On February 27-28 2019, Indigenous community members, youth, Elders and First Nations gathered to explore and learn about restorative child welfare practices at VACFSS’ Strengthening Our Relations: Restoring Family Within Community conference.
The sold-out conference opened with a welcoming and prayer by Elder Orene Johnston from the Squamish Nation and a song by Elder Bruce Robinson from the Nisga’a Nation. In recognition of the conference’s location on Coast Salish territory, a witnessing ceremony took place and four witnesses arriving from the four directions were called to share their observations of the event.
Keynote speakers Steven Lewis Point and Dr. Gwen Point opened the presentations with their grounding introduction “Understanding Who You Are – Your Mind, Your Body and Your Spirit” and called on attendees, by sharing traditional Stólô teachings, to explore how they can connect with their inner spirit and the families, children and youth they serve.
In the spirit of transparency and knowledge sharing, VACFSS presented five workshops on its programs and service models including: Growing the Circle: Perspectives on Include Foster Care; Using Data to Restore Family Within Community; Honouring Young Leaders Through Youth Engagement in Research and Practice; Lived Experience Accounts of Ceremony and Engagement; and Restorative Supervision: Cultivating Restorative Practice.
The conference featured other thought leaders in the fields of trauma-informed practice and strengthening community including representatives from Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, Gitxsan Child and Family Services Society, the Ministry of Children and Family Services and the Canada Research Chair in Indigenizing Higher Education.
Leaders in child welfare service agencies VACFSS CEO Bernadette Spence, Founder of Native Child and Family Services of Toronto Kenn Richard, and MCFD Executive Director of Service for Vancouver and Richmond Provincial Centralized Screening Sheila Robinson explored in a panel how their respective organization’s policy and practices align with the TRC’s Call to Action and where they could be strengthened.
VACFSS staff hosted the event and were on hand to answer attendee’s questions and cedar brushings to cleanse attendees were offered by Elder Bruce Robinson. All net proceeds from the conference went to the gifts of our children fund, benefitting children and youth in care to develop their inherent talents in sport, art, music and dance.
Members of the VACFSS Youth Advisory Committee were also involved at many levels of the conference and presented in three sessions. Young people had the final word of the day in the closing conference keynote: Reconciliation through the Eyes of Our Young People. The youth presenters emphasized the importance of involving them in their care plans, honesty, and building authentic relationships as paramount to supporting healing and resiliency for young people in care.
Feedback from conference attendees noted that: 94% said they would attend a future conference by VACFSS and 95% said they would recommend the conference to others. Further, 84% were satisfied with the registration process, 90% were satisfied with the conference organization and 83% said the conference information was informative and beneficial.
We offer our sincere thanks to all attendees and presenters who contributed to the success of the conference. The shared energy made it a positive space for us to explore how to best walk alongside Indigenous families and youth in their journey towards healing. We look forward to seeing you at our next conference, planned for February 2022, to continue sharing best practices, explore and learn together.