It Takes a Village to Raise a Child
NCFNG talks about community engagement at Anishnawbek child welfare conference
It has often been said that “It takes a village to raise a child” and for First Nations families, raising a child was traditionally a collective effort. Today, there is an urgent need for First Nations communities to re-engage in the care of children.
Community engagement in child welfare was the theme of a presentation given by the National Centre for First Nations Governance (NCFNG). The presentation was provided to child welfare workers and care givers at A Gathering of Nations: Strengthening our Circle of Care, an Anishnawbek child welfare conference held for Ontario participants in Sault St Marie, Michigan from October, 6 to 8, 2009. Approximately 250 people participated in this three day conference.
“A community engagement strategy helps protect First Nations children who are currently in care and potentially other children that may come into care in the future,” stated NCFNG presenter Don Jones, “Community engagement is a key component of effective governance.”
The presentation aimed at teaching participants engagement strategies to help build community strength. The strategies respect First Nations traditions, while strengthening families and empowering citizens. The Centre’s Ontario Region staff provided examples on how to implement culturally appropriate practices to achieve objectives of child welfare reform and to meet the needs of First Nations citizens.
Community planning for change requires involvement from the community. It includes citizens participating in some or all steps of the process, from setting the agenda, planning, decision-making, to implementing change and reviewing results.
True community engagement involves two way communications. This communication can be between leadership and citizens – at a Band Council meeting or other forums for example. It can be among citizens – at a community meeting or other gatherings. It can be among citizens and other groups in the community – like the citizens and their child and family services agency or Children’s Aid Society (CAS). Community engagement is about sharing decision-making power and responsibility for those decisions.
Communities can engage at traditional activities like Pow-wow’s, socials, potluck dinners and people can make door to door visits to discuss issues with household members. Another way to communicate is through email and websites; most communities are connected to the Internet and have community websites. The goal is to ensure that all citizens are informed and have access to information.
There is a significant population of Aboriginal children involved in child welfare care in Ontario. Community welfare agencies across the province are working to find funding and struggling to meet up with the demands of the needs for the families and children. A community engagement strategy helps.