Maori pro­gram helps Man­i­toba

Winnipeg Free Press - - TANK - CARL DEGURSE

IN a prov­ince where re­mov­ing In­dige­nous chil­dren from their fam­i­lies and putting them into care has of­ten been dis­as­trous, any pro­posed al­ter­na­tive should be con­sid­ered.

Any al­ter­na­tive with a proven track record of suc­cess should be cheered.

We can thank the Maori peo­ple of New Zealand for a pro­gram that, in Man­i­toba, has a 70 per cent suc­cess rate in keep­ing In­dige­nous chil­dren out of gov­ern­ment care. Six­teen years ago, the Maori gifted the pro­gram to Man­i­toba’s In­dige­nous peo­ple though the or­ga­ni­za­tion Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata (an Ojibwa ex­pres­sion for

“we all work to­gether to help one an­other”).

The model is called fam­ily group con­fer­enc­ing and, as well as sav­ing an av­er­age of 45 Man­i­toba chil­dren a year from leav­ing their fam­i­lies, it’s sav­ing Man­i­toba mil­lions of dol­lars by keep­ing chil­dren out of gov­ern­ment-run fos­ter care.

“The Maori gifted their model to us, they con­sider us their Cana­dian In­dige­nous broth­ers and sis­ters,” Jackie An­der­son, Chil­dren in Care co-or­di­na­tor at Ma Mawi, said in an in­ter­view. “It’s an hon­our and a re­spon­si­bil­ity, and their gift to us will not be changed.”

At the core of the pro­gram’s suc­cess is a con­fer­ence where fam­ily and com­mu­nity mem­bers who care about a vul­ner­a­ble child meet alone to de­vise a plan to help.

Fam­ily meet­ings are com­mon in the world of coun­selling and ther­apy, of course. But a dif­fer­ent twist with fam­ily group con­fer­enc­ing is that the sup­port­ive plan is de­vel­oped with­out pro­fes­sion­als such as so­cial work­ers or coun­sel­lors. The pur­pose of ex­clud­ing out­siders is that the fam­ily net­work buys into the solution be­cause they cre­ated it, as op­posed to hav­ing in­struc­tions im­posed on them.

Here’s an ex­am­ple: an un­mar­ried teen gives birth and, be­fore her baby goes into fos­ter care, her ex­tended fam­ily and com­mu­nity mem­bers are in­vited to a meet­ing to cre­ate a plan to keep the baby out of the sys­tem. An aun­tie might of­fer to share items like a crib and stroller, a grand­mother might of­fer to care for the child while the young mom con­tin­ues to at­tend school, the fa­ther of the child gets a spe­cial in­vi­ta­tion to the meet­ing.

Meet­ings last from four hours to 12 hours, and typ­i­cally in­volve about six peo­ple.

How can meet­ings run suc­cess­fully with­out trained fa­cil­i­ta­tors? The an­swer seems to rest on dy­nam­ics among the peo­ple in the child’s cir­cle, who al­ready know each other and step up in their roles be­cause they have a per­sonal stake in the well-be­ing of the vul­ner­a­ble child.

“The com­mu­nity is em­pow­ered,” An­der­son said. “It’s how our an­ces­tors did it. When there is an is­sue in the com­mu­nity, we look to the com­mu­nity for sup­port.”

After the door opens, pro­fes­sion­als such as so­cial work­ers eval­u­ate the plan and mon­i­tor its im­ple­men­ta­tion, with safety of the child as the top pri­or­ity.

The suc­cess rates of re­uni­fi­ca­tion are en­cour­ag­ingly high. Ma Mawi sta­tis­tics show that of the 62 chil­dren in­volved in fam­ily group con­fer­enc­ing in 2014-15, 49 were re­united with fam­ily. It’s es­ti­mated these re­uni­fi­ca­tions saved $1.16 mil­lion by keep­ing the chil­dren out of gov­ern­ment care.

The good news got even bet­ter ear­lier this month when Ma Mawi suc­cess­fully patched to­gether a deal that ob­tained $2.5 mil­lion in fund­ing from three sources, con­sist­ing of $1 mil­lion from the prov­ince, $500,000 from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and $1 mil­lion from the Mof­fat Fam­ily Fund ad­min­is­tered by the Win­nipeg Foun­da­tion.

Ma Mawi cur­rently has three fa­cil­i­ta­tors who ar­range the con­fer­enc­ing, but the in­creased fund­ing will al­low it to hire seven more fa­cil­i­ta­tors who could steer about 350 In­dige­nous chil­dren away from gov­ern­ment care ev­ery year. Any such help is wel­come in a prov­ince where 11,000 Man­i­toba chil­dren, 90 per cent of them In­dige­nous, are cur­rently not liv­ing with their fam­i­lies.

Man­i­toba Fam­i­lies Min­is­ter Scott Field­ing sup­ports the con­fer­enc­ing pro­gram, say­ing at the fund­ing an­nounce­ment, “We be­lieve that re­unit­ing chil­dren with their par­ents, when safe, is an ap­pro­pri­ate step and we ob­vi­ously want to do as much as we can to re­unite chil­dren with their fam­i­lies.”

But he was more cau­tious during a meet­ing last week with the Free Press editorial board, when he was pressed on whether Man­i­toba will em­u­late New Zealand, which has made fam­ily group con­fer­enc­ing a manda­tory first step when a child with any Maori blood is in dan­ger of be­ing re­moved from their fam­ily.

Field­ing said he hasn’t con­sid­ered mak­ing such con­fer­ences manda­tory for In­dige­nous chil­dren in Man­i­toba be­fore gov­ern­ment care is con­sid­ered, but is in­ter­ested in mon­i­tor­ing the re­sults that Ma Mawi will achieve with its in­creased fund­ing.

Hil­lary Clin­ton ti­tled her 1996 book It Takes A Vil­lage, which bor­rows part of the proverb “It takes a vil­lage to raise a child.”

Clin­ton didn’t in­vent the con­cept. Long be­fore she wrote the book, In­dige­nous peo­ple were re­ly­ing on their com­mu­nity when a child needs help.

Some­times, it’s just a mat­ter of gov­ern­ment get­ting out of the way.

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