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Stolen Hearts documentary to explore fallout of Cowichan kids raised in foster care
Spikes in numbers of Cowichan kids in foster care are well above B.C.'s average, telling a statistical story.
The emotional tales behind those numbers are being explored in Stolen Hearts, a one-hour documentary film being produced by Harold C. Joe, and directed by Patricia Dawn (a.k.a. Patti Delisle).
They and their sources say many children in local, government-funded care are Aboriginals.
During a year of shooting and interviews — mostly at Duncan's Quw'utsun' Cultural Centre — Stolen Hearts will probe the personal and cultural fallout of kids being removed from their homes and raised by folks other than their parents.
"If you're removed from your culture, what's missing?" asked Joe, who gained acclaim for his Cowichan homelessness-doc Broken Down. "It can have a major effect on the child."
Impacts will be shared by care-raised kids, and their parents.
"They'll tell you the truth," said Joe, who'll also relate how residential school affected him, and his ability to raise his own kids.
In short, Stolen Hearts will pump reality into a hidden issue, particularly hitting First Nations folks, and offer some alternatives.
"We were a balanced community before white contact. As a father, I want to hear from men," he said.
"The father," noted Dawn, "is just as important to the child as the mother. When that balance is disturbed, it ripples through the community. When did it become the state's job to raise a child?"
She acknowledged staff from B.C.'s Ministry of Children and family development may remove children from their home given violence, drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment and other factors believed to spell a bad environment for raising a child.
That's why the Stolen Hearts — now in pre-production development — got a $2,000 grant from Cowichan Communities Health Network.
"Any child, regardless of race or culture, in care or in need of care, is tragic," said the health network's Cindy Lise.
Stolen Hearts, she said, met the health network's community-project criteria linked to social determinants of health.
Criterion span housing, income, early childhood development, education, poverty, and more.
"This (film) fit a number of criteria," Lise said.
Dawn said data about child removals from Cowichan homes is hard to get from the ministry.
"We heard there were four removals in one month this year."
2010 Ministry data about children in care per 1,000, between birth and age 18, show 17.1 in Cowichan, and 9.2 in Lake Cowichan, compared to B.C.'s average of 9.2 kids in care.
But figures for children in need of protection were more telling: 19.9 per 1,000 in Cowichan, and 23.9 in Lake Cowichan, versus B.C.'s 6.7 average.
Dawn noted pulling kids from their parents costs taxpayers about $1 million to raise that child from birth until age 18.
"Stolen Hearts is about showcasing alternatives," she said, noting the doc could also bust myths about effects of parental alcohol abuse on Native children.
"This is the aftermath of the residential-school system," Dawn said, noting she believed Cowichan has B.C.'s highest rate of child removal, predominantly among First Nations.
"Why not support the mother during pregnancy?" she suggested. "The model now is removal first, then assistance."
"There are major hassles parents must go through to get that child back," said Joe. "It's difficult to educate the public, society ,and even our own people about this issue."
A fall event is planned to explain Stolen Hearts' progress. A public premiere, and a community support system, is targeted once the film is finished.
To be interviewed, contact stolenhearts.ca.