OTTAWA — Gerald Lavallee was just three months old when he had his first contact with the child welfare system.
By the time he was eight he was a permanent ward of the system in North Bay, Ont. By 14, he had been in more than 40 foster homes.
Lavallee, now 25, says all he ever wanted was someone to love him.
Looking back now, he realizes if the system had been equipped to help his family he might have had that in spades.
“My mom didn’t do drugs, she didn’t drink but she had crippling depression,” he said Thursday.
His family was suffering from the impact of residential schools which had scooped up his grandparents, who in turn passed on their anger to his mother.
Mental health care was not accessible to her. When the child welfare authorities came calling, family members were willing to take him in but they didn’t have the financial means. Instead of foster care funding going to them so they could take him in, Lavallee went to foster care.
“My great grandma, my grandpa and my aunt, to this day still say they would have taken me in if they’d had the chance,” he said.
It is exactly the kind of situation Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott says the system has to be able to address
Philpott is hosting a two-day emergency meeting on Indigenous child welfare, a system she says is in a “humanitarian crisis” that is reliving the residential schools legacy under the guise of child protection.
Indigenous and non-Indigenous politicians from provincial governments, along with social workers and former foster kids like Lavallee, are spending two days trying to come up with a way to fix it.