Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 15, 2010
Oblate pastor issues impassioned plea for foster children
Children deserve homes where they are loved, says Holland
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - Standing in front of the tiny white coffin holding the body of an 21-month-old foster child March 9, Father Jim Holland told mourners to "fight so another child does not die."
Her death was a homicide and for the pastor of Sacred Heart of the First Peoples it was the fourth time in 15 years that he has had to grieve with parents whose child died in government care.
It's the day after the funeral and Holland sounds the battle cry for children ripped away from their biological families.
"They yank these children out of their environment and put them where nobody knows them," says Holland, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate.
TOO MUCH LEGALISM
"They (the government) have gotten so legalistic and so protectionist of their own selves, they have forgotten what the child basically needs. Security. Love.
"We talk about it in the Church all the time - love. A three-year-old. A two-year-old. Native. Non-native. It doesn't matter.
"A child yanked out of their environment and put where they know no one is psychologically stressed and psychologically affected. I wouldn't do that to my dogs, let alone to a child. My dogs would go crazy. But we do it to children."
Child and Youth Services Yvonne Fritz is reported as promising to do a department review of what went wrong in the toddler's death and the RCMP are investigating the homicide.
But that holds little water with Holland.
"The system has got to change," he says, his voice rising with emotion. "The minister talks a big story. We are going to do this big investigation. It's going to be secret. It's going to be in-house. But let's not tell the public because the public might get upset and we may lose some votes.
"I'm sorry, I don't care if you lose votes. Our children are too precious and too important."
Instead of funneling a child into foster care, this priest would like to see support given to the little one's parents.
"Sometimes people have babies and they are not prepared to have them because some of them are babies themselves," says Holland.
For example, the young mother of the child he just buried had health problems. The father of the child deserted her and the baby.
"Why didn't they (social services) come in and help her and work with her family," asks Holland. "I know all her aunties. They are well-adjusted citizens. They are raising their own kids. Surely they would step in and help."
PAY THE KOOKUM
Then too there is the money factor.
"If they send the child to foster care, they fund the foster parents financially," says Holland. "But if a kookum (Cree word for grandmother) takes that child - and you know many kookums have raised many kids - (the government) gives them nothing. No support. No financial aid. Nothing."
Holland wants to see the system changed so "they can keep these children in a safe, healthy environment within their culture, within their families. Family is very important to our aboriginal people and to most people coming out of foreign countries."
He says he had been told Fitz welcomed the views of the Church and that he spoke out.
"But you know - that's all talk. There's two ways of doing things. You can speak from the mouth. But that's cheap. Anyone can talk. But now, she's got to put some action to it. What action is she going to do?"
CHURCH MUST SPEAK
He is also looking to his own faith community for support for the children and families in need.
"The Church has got to speak out," he says. "The Church should be screaming. Not just the Catholic Church, but all churches. No one is saying anything."
Born into a family of eight children in the southern states, Holland's family and farm life gave him the base he knows a child needs - total security.
"They need to know when they wake up in the morning they are safe," says Holland. "Moving a child from one foster parent to another foster parent to another foster parent is not a way to make the child feel secure and safe."
While this toddler's death triggered his outburst, Holland wonders, "How many other children are suffering psychologically out there and then they grow up and end up in our jail system. It just drives me nuts."
He is also careful not to ghettoize his comments, underlining, "It is not a native issue. It is a child issue. They need help. They don't need a family destroyed.
"They (the government) just seem to totally ignore those who have no voice."
Letter to the Editor - 03/29/10
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