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

The Minister's Special Representative, Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, met with stakeholders and partners in Yukon who have an interest in the reform process for First Nation child and family services from March 6 to 10, 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 Yukon and highlights:

Key issues and findings

First Nation leadership organizations

  • reform needs to involve active partnerships and dialogue between First Nations, the Yukon Government and the Government of Canada
  • community members are best placed to implement child, family and community early intervention and prevention initiatives; the government needs to do things "with" communities, not "for" communities
  • 11 of the 14 First Nations are self-governing in the Yukon and have the ability to negotiate with the Government of Yukon to take responsibility for their own child and family services 
  • self-governing First Nations have negotiated program service transfer agreements for many Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and Health Canada programs
    • these agreements are generally delivered according to the self-governing First Nations' program guidelines
  • stronger commitment from the Government of Canada and the Government of Yukon to advance progress already made for implementing self-government agreements (for  example, the Carcross Tagish First Nation developed the first ever First Nation Family Act; however, a service transfer agreement needs to be negotiated for the act to be recognized and adequately resourced)
  • support from all partners to successfully deal with the intergenerational effects of colonial policies and practices such as residential schools
  • legislation, programs and policies need to change to reflect First Nation culture, protocols and laws to strengthen families and communities 
  • upcoming five-year review of the Yukon Government's Child and Family Services Act is an opportunity to make changes including on providing resources directly to communities for culturally appropriate programs
  • support to implement land-based program models, similar to those at Jackson Lake, given that the land is where well-being begins
  • funding amounts should be based on child and family service needs rather than on population
  • reform work needs to look at child and family well-being, including early intervention, prevention and post-care support in a comprehensive way rather than separately and within silos
  • ensure that payment and support systems for First Nations providing care to their extended family members are equitable to that of foster families
  • prevention and support are needed for children and families early when they need help
  • action plan needed to support children and youth coming out of care to help them deal with being taken away from their families and communities, as well as their loss of identity, culture and sense of belonging
  • address poverty in communities, as it is the cause of many children being placed in care
  • registration of First Nations is not consistent between Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada's Indian Registry and those registered as beneficiaries under the self-government agreements

Communities and band councils

  • despite 11 of the 14 First Nations having self-government agreements, the Government of Canada and the Government of the Yukon have not recognized their jurisdiction and they do not have funding to implement their own child and family services and programs
  • communities want their own service models that are fully funded and aligned with First Nation values and to reflect their ways of life
  • discussed protection work remaining the responsibility of the Government of Yukon but that it needs to reflect First Nations' needs and culture
  • healing and prevention funding should go directly to First Nation communities, including for traditional and land-based healing activities, healing centres, and aftercare supports for addictions issues
  • communities have to re-learn how to support child well-being, which includes teaching parents to be parents
  • standards and legislation with a focus on helping families and keeping children in the home and to better support families to have children return home (for example, family group conferencing must include parents in the discussion)
  • workers need cultural sensitivity training, including on how to promote cultural connections for children in care as having trained workers will help reconcile relationships and support the well-being of  families and communities
  • need to support Elders to share language and knowledge, as Indigenous languages are the heart of a strong culture and a connection to the land

Social and well-being workers

  • an Indigenous early learning program like the Head Start program to support child well-being in each of the Yukon's communities 
  • important to travel to communities and support families, building on the model of The Child Development Centre, which is a non-profit organization that provides Yukon children up to 6 years old with developmental supports, such as speech, occupational, and play therapy, and psychological assessments
  • build on mental health program Handle with Care, which is designed for community members to deliver to children and families at various stages of development
  • longer visits by therapists in the communities, or the development of more satellite offices, like the one at Kwanlin Dun, would allow for more consistent access to resources and support
  • more early support for children in schools since teachers are often the first point of contact for children in need and want to mitigate risk instead of dealing with a crisis 

Territorial Government of Yukon

  • committed to working with First Nation partners and Government of Canada to review and improve child and family services and help children remain with their families and in their communities
  • the national reform agenda needs to be flexible so that systemic issues can be dealt with at a regional level
  • services for youth have been expanded to include:
    • residential youth treatment services
    • support for young adults (19–24 years old)
    • integrated supports for youth in Whitehorse
  • a transition house for youth in Yukon
  • community-based and land-based healing activities and prevention programs to create healthier families and communities
  • upcoming five-year review of the Yukon Child and Family Services Act will include reviewing service standards with First Nations
  • memorandums of agreement are being developed with First Nations to support cooperative family planning processes and decision-making at the community level
  • challenge in recruiting and retaining social workers
  • help communities to better access the Yukon government's new 10-year mental health strategy that supports addictions, mental health and trauma informed practices, child and adolescent therapeutic services and counselling

Child advocate

  • government models of delivering child and family services are flawed and do not meet community needs
  • communities are best placed to develop practices for keeping children with families
  • fund communities to develop cultural programming, provide in-home, early intervention resources and to work with children to regain their sense of identity and culture
  • build trust between the government and communities
  • recognize the rights of children and ensure they are part of developing plans about how they will be cared for and where they will live
  • parents sometimes do not seek help because they fear that their children will be removed from their care
  • children are traumatized when they are removed from their families and plans for reform need to focus on child well-being
  • permanency, from a First Nations' point of view, need to consider alternatives to removing children from their families (for example, custom adoption keeps Indigenous children with Indigenous families and connected to their family, community and culture)

Key themes

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

Date modified: