The importance of cultural connections
In a previous article, I wrote about the Exceptions Committee in the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD). The article was prompted by a list of questions that the Adoptive Families Association of BC had gathered from their membership. There were additional questions related to Aboriginal adoption in BC that I will endeavor to answer in this follow-up article.
One of the most frequently asked questions is, “Why is it so important that Aboriginal children be placed with Aboriginal families or connected to their culture?” For non-Indigenous people, this can be a difficult concept as it is directly related to racial identity development.
My own education regarding this issue came from a conference in the United States through the North American Council of Adoptable Children (NACAC). While participating in a conference session, African-American professionals explained that their young people were not acquiring the coping skills needed to survive in the “dominant” society. When adoptive families were not of African-American backgrounds, they often did not recognize the racism and micro-aggressions that their adoptive children faced. Therefore, they were not able to provide the children with the skills necessary to respond or to maintain self-esteem in the face of these experiences.
Promoting positive identities
The Indigenous population in Canada faces similar challenges. It is important for Aboriginal children to be placed with Aboriginal families, or to have connection to their culture so that they can acquire the skills necessary for understanding the historical context for their cultural experience, and to know how to keep themselves safe in light of this experience. Racial identity is something most of us take for granted without having to think about it. We tend to assume that we will see ourselves reflected in most media, and educational, institutional, governmental and societal encounters, in a positive way. For Indigenous people and other visible minorities, developing a positive racial identity comes with a number of challenges.
Imagine your child growing up in an environment that is hostile to people who look like him/her. Imagine that child reading news reports about people of the same race that are steeped in the negative stereotypes held by society. For children who face this negative racial profiling, it is critical that the adults around them are culturally sensitive and able to help the child develop the skills necessary to function within their environment. This can mean having conversations that most of us are not comfortable with, and includes practicing how to respond to a variety of racially-based encounters to ensure the child’s safety.
Older Indigenous children may have experienced racism associated with their heritage and, as a result, they may resist being involved with their culture or identifying as Indigenous. Some may internalize these experiences and attempt to distance themselves from the perceived cause of the negativity – their racial identity – because they do not have the coping skills to handle the situation any other way.
Skills and education for families
The Indigenous Perspectives Society offers online training for pre/post adoptive parents, foster parents, social workers, and anyone working in Aboriginal/Indigenous child and family services. The course identifies historical and contemporary impacts of colonization and the regeneration of positive culture identity development, and supports a commitment to creating and maintaining connections through promoting holistic well-being of Indigenous children. Visit www.ipsociety.ca.
These are issues that affect many cultural, ethnic, and racial groups in Canadian society. However, there is a particularly troubled history with the Indigenous population in Canada. Thus, the legislation in British Columbia requires that social workers place Aboriginal children with family or other Aboriginal families first so that they can be connected to positive cultural role models. If this is not possible, then non-Aboriginal families may be selected, but they must have the skill and ability to recognize these issues and help their children cope with them in a healthy manner. These skills are similar to what would be required in any transracial adoption.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development offers support to families adopting Aboriginal children in a variety of ways. Aboriginal adoptive families may be eligible for post-adoption assistance maintenance payments, as the placement would be considered a culturally compatible placement. Non-Aboriginal families who may wish to foster or adopt an Aboriginal child can access free, online cultural competence training offered through the Indigenous Perspectives Society.
The Adoptive Families Association of BC is contracted by the ministry to provide pre- and post-adoption support to families. They offer ongoing educational opportunities, as well as peer support groups. Contact AFABC at www.bcadoption.com, or 1-866-900-7330 to find out more.
Anne Clayton, Ph.D., worked as the Executive of Guardianship, Adoption and Permanency for the Ministry of Child and Family Development.