Indigenous mother asks for more culturally competent support for children with disabilities

·3 min read
Symbia Barnaby, an Indigenous mother with five special-needs children, is calling for more culturally sensitive support services for Indigenous children with disabilities. (Submitted by Symbia Barnaby - image credit)
Symbia Barnaby, an Indigenous mother with five special-needs children, is calling for more culturally sensitive support services for Indigenous children with disabilities. (Submitted by Symbia Barnaby - image credit)

An Indigenous mother is highlighting the barriers that Indigenous people face when trying to access disability services and is asking for more culturally sensitive support to be made available.

Symbia Barnaby, who is of Mi'kmaq and Haida descent, is a single mother of six children, five of whom have special needs.

She says Indigenous families face many challenges accessing care for their children with special needs, particularly regarding proximity to services and the historical context of settler governments and Indigenous people.

"Indigenous families who have kids with disabilities, or suspect their child has a disability, are often very fearful to come forward to access support services, because they [support services] are connected with the Ministry of Child and Family Development," she said.

"Historically, when you're looking at residential schools and MCFD — they haven't had the best track record with Indigenous people."

Barnaby points to the Sixties Scoop and what she says is the ongoing "Millennium Scoop," which saw thousands of Indigenous children taken away from their families and placed in foster care, as reasons for the apprehension within Indigenous families.

From her own experience, she says there has been a lack of support workers and services, generally, where she lives in Prince Rupert. She says most support services are centralized in larger cities like Prince George and Vancouver.

Submitted by Symbia Barnaby
Submitted by Symbia Barnaby

"They lack individual support services for all the outlying communities a lot of the time ... so it trickles down to really lack of support for Indigenous people in northern communities that have disability."

This lack of support has been exacerbated by the pandemic, Barnaby says, especially for those with intellectual disabilities that need special accommodations.

'Indigenous families feel disconnected'

In Barnaby's case, her daughter was diagnosed with autism when she was 10. Normally, she says support workers and care providers would have diagnosed her much earlier, when she was five or six.

"There is a lot of different barriers that we came up against, just trying to get connected with people, to find out that she even had autism in the first place," she said.

Within schools, she says, Indigenous children with disabilities feel excluded, as support workers often don't have the cultural competency to follow up appropriately when a child has special needs.

"I speak from personal experience and then also, you know, what's been shared with me from other Indigenous families ... they feel disconnected," she said.

Barnaby called for a trauma-informed and community-centred response for Indigenous people at a presentation at AdvoCon on Friday.

One of the things she points to is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action, which includes a recommendation for all medical professionals to take a course on Indigenous health issues.

"It's not just a checkbox that people need to be doing within their job ... it's a personal responsibility every single Canadian has," she said.

Barnaby said she feels more hopeful for the newer generations of Indigenous people with more people aware of the trauma they have faced.

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