Care of Indigenous children at Batshaw compromised by 'racist attitudes,' report finds

Indigenous children and their families are subject to "racist attitudes" by administrators of the youth protection agency that serves English-speaking Montrealers, compromising the type of care they receive, a new report says.

The report, prepared by researchers at Concordia University in collaboration with the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal and other local community groups, details problems at Batshaw Youth and Family Centres — and offers recommendations to fix them.

The report is based on three years of research in co-operation with Batshaw and the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, the regional health and social services board that oversees Batshaw.

A focus group of Batshaw workers said "racist attitudes" of staff at the regional health board was one of the main obstacles to improved care.

Workers at Bathsaw said they felt "families were victims of stereotyping and that many [in the regional health authority] held the attitude of Indigenous families as somehow separate from other families they worked with."

The report, titled One step forward, two steps back: Child welfare services for Indigenous clientele living in Montreal, has not yet been made public. It was obtained by CBC News after first surfacing in the Montreal Gazette.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • The number of Indigenous children and families is not adequately tracked and likely underreported. The report notes improved records is one of the first recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
  • Researchers noted a "lack of will" on behalf of upper management at the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal to implement the calls to action put forward by the TRC.
  • Staff at Bashaw said there is a lack of information about the resources available to Indigenous clients and "little awareness of the diversity" among various First Nations in Quebec.
  • There were no First Nations, Inuit or Métis staff on the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal team designated to work with Indigenous families at the time of the report's completion. 
  • The lack of translation services, particularly for Inuit families, is highlighted as a major barrier to services.

Nakuset, head of the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal, said Batshaw has been aware of these problems for years, but solutions often get stalled or lost in bureaucracy.

"It almost pulls the wind out of your sails. To keep trying and trying and trying to create change, and to get a lot of holdups," she said. 

The recommendations include improved staff training, the hiring of Indigenous staff, establishing best practices in working with Indigenous youth and the establishment of an ongoing working group where community experts would be consulted.

Not knowing the basics

One of the report's co-authors, Elizabeth Fast, said one example of how Indigenous families are inappropriately treated is Batshaw workers asking invasive and improper questions based on stereotypes of Indigenous people.

"A worker found out that a family was Indigenous and said to the mother, 'Have you ever been sexually abused?'" said Fast in an interview with CBC. 

Fast said workers sometimes show a basic lack of understanding of Indigenous cultures — presuming, for example, if a child is being given what the Inuit call "country food" — hunted meat — that the family may not have the resources to provide breakfast cereal or other typical Western staples.

"That's another form of racism because it's ignorance," Fast said. 

Change needed 'immediately'

Batshaw has been beset by problems in recent years. Last December, the Quebec human rights commission launched an investigation following a CBC News report that Inuit children were discouraged from speaking their own language while in youth protection.

In the report's conclusion, the authors say they expect the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal to "begin working immediately" with organizations representing Indigenous peoples in Montreal.

In a statement, the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal said "providing quality care and services to the children and families they serve is the top priority."

The statement also said the agency is taking steps to improve its care of young Inuit "and to better safeguard their cultural integrity."

The agency declined a request for an interview.