Aboriginal Family Healing Case Conferences
Location: New Westminster, BC
Opened: January 24, 2016
Contact to participate: Tell your lawyer or your social worker that you would like an Aboriginal Family Healing Case conference if you:
- When there are concerns about the safety of a child and the family and the Ministry of Children and Family Development (the Ministry) do not agree on the way forward, a case conference may be held in Provincial Court under the Child, Family and Community Service Act.
- A case conference is an informal meeting between a judge, parents, and social workers to try to resolve the disagreement without a trial.
- In Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, New Westminster, and Burnaby, parents who identify as Aboriginal may have an Aboriginal Family Healing Case Conference (AFHCC).
- These conferences provide Aboriginal parents with a culturally safe environment and support before, during, and after the case conference.
A Judge Explains Aboriginal Family Healing Case Conferences (8 minute video)
- Judges, lawyers, and social workers in AFHCC receive cultural competency training to understand the history and unique circumstances of Aboriginal families.
- Before their first healing conference, parents work with an Elder and the AFHCC Coordinator to prepare a “Cultural Family History” and “Healing and Wellness Plan” based on the Medicine Wheel and Four Directions Indigenous cultural teachings.
- The conference room contains cultural items to provide a sense of identity and comfort. An Elder opens and closes the healing conference with a prayer. There may also be a smudge, cedar brushing or other spiritual cleansing practice, depending on the parents’ wishes.
- Extended family, friends, counsellors, and a First Nation representative may attend along with the parents, Elders, the AFHCC Coordinator, social workers, the parents’ and Ministry’s lawyers, a judge, and a court clerk.
- The judge encourages everyone in the healing conference circle to focus on the children, speak from the heart, listen and be heard. The participants discuss the healing and wellness plan.
- If the parties agree, the judge may include parts of the Healing and Wellness Plan in a court order made “by consent”. This might include counselling for substance use or anger management, parenting and life skills education, and help finding housing or connecting with their Nation.
- Parents might have one or more healing conferences to review progress and make any changes needed as they work through their healing plans.
- Families may take part in a cultural ceremony to celebrate achieving the goals set out in their Healing and Wellness Plan.
- If the parents and Ministry cannot agree, they may schedule a trial.
A paddle blade with AFHCC logo designed by Lacy Morin-Desjarlais (Kimiwan piyesiw iskwew, Raining Thunderbird Woman)
- The Provincial Court worked for several years with a group of Elders in New Westminster and representatives from the BC Ministries of Children and Family Development, Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, and Justice to create a new process for aboriginal families in child protection cases.
- This work resulted in the launch of AFHCC as a three-year pilot project in New Westminster in 2016. The AFHCC was then confirmed as one of BC’s Indigenous courts.
The goals of an Aboriginal Family Healing Conference include:
- The AFHCC Coordinator is contracted through the Sprit of the Children Society (SOTC). SOTC provides essential support to the AFHCC by working with the Elders and delivering culturally safe services and programs for parents.
- Aboriginal Elders are an integral part of the AFHCC. They work with the AFHCC Coordinator to create a trusting environment to help parents feel safe, help them develop healing plans, and offer support as they work on their plans.
- Involvement of Aboriginal communities can lessen the isolation parents and children experience within the child welfare process and prevent the loss of identity and disconnection experienced by past generations of Aboriginal children.
- SOTC and the Ministry of Child, Family and Community Service offer families a variety of culturally appropriate support services in the community.