PM announces $542M to help Indigenous communities take over child welfare services

Cash a step forward in overhauling a child welfare system in ‘crisis,’ says Indigenous Services minister

The prime minister says his government is making over half a billion dollars available for First Nations, Inuit and Metis organizations to help them take over child welfare services.

The cash is part of the federal government’s ongoing project to implement Bill C-92, through which Indigenous communities can assert inherent jurisdiction over the system.

“This co-developed legislation is about putting kids first, fewer children in care and reuniting families. To do that, Indigenous communities must be in the driver’s seat,” Justin Trudeau said at his pandemic update on Friday.

“Our government is investing $542 million to Indigenous communities to exercise full jurisdiction over child and family services. This is vital to moving forward on our promise to address the unacceptable injustices that too many kids and families have faced in the care system.”

A news release says the money is earmarked to help organizations build capacity to establish their own systems and will be distributed based on organizations’ still-to-be-identified needs. Under the reform bill, Indigenous communities can assume jurisdiction over child welfare services by signing co-ordination agreements with Ottawa and relevant provincial authorities that bring Indigenous laws into force.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, speaking after Trudeau, described the situation as an ongoing humanitarian crisis.

“It’s a crisis we must have the courage to address head on,” said Miller at a press conference. “That is why First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities are best placed to determine their needs and ensure their children, youth and families thrive.”

The bill became law on Jan. 1, 2020, but Quebec challenges its constitutionality on the grounds the legislation infringes on provincial jurisdiction. In July, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the government signed a memorandum of understanding on how to move forward with overhauling a broken system.

The announcement comes two days after the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) issued a ruling that expands the definition of who is available for assistance under Jordan’s Principle. The tribunal said First Nations kids who are non-status but recognized by their nation are still eligible to be considered under the principle.

Cindy Blackstock, executive director at First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, broke the news on Twitter and said the government has until Dec. 25 to appeal.

On Friday, Miller said the government welcomes the ruling and suggested they won’t appeal.

“Our department is currently reviewing and revising what was said in the order, but we are looking forward to the implementation of this definition that expands the definition of First Nations children, which is so important to closing the socioeconomic gaps between non-Indigenous and Indigenous children,” Miller said during question period.

Blackstock’s organization and the AFN brought a human rights complaint before the CHRT in 2007 alleging Canada discriminates against First Nations kids by underfunding the child welfare system on reserves and in the Yukon.

In 2016, the tribunal ruled in kids’ favour and in 2019 ordered Canada to pay $40,000, the maximum allowable amount, to children harmed by the state’s discriminatory practices.

The tribunal has since issued nine non-compliance against Ottawa for not abiding by the ruling. The federal government has also sought a court order quashing the tribunal’s compensation ruling.

In September, Canada agreed not to fight certification of two class-action lawsuits launched by now-adult children who were harmed by the system, which could set the stage for a broad settlement.

Indigenous children account for 52.2 per cent of kids in foster care yet make up only 7.7 per cent of all children between the ages of zero and 14, according to the government, while the number of children now in state care exceeds that of the residential school era.

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