For Cindy Jamieson, it’s all about placing children with loved ones.
It’s never easy running a child welfare agency, but Jamieson, the new director of Ogwedeni:deo on Six Nations, has big plans to improve the delivery of service to the families of Six Nations.
Coming onboard just a month ago with an extensive background in implementing change in the child welfare system in British Columbia, Jamieson is a big believer in what’s known as “kinship care” in child protection circles, where children are placed with relatives at all possible times if they must be temporarily removed from home.
Even at that, Jamieson says, her philosophy is that removing a child from their home is a last resort when it comes to child protection.
Prevention is key, she said.
And with a worldwide pandemic that has seen an increase in domestic violence, job loss, economic upheaval, increased time at home, and food insecurity, there was concern in the community that Six Nations kids might be suffering more harm since restrictions began in early March that saw all local schools shut down.
But surprisingly, Jamieson has good news to share: the past two months saw zero Six Nations children removed from their homes, despite schools being closed and many parents losing their jobs and facing increased economic pressures during the pandemic.
However, she said, there have been increased investigations since August.
The important thing is providing families with support, she said.
Ogwadeni:deo (OGD) is Six Nations’ customary child protection agency, created to replace the former native branch of the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) that operated on Six Nations until the new agency received its official designation from the Ministry of Child and Family Services in 2018. One of the complaints of the previous CAS system saw too many Six Nations children taken from their homes and placed with non-native families and not enough placements with relatives.
The new agency has not been without criticism.
“We’ve been called the ‘brown CAS'”, said Jamieson.
“We have community expectation that would like us to look more at prevention, culture, alternative dispute resolution (staying out of court), family circles, customary care, kinship care, and use of culture. There’s two different roads this agency has had to try to walk down.”
The agency has to follow ministry of guidelines but Jamieson says the number one group of people it answers to is the community.
They’re also answerable to the Six Nations of the Grand River Elected Council, the community, families, the children and a community advisory board.
“The community wants child apprehension to be the last resort,” said Jamieson, who has a master’s degree in social work. “If we can keep the family together, we would rather do that.”
When it comes to child protection on Six Nations and across the country, neglect is the number one reason children are taken out of the home and put into care, said Jamieson.
As Jamieson eases into her new role, she’s looking to hire more staff, as well as improving data reporting. The next annual report is expected to come out by March 2020, which will highlight the work of the agency in 2020.
In the past, the old native CAS branch used to hold a toy drive for children in care at Christmas time.
Because of the pandemic, staff will not be purchasing gifts for children in care this year, in order to limit staff exposure to Covid in stores.
Instead, they will be purchasing gift cards to give to the kids who can use them as they see fit.