When Kakeka ThunderSky walked into the Health Sciences Centre (HSC) emergency department on Feb. 9, she never imagined the hospital would ask her to choose between receiving medical care and keeping her daughter out of the Child and Family Services (CFS) system.
“They told me children weren’t allowed in the waiting room. I told them I didn’t have anyone that could take her, and that I really needed to be seen,” ThunderSky says.
Lack of available childcare that day meant she had taken her two-year-old daughter, Tokala, to work with her. Then, ThunderSky’s painful health issue that cannot be treated at walk-in clinics flared up. She and Tokala went to the hospital directly after work at around 4:15 p.m.
This wasn’t the first time ThunderSky had visited an adult emergency department with her toddler. Once, when Tokala was nursing, staff at Victoria General Hospital allowed ThunderSky to feed her daughter during their eight-hour stay in the waiting room.
At HSC, however, ThunderSky says a staff person “told us that if I wanted to stay there with her, they would have to call Child and Family Services, and a social worker would come to pick her up.”
Facing a long wait, ThunderSky asked if Tokala could stay with her in the waiting room for a few hours, as family could possibly pick her up later that evening.
The hospital did not waver. ThunderSky then walked away and weighed her options. “It was really hard to try and balance out the pros and cons of if I stay and get treatment or just go home,” she says.
As an Anishinaabkwe mother and former youth in care, ThunderSky wants to prevent her daughter from interacting with CFS.
“I just don’t have trust in that system at all ... it’s just something I’m not comfortable with my daughter being a part of,” she says.
The Government of Canada reports that while Indigenous children account for only 7.7 per cent of the child population in Canada, they make up 53 per cent of all children in foster care. In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that Canada’s child-welfare services discriminated against First Nations children and families.
ThunderSky worries that even one interaction with CFS could lead to them apprehending her daughter. “I think any Indigenous parent would have that concern,” she says.
In an email statement to The Uniter, a Shared Health spokesperson says it is not unusual for HSC social workers to help sort out viable childcare options.”
“When someone seeking care at our adult emergency department requires a medical procedure while caring for a child, staff work with that individual to find an alternate care provider, such as family or a friend, who can help. In rare instances where this is not possible, staff onsite are instructed to remain with the child until other arrangements can be made.”
This policy is not mentioned on HSC’s website, and it’s not clear how strictly staff members follow this procedure.
ThunderSky doesn’t think hospital staff collaborated to find an appropriate solution in her situation. She says she will likely avoid seeking care at HSC in the future.
“I’ve never heard of that, like ever,” she says.
Published in Volume 77, Number 20 of The Uniter (March 2, 2023)