Cold Lake First Nation bringing children back from Alberta’s child welfare system

A mother from Cold Lake First Nation in Alberta says her life is changed now that’s she’s in control of her addictions, and more importantly, has her daughter back.

“I get to have my little girl in my care and get to watch her grow up, go to school, make friends…learn her cultural ways, her language,” says the mother who can’t be named because of privacy laws.

The mother lost her daughter four years ago. But after working at sobriety her life change and she was reunited with her daughter on Dec. 31.

All of this made possible because of work by the Cold Lake First Nation Family and Community Support Services.

“We were able to eventually, family after family, after family, breaking down those doors, we were able to, as of December 31st, we were able to bring home 17 children,” says Connie Santos from her office in Cold Lake, a community of 3,000 people, 278 km northeast of Edmonton on the Saskatchewan border.

Santos has extensive experience with the child welfare system, having worked as director for aboriginal child and family services in two provinces.

For the past year, she has assembled a staff of 12 to help return children to the Cold Lake First Nations from the Alberta child welfare system.

It was through federal Bill C-92 which was passed in 2019, giving Indigenous communities the ability to offer their own child and family services.

Santos says the provincial system has many flaws.

“The length of time that children have been in care without any visits, not even to their home was heartbreaking,” she says.

The list of children in care the province provided Col Lake was incomplete.

“The list of 65 they gave us…well our list is up to 187 to date,” she says.

She says social workers were not as helpful as they could be in returning children to their homes.

“We have not come across one social worker to date that said ‘hey, can we move this child back? Do you have somebody?’” Santos says. “We have not come across this at all.”

The mother APTN spoke with says her daughter is adjusting quickly.

“If it wasn’t me changing my addictions, and me getting clean, I probably wouldn’t have my daughter back,” she says. The mother was emotional saying how glad she was for the help she received returning her daughter to her.

“Four years after barriers after barriers. She’s home now, and I am grateful. My heart is full now,” she says.

There will be a celebration for the returned children on Feb. 19 to welcome them home.


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