APTN National News
OTTAWA—The federal Liberal government is poised to launch a major overhaul of the on-reserve child welfare system that will see an increase in funding and a move toward family-centric programs, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said Tuesday.
Bennett and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould faced reporters on Parliament Hill Tuesday morning following the release of a scathing ruling from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
The ruling found Ottawa’s on-reserve child welfare programs discriminated against First Nation children through underfunding and provided incentives to take children away from their families. The tribunal called for major reforms to on-reserve child welfare programs.
The human rights ruling came as a major victory for the Assembly of First Nations and Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. Blackstock launched the original complaint, with the support of the AFN, in 2007.
Bennett said the federal government is looking to meet shortly with the AFN and Blackstock to begin the work on reforming the child welfare system for First Nations. The minister said the promised increased funding would be in this year’s federal budget.
Bennett also revealed that the planned reforms to the child welfare system would draw from models currently in use by New Zealand that focus on keeping children within their families through “kinship” care and “customary” care.
“We want a real system that will protect these children, keep families intact if at all possible,” said Bennett. “And that it is those kinds of models we are looking at from New Zealand. Kinship care, customary care, there are many ways we can wrap services around a family so that the child isn’t taken from the family and some other family is paid to raise them. That doesn’t make any sense to me.”
See related stories
In the kinship care model, agencies would focus on putting a child that needs to be removed from their home, into the care of relatives or someone emotionally close to the child.
Wilson-Raybould said while Ottawa does need to move quickly on reforming the child welfare system, the federal government is also committed to an overhaul of the nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples.
“Without question we welcome the decision today and at this time in our country’s history discrimination in any form is entirely unacceptable and what we have committed to as a government—and I will be working closely with my colleague Minister Bennett—is ensuring we develop a substantive nation-to-nation relationship with the Indigenous peoples of this country.”
The human rights tribunal ruling does not impact Indigenous Affairs’ child welfare programs for the Northwest Territories or Nunavut.
Indigenous Affairs provides funding for child welfare programs in First Nation communities, either through First Nation child welfare agencies or through provincial agencies. The federal department has a separate, cost-sharing arrangement with Ontario dating back to 1965.
The human rights tribunal ruling also said the Ontario agreement needs a major overhaul.
The tribunal’s ruling gave the parties to the case–the AFN, Blackstock and Ottawa–three weeks to prepare for an implementation plan and a plan for setting compensation.