Krista and Michael Prochazka with their adopted children Angela, left, and Isabelle. Krista Prochazka spoke this week at the Family Strengthening gathering about her experience navigating the systems for adopting First Nations children. (Submitted Photo/Yukon News)

Adoptive parents share stories at Yukon child welfare conference

‘This doesn’t define who we are, just how we got here’

Standing onstage at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre June 5, Krista Prochazka had to steady herself to keep from crying.

Prochazka was speaking to a crowd of roughly 130 people during Family Strengthening, a child welfare gathering organized by the Council of Yukon First Nations.

Over the course of two days, audience members heard from staff, policy-makers, advisory committees and workers in child welfare systems and organizations across Canada and the Yukon.

Prochazka was the first speaker though, to share her personal experience of navigating those systems as an adoptive parent of First Nations children with her husband Mike Prochazka.

For a half hour, Prochazka spoke about the ups and downs she faced during the years she and Mike worked toward adoption of their daughters, Angela, a Kaska citizen of the Ross River Dene Council and Isabelle, who is Taku River Tlingit.

“This (story) doesn’t define who we are, just how we got here,” she said.

Prochazka said Angela came into their lives when she was three-and-a-half.

At the time, Angela had already lived with one foster family and been placed in a group home for teens (there was nowhere else for her to go), before being cared for by Prochazka’s landlady.

Prochazka and her husband eventually started providing respite care for the little girl who slowly spent more and more time in their yard, and then their lives.

The adoption process, which took a year and a half, was finalized in November 2011.

It was much quicker, she said, when they adopted Isabelle, but there were positives and negatives to each process.

While she and her husband loved that Angela had extra time to transition and feel comfortable with her new family — that she had months to choose them herself — she also sees the value in things moving as quickly as they did with Isabelle.

“Time helps us get our lives in order, our communities more capacity, and departments to be thorough and diligent, but time is the enemy of our kids,” she said. “The faster we can find them with certainty, the faster they can begin the process of healing.”

Angela knew for two years that a sibling was coming, but was impatient with the process. Similarly, Isabelle knew she was going to be adopted by a family other than the foster family she was living with, but didn’t know when.

“They knew what was happening and they just wanted to get on with the business of being sisters,” said Prochazka.

“These kids are already faced with so much uncertainty. The faster we can solidify anything, the better.”

Prochazka was followed by Robert van Lieshout, who, along with his wife, have also adopted two First Nations children.

Van Lieshout, who was living in Burwash Landing when he adopted his children, said the process was quick for his family.

After he and his wife discussed the idea of adoption, he called the Yukon adoption unit to ask how it worked. They asked if he could come in to talk that day.

Van Lieshout said it would have been helpful to have trauma training. He said he has worked in mental health for 25 years and he still felt he didn’t know what to do, as a parent, to manage his son’s trauma.

He also hadn’t realized, he said, how much family comes with the adoption of a First Nations child. His kids have cousins and relatives everywhere, he said.

“I didn’t realize that if you adopt in the Yukon, you don’t just adopt children, there’s a tremendous amount of family that comes with adoption of First Nations children.”

Van Lieshout said his kids are connecting with that family now, but he wishes he’d made an earlier effort to ensure that.

He felt a sense of guilt, and of pressure, knowing the birth parents were likely upset at having their kids removed from the home, and said he wished he had been able to start building that relationship from the beginning.

He’s still learning, he said, about maintaining that cultural connection for his own kids, and, he told the crowd of social workers and child welfare staffers, whatever can be done within legislation to prioritize that, needs to be done.

He was also adamant that First Nations communities be in charge of the way their kids are cared for.

Prochazka echoed this.

“I’ve wondered so many time what could have happened to my girls’ lives had their moms or their families been supported, but I also know in my experience, and in the other families I know — and there aren’t too many of us in this town — that generally the kids that we’ve adopted have such a level of care that’s required that that becomes a really significant consideration when these decisions are made.”

She said she was excited to hear about the new ways organizations are bringing First Nations families into the process of child welfare, and how that will play out in the Yukon in the future.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

adoption

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Team Togo member Katie Moen sits in a sled behind a snowmobile for the ride from the airport to Chief Zzeh Gittlit School. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Coming together: How Old Crow became one of the first communities in the world to be fully vaccinated

Team Togo and Team Balto assembled with a mission to not waste a single dose of vaccine

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. If council moves forward with bylaw changes, eating and drinking establishments could set up pop-up patios in on-street parking spaces. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Patios may be popping up in Whitehorse this summer

City considers program for downtown restaurants and bars

The Yukon Coroner's Service has confirmed the death of a skateboarder found injured on Hamilton Boulevard on May 2. Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News
Whitehorse man dies in skateboarding accident

Coroner urges the use of helmets, protective gear, while skateboarding.

The new Yukon Liberal caucus poses for a photo during the swearing-in ceremony held on May 3. (Yukon Government/Submitted)
Liberal cabinet sworn in at legislature before house resumes on May 11

Newly elected MLA Jeremy Harper has been nominated as speaker.

The Yukon Wildlife Preserve’s baby bison, born April 22, mingles with the herd on April 29. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Yukon Wildlife Preserves welcomes two bison calves

A bison calf was the first 2021 baby born at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve

A map provided by the Yukon government shows the location of unpermitted logging leading to a $2,500 fine. (Courtesy/Yukon government)
Man fined $2,500 for felling trees near Beaver Creek

The incident was investigated by natural resource officers and brought to court.

The site of the Old Crow solar project photographed on Feb. 20. The Vuntut Gwitchin solar project was planned for completion last summer, but delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it back. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Old Crow is switching to solar

The first phase of the community’s solar array is already generating power.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
One new case of COVID-19 in the Yukon

Case number 82 is the territory’s only active case

Flood and fire risk and potential were discussed April 29. Yukoners were told to be prepared in the event of either a flood or a fire. Submitted Photo/B.C. Wildfire Service
Yukoners told to be prepared for floods and wildland fire season

Floods and fire personelle spoke to the current risks of both weather events in the coming months.

From left to right, Pascale Marceau and Eva Capozzola departed for Kluane National Park on April 12. The duo is the first all-woman expedition to summit Mt. Lucania. (Michael Schmidt/Icefield Discovery)
First all-woman team summits Mt. Lucania

“You have gifted us with a magical journey that we will forever treasure.”

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

Whitehorse goings-on for the week of April 26

The Yukon Department of Education in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. The department has announced new dates for the 2021/2022 school year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Yukon school dates set for 2021/22

The schedule shows classes starting on Aug. 23, 2021 for all Whitehorse schools and in some communities.

Most Read