There is a pipeline from Canada’s broken foster care system to Canada’s poorest neighbourhood. And the government spied on the researcher who tried to do something about it.


What is the road from foster care to Hastings Street?

40% of BC’s homeless youth were in foster care. These youth scatter around all of BC’s poorest neighbourhoods, but this problem is particularly acute in the Downtown South and Downtown Eastside neighbourhoods. Research at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS looks at at-risk youth (mostly homeless kids who use ‘hard’ drugs, like crack cocaine and heroin) in these neighbourhoods, and they find that 49% of their 937-youth sample had been in foster care. However, only 0.3% of the Canadian population ever enters foster care. That means that at-risk youth in Downtown Vancouver are 160x more likely to have been in foster care than in the rest of Canada.
Barker, Brittany et al. “High Prevalence of Exposure to the Child Welfare System among Street-Involved Youth in a Canadian Setting: Implications for Policy and Practice.” BMC Public Health 14.1 (2014): 197.

Why does Cindy Blackstock have a human rights complaint against the Canadian federal government?

In Children and Youth Services Review, Blackstock puts the broken foster care system in the context of the legacy of residential schools. According to one study, as much as 80% of indigenous youth had been moved to Saskatchewan residential schools for child welfare reasons. Further, Blackstock documents the various misconceptions about indigenous parenting and shows that the #1 issue facing these children is neglect, and neglect is a symptom of poverty and drug dependency. Instead of supporting these families to overcome their multi-generational trauma and their current disadvantages, the government fails them at every step of the way. Social services on reserves receive 34% less funding than the same services off reserves. That is most acute in the areas that keep families together. Research estimates that federal funding for early childhood prevention services to keep families together is 71% lower. Through elementary school, these children receive 40% less funding than they should, and 70% less in secondary schools. The result of these disparities is a massive overrepresentation of indigenous children in government care–even though they are less than 5% of the population, they account for 30-40% of the foster kids nation-wide, and over 60% of the foster kids in British Columbia.

This research is the basis for Blackstock’s complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. She alleges that the Department of Indian and Norther Affairs is not providing the same level of social services on reserves as what is available to families off reserve. Blackstock says this is inequitable, and thus discriminatory under the Canadian Human Rights Act. You can find out more about her challenge at

Blackstock, Cindy. “The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal on First Nations Child Welfare: Why If Canada Wins, Equality and Justice Lose.” Children and Youth Services Review 33.1 (2011): 187–194. ScienceDirect.

What do we know about BC's foster kids?
The BC government’s watchdog — Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the Representative for Children and Youth — has a wealth of research on BC’s foster kids, which you can find at her website. She finds that 65% have a diagnosed mental illnesses, 51% have special needs. and 35% of them will enter the juvenile justice system–but only 24.5% of them will graduate highschool. The representative has one report which is particularly relevant to Jenn’s story, a study of BC foster kids who end up in juvenile detention. The representative shows that these kids are highly criminalized, even when comparing to other kids in juvenile detention. Youth in care are much more likely to have probation charges than other youth in juvenile detention, because their foster families are more likely to report them to a probation officer than a biological family would. Also pertinent to Jenn’s story, the representative has a report about what happens to foster children as they age out of the system. 
Why are these social workers so stressed out?

2009 report by PIVOT legal society surveyed 109 social worker who had left the ministry. 70% of them said that if they had more manageable caseloads, they very likely would have stayed. This was the single biggest improvement that might have made these social workers stay–even more important than higher pay. 65% of the 109 social workers said they were never or rarely able to give adequate attention to their caseloads. The caseloads range from 20-40. The social workers we speak to say that things have only gotten worse since 2009. The ministry has announced 200 new hires by 2016, but neither Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond nor these social workers are confident that this number is enough.
Bennett, Darcie, Lobat Sadrehashemi, and Carrie Smith. Hands Tied: Child Protection Workers Talk about Working In, and Leaving, B.C.’s Child Welfare System. Vancouver, BC, CAN: Pivot Legal Society, 2009.
Culbert, Lori et al. “B.C. to Hire 200 New Child Welfare Workers by 2016.”


Produced by: Gordon Katic and Sam Fenn.

With research and production help from: Sophie Comyn, Amy Do, Kerria Gray and Jane Young.

Thanks to the rest of the Cited team, including: Kamil Somaratne, Cherrie Lam, Eric Bing, Hailey Froese, Mel Resoso and Rebekah Parker.

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