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

The Minister's Special Representative, Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, met with stakeholders and partners in Quebec who have an interest in the reform process for First Nations Child and Family Services from February 20 to 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 Quebec and highlights:

Key issues and findings

Youth

  • foster and adoptive parents need better training to recognize and support children with mental health issues (such as suicide, self-harm) and to deal with drug and alcohol abuse happening in their homes
  • better communication about why they are being taken out of their families, where they are going, and where their siblings will be placed
  • resources to see their parents and siblings, including overnight visits
  • more recreational activities and sports on reserve, for example, to play hockey without having to travel
  • more support to learn their language
  • want to be able to attend high school in their communities

First Nation leadership organizations

  • importance of placing children within the communities to preserve culture and language
  • funds go directly to the community for prevention and healing, not necessarily to the agencies
  • more flexibility in funding to define where resources are needed and to carry over funds from one year to another
  • dedicated ongoing funding for mental health and family violence prevention, not just proposal-based funding
  • address funding pressures faced by reserves near urban centres, as they often support people from areas not covered by provincial or federal governments
  • supporting diverse prevention activities, including recreation facilities where youth and Elders can do cultural activities together, land-based activities such as youth cultural camps and family retreats that teach hunting, trapping, fishing, and living off the land
  • more support for older community members to be able to better support the younger generations
  • importance of supporting needs of children and youth, including those with disabilities, including resources for health care, early assessments, early childhood educators, local high schools, and mental health and suicide supports need funding for housing, education, shelters and community workers
  • communities want to provide services to all band members, including those living off reserve
  • importance of discussions with governments on self-determination and governance for health and social services for First Nations in Quebec
  • First Nation communities and organizations want to lead, develop, and manage their own child and family services programs and have jurisdiction, authority/delegation to develop their own laws
  • desire to see government to respect First Nations' culture and practices and consider culture in legislation 
  • address racism, including the denial of services to Indigenous peoples
  • call for the province to review foster home criteria and to adapt it to community realities (for example, changing criteria for registered professional social workers to include cultural skills to support recruitment and retention in First Nation communities)
  • reinstate the Aboriginal Healing Foundation to support families on reserve

Communities and tribal councils

  • better assessment processes and follow up with foster families because children are often placed in foster or adoptive homes where there is hidden violence
  • continue services for children even after they are in permanent care
  • integrated programs for children, men, women and parents (for example, parenting programs, Alcoholics Anonymous, self-care, before and after birth programs, and youth centres)
  • address gaps in supporting parents with transportation and childcare (for example, to go to appointments)
  • addressing differences between jurisdictions, being able to receive services from their community whether they live on or off reserve
  • support for youth over 18, including to find employment and to find housing
  • more community-based programs for violence and health (including mental health and dental) so that community members do not need to go to urban centres
  • funding to preserve languages
  • support with healing and breaking the chain of trauma and Indian residential school legacy of sexual abuse
  • desire to see more job opportunities and professional services provided in English in specific regions
  • more Indigenous representation, for example, in schools: "Let First Nation people take care of First Nation people"

Child welfare agencies and social and well-being workers

  • importance of connecting First Nation children taken from their communities to their culture
  • Indigenous children in care need support from people who are their own age and who are Indigenous, including access to mentors and peer supports in person and online
  • more cultural awareness training for foster families and social workers to better support Indigenous foster children to stay connected to their culture
  • more programs to train Indigenous peoples to be social workers
  • desire for better screening for foster parents
  • more funding for community-based workers
  • greater English services in specific regions and to address language barriers, including in group homes for professional services so that children are not sent to other cities or other provinces, away from their family and community
  • address institutional racism
  • funding needs to be more flexible, stable (ongoing) and predictable, and not proposal based, especially for prevention
  • need funding for housing and infrastructure, including for child and family services, agency offices, family treatment homes, youth centres and safe houses
  • need for care circles to support families in crisis, healing centres, mental health, and childcare and respite care for parents (for example, parents who are participating in programs)
  • need for changes in provincial standards and legislation so that they reflect Indigenous needs and practices, are less rigid, and provide parents with more time to make changes before having their children taken away
  • desire to see provincial and federal governments work better together to provide services on an off reserve, so that children and families can access services wherever they live
  • need to address incidences of new born babies being apprehended at birth

Province of Quebec

  • importance of renewing tripartite work (work involving provinces, the federal government and First Nations) to address service gaps
  • recognition of the need for changes in legislation to recognize and preserve children's cultural identities, and to provide for more governance and authority for First Nations agencies or communities
  • recognition of the importance of cultural identity and interests of Indigenous children and families as part of efforts to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care
  • province is better documenting the situation of Indigenous children, through data collection, research and analysis.  
  • province is supporting the recruitment of more Indigenous families to provide foster care

Key themes

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

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