First Nations child and family services reform: Minister’s Special Representative meetings in Newfoundland and Labrador

The Minister's Special Representative, Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, met with stakeholders and partners in Newfoundland and Labrador who have an interest in the reform process for First Nation child and family services from March 20 to March 23, 2017, including:

Stakeholders and partners were asked to identify what needs to change in the First Nations Child and Family Services program. This report presents a summary of Dr. Wesley-Esquimaux's meetings in Newfoundland and Labrador and highlights:

Key issues and findings

First Nation Leadership

  • have First Nation communities and First Nation organizations lead, develop and run their own child and family services programs
  • a law and/or national standards for First Nation child and family services that include Indigenous input and reflect cultural contexts
  • want to see child and family services program focus on three key areas:
    • deal with the underlying issues that lead to children being taken into care (prevention)
    • strengthen families
    • help individuals and families connect to their Indigenous culture
  • connecting First Nation children taken from their communities to their culture, either by going back to their communities to visit or, if they cannot go back to their communities in a safe way, by going to another First Nation community
  • importance of language and culture
  • community and provincial social workers to work better together
  • more Indigenous social workers or social workers who have experience with Indigenous people and working with people who have suffered trauma
  • do more to support kinship care; for example, providing extended families with funding for children they are caring for

Communities

  • need for provincial standards to be adapted to Indigenous realities and culture
  • ensure communities are part of any discussion on national standards so these standards recognize cultural context and the needs of First Nation families
  • First Nation children and youth get the services they need no matter where they live
  • a comprehensive or holistic approach to child and family services that emphasizes well-being and includes support for multiple services such as parenting classes and mental health counselling; and the need to address Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
  • connecting First Nation children taken from their communities to their culture, either by going back to their communities to visit or, if they cannot go back to their communities in a safe way, by going to another First Nation community
  • importance of language and culture in child and family services, as well as in education
  • call for community and provincial social workers to better work together
  • the important role elders play in helping families and children
  • care circles to support families in crisis and the need for healing
  • need for dedicated individuals in communities to help families with child and family services
  • more infrastructure in communities for child and family services, including for family treatment homes and safe houses

Province of Newfoundland and Labrador

  • recruitment and retention challenges, especially in remote communities
  • supports the federal government's child and family services reform work and supports more Indigenous control over First Nation child and family services
  • discussions currently taking place with First Nation representatives about changing the province's laws on child welfare
  • province is working more closely with Innu People, including through an agreement where Innu community workers work in collaboration with provincial social workers
  • province is looking to provide early intervention services to children and provide families with prevention supports
  • improving housing conditions to address safety needs
  • need to address mental health
  • need to address the special needs of remote First Nation communities, as these communities face special challenges such as lack of services and lack of infrastructure for child and family services programs

Key themes

A number of themes emerged from discussions with stakeholders and partners:

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