUTSAMAUT SKWALAWAN (working together as one).” 

Previous studies show the number of Indigenous youth in foster care is far outsized when compared to the Indigenous population. Tragically, “Indigenous children are placed in the state’s care at thirteen times the rate of nonindigenous children, even though they only make up less than 10% of the population of children in Canada.” 

Despite these statistics, the recent growth in the Coast Salish population has not had a corresponding increase in the number of Coast Salish youth in foster care. Instead, the exact opposite is true. 

Since 2015, not a single Coast Salish youth has entered care. In fact, last year, five Coast Salish youth were returned into community. Another two youth were returned to their mother the year prior.  

This incredible news is a testament to NIȽ TU,O’s distinctive approach to care, and the effectiveness of the many community support services they offer to keep Coast Salish youth out of the system. 

NIȽ TU,O is at the forefront of offering culturally-safe alternatives to colonial care systems. One demonstration of their leadership is their recent collaboration with the Indigenous Law Research Unit (ILRU). Through the four-year collaboration, NIȽ TU,O helped create a toolkit and accompanying casebook that presents stories from seven Coast Salish nations as a framework for the practice of providing care. In the words of NIȽ TU,O project lead Leslie-Ann Paige, NIȽ TU,O is using the toolkit and casebook to move “away from the oppressive colonial systems that child welfare often represents,” and to explore “what the system in which we work within could look like when Coast Salish caregiving systems are upheld equally to the Child, Family and Community Services Act.” 

Other agencies are following in NIȽ TU,O’s footsteps. According to the co-Research Director of ILRU Tara Williamson, they started the project with NIȽ TU,O “four years ago, which really shows NIȽ TU,O’s dedication to best serving the children and community members they support and being ahead of the curve on these issues.” Williamson continued, “We are just now getting requests from other agencies to begin similar projects.”

Further supporting NIȽ TU,O’s success is their ongoing support of programs that uplift and strengthen Coast Salish communities. For example, NIȽ TU,O sponsored Tsartlip’s Road to Wellness Family Fitness Program, a ten-week, all-ages wellness course led by athletes Ronni Olsen from WJOLELP and Tua Va’a of the W̱SÁNEĆ nation.

NIȽ TU,O also partnered with the W̱SÁNEĆ School Board to develop two language revitalization initiatives. The first is the W̱SÁNEĆ values project, an initiative that “intends to capture and promote the W̱SÁNEĆ worldview by sharing stories in SENĆOŦEN that teach the Natural Laws.” The second is the website, which provides information for anyone looking to learn or teach SENĆOŦEN.”

NIȽ TU,O is honored to have played a role in bringing youth who were removed from community home, and in preventing additional Coast Salish youth from entering the settler care system. NIȽ TU,O will continue working to support the community in every way possible to ensure Coast Salish youth and families remain safe and together. 

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