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Cowichan Tribes to vote on law reclaiming full authority over child and family services

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Members of the Cowichan Tribes are about to embark on a historic vote, that if passed, would see the Cowichan Valley First Nation implement its own law. That law would reclaim full authority over child and family services.

Nine years ago, there was trouble in Jessica George’s home. That led to the province stepping in.

“My social worker came over and saw that I was abused, so the kids got apprehended,” said George, a Cowichan Tribes member.

Her three children at the time ended up in the foster system.

One year ago, a social worker asked if she would be willing to work on getting them back.

“Of course we agreed to it, right away,” said George. “Nine years without our kids.”

That is when Jessica and her husband began the process of counselling and parenting classes. After a lot of hard work, the family is back together.

“We can do better when it comes to caring for our children and families,” said Chief Lydia Hwitsum of the Cowichan Tribes.

Now, Cowichan Tribes is looking to create its own law, ensuring that children within its community won’t be taken away from the community and ending up in the foster system, away from their culture.

“We need to support families, strengthen families, lift them up with our teachings,” said Hwitsum. “We need wrap-around services to understand how we better support our families.”

Under the proposed law, if a child did need to be removed, they would remain close to home, likely staying with a stable family member.

“Don’t put them into stranger care,” said Hwitsum. “Find a way to find supports within our families and our communities to provide that care.”

“Our law speaks to keeping families together, keeping children with their families,” said Addie Price, executive director of Lalum’utul’ Smun’eem.

Cowichan Tribes is made up of around 5,000 members.

Council is now encouraging the community to get out and vote on whether to create a law that will see the band take back control of its child and family services. Members can go to the polls online beginning Friday and in person on Nov. 24.

“I felt complete, I have my babies around me all the time now,” said George.

The mother of four says if the proposed law was in place nine years ago, she would have had access to the wrap-around services the tribe says it will offer. She says she would have likely gotten her children back much sooner.

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