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UBC Theses and Dissertations

All my relations : maintaining cultural connection for Aboriginal children in care Nelson, Debra Sue


As a response to the persistent overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care, efforts are being made across Canada to develop models of child welfare practice that are consistent with Aboriginal cultural beliefs and practices, and which provide opportunities for ongoing cultural connection for children who have been separated from their families and/or communities. Although cultural continuity is associated with improved health and social outcomes, a majority of Aboriginal youth who are in the permanent care of government live in non-Aboriginal homes. Many of these young people live in in urban areas far away from their traditional territory, often with limited opportunity for connection to family or ancestral community. Efforts to provide culturally appropriate services, and to preserve and/or promote the cultural identity of Aboriginal children in care, can be a complex task in urban areas serving a diverse Aboriginal diaspora. This qualitative study examines how social workers at an urban, delegated, Aboriginal child welfare agency think about, negotiate, and implement agency policies and legislative mandates requiring that workers establish and preserve cultural connections for Aboriginal children and youth. Data was collected on the demographic and health characteristics of children and youth served by the Guardianship office at the agency, and in-depth interviews were conducted with fourteen Guardianship social workers. The analysis of the interviews illustrates social worker strategies for fostering cultural continuity, impediments to these efforts, and concrete programming suggestions. Although the ways in which workers understood and defined culture varied, a consistent theme was the complexity of efforts to balance children's inherent right to cultural connection with other developmental needs. Workers identified a lack of supportive family resources in general, and in Aboriginal communities in particular, as impediments to maintaining meaningful connections between children in out-of-home care and their families and communities. Recommendations from this study include: 1) Improvements in the recruitment, training and support of culturally competent caregivers; 2) Cultural programming developed for very young children; 3) Culturally appropriate services and programming that meets the needs of children and youth with Foetal Alcohol Effects and related disorders.

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