According to a new report, there’s been a 137 per cent increase in the number of children in care in Yukon being placed with extended family members.
The findings come from the 2020-2022 Family and Children’s Services Annual Report, an annual report that is a requirement of the Child and Family Services Act.
The report was tabled by Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee earlier this month.
Shadelle Chambers, executive director of Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN), a non-profit society that advocates for the First Nations in the territory, said there’s been a positive shift in recent years between First Nations and Yukon government.
“The relationship is a lot stronger. I think we are seeing positive changes with Yukon government,” she said in an interview with APTN News.
“Case planning with placement of children and cultural connections is now entrenched and a principal of (child welfare) legislation.”
Chambers noted the issue is a pressing one for First Nations in the territory.
The report states 95 per cent of children and youth in care in out-of-home care are Indigenous.
“Yukon First Nations have a right to say what happens to their children,” Chambers said.
In 2018 and 2019, a broad review of the Child and Family Services Act (CFSA) was undertaken by Yukon government to improve Yukon’s child welfare system.
That included extensive engagement between Yukon government, CYFN and First Nations and resulted in reforms like the importance of community and culture and the definition of best interests of the child.
The amended CFSA was passed into law last spring, and the legislation came into effect on Nov. 30, 2022.
Leeann Kayseas, director of the territorial government’s Family and Children’s Services, said all 14 First Nations in the territory were brought to the table when it came to reforming the CFSA.
“Even though it’s probably not exactly what everybody had wanted, I think it was a process that we did together where we were able to work through some really tough discussions and get supports for children and families that they needed,” she said.
Yukon’s Act is now more reflective of the federal Act which has national standards that reflect the realities Indigenous families face when it comes to child in care.
“There’s options for families outside the family preservation services team that can provide those services and they don’t have to walk through our door,” Kayseas said.
Staying with family
According to the report, between 2020 and 2022, the total number of children in out-of-home care dropped from 225 children and youth to 210.
The number of children and youth in extended family care also dropped from 146 in 2020 to 128 in 2022.
In 2022, 61 per cent of children and youth in out-of-home care were under Extended Family Care Agreements.
Chambers said CYFN is also seeing positive changes with its Family Preservation Services department.
The department has grown to include its own building with 26 staff members that are helping over 250 families navigate the child welfare system and issues like housing, poverty and trauma.
The department is also offering a Yukon First Nation birth worker training program in May aimed at offering culturally relevant pre and post-natal supports.
Chambers said the positive shift in child welfare is ultimately providing children with better outcomes.
“They stay more connected with their families, there’s not a big disconnect as we sometimes see when children are aging back into community and out of foster care or group care system,” she said.
“We also know that they stay better connected to their birth parents. Extended family can really support families, birth parents and children to stay connected.”
Still work to be done
Both Chambers and Kayseas said while child welfare is improving, there is still more to be done.
The report states as of 2022, 85 children were in the care of the Director and 53 were in foster care.
“We know one child in the Director’s care is one child too many,” Chambers said.
She noted there’s also been a global shift from protection to prevention.
“We’re not going to see the outcomes of child protection and child welfare improve without addressing poverty, without addressing homelessness, without addressing housing, without addressing substance misuse,” she said.
Kayseas said at the end of the day, the CFSA is still a government mandated Act.
“Although I feel like there’s been a huge shift, it’s not community practise,” she said.
“Each First Nation knows what their children needs, or what their community and citizens need, so to have to work from a government act makes it difficult. It’s never going to be where it needs to be.”
Chambers said while work is ongoing, the ultimate goal is to improve outcomes for children, youth and families who are involved with the child welfare system.
“We have to work collaboratively to ensure our children are safe and supported.”