Complicating Culture in Child Placement Decisions
16 Can. J. Women & L. 137-164 (2004)
29 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2013
Date Written: 2004
The National Judicial Institute recently asked if I would be interested in developing a workshop on Aboriginal child welfare issues for Alberta judges. I was initially reluctant as my research on multicultural issues in family law focuses on child custody rather than child welfare and on religion and culture rather than Aboriginal heritage. These differences are not insignificant. I agreed to co-design a workshop when paired with Carol Carifelle Brzezicki of the Metis Nation of Alberta, who has extensive experience as a social worker and policy analyst with Aboriginal communities. I learned a great deal as we designed the workshop and as I prepared a short paper on child placement decisions.
I was immediately struck by how Marlee Kline's work on Aboriginal women, the ideology of motherhood, and child welfare in Canada remains the leading scholarly contribution in this area. While there have been provincial government studies and inquiries into the administration of child welfare and Aboriginal peoples, Marlee's work is the most deeply theorized and politically engaged. Indeed, I could find few scholarly articles on the legal dimensions of Aboriginal families and child placement decisions in Canada. As I proceeded, I felt as though I was in conversation with Marlee's work in this area. That said, I approach the topic with a different lens and from a different perspective. I pursue some questions about children's cultural identity that are not explored in her work and argue in favour of anti-essentialist understandings of cultural formation. I examine the importance given to cultural connection in the best interests test in child custody law as well as child welfare determinations. This article is the product of research into the importance of culture, community, and racism in child placement decisions in Canada.
Keywords: child welfare, Aboriginal children, cultural identity
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