First Nations Child and Family Services Reform: Atlantic

The Minister’s Special Representative, Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, met with stakeholders and partners in the Atlantic region (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) who have an interest in the reform process for First Nations child and family services from February 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 the Atlantic region and highlights:

Key issues and findings

First Nation leadership organizations

  • current funding formula for First Nations child and family services is not working
  • need for changes to how funding is provided for child and family services and family violence, including:
    • core funding (not proposal based);
    • more flexible and stable funding; and
    • allowing funds to be moved around to meet needs, as long as progress toward program objectives is being achieved
  • need to talk about what is happening in the communities, including physical and sexual abuse and how to address the root causes of abuse and its intergenerational impacts
  • communities need to be part of any discussion on national standards so that they recognize cultural context and needs
  • importance of 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, to go to another First Nation community
  • importance of families and children getting help from Elders
  • children who have aged out of care need more supports and services
  • importance of prevention programs in helping children stay in their homes and communities
  • need to recognize work underway by Innu to explore self-government agreement that would see them running their own child and family services program
  • call for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to hire a senior official/assistant deputy minister to work specifically on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action
  • reform of the child welfare system must take into account the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action

First Nation communities and tribal councils

  • need to look at funding issues, including providing flexible funding, providing more funding for services (for example, psychologists), and providing more capacity funding to support community-based resources
  • desire for more separation between politics and child welfare
  • desire to see more community oversight to make sure agencies are running properly and meeting community needs
  • important for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to understand that some agencies are understaffed and overwhelmed
  • desire to see tribal councils or groups of First Nations receiving funding to deliver child and family services, instead of flowing funding through agencies
  • need for Indigenous standards developed with communities so that they recognize the distinct needs of different First Nation communities
  • call for national standards of care and/or legislation to support a community or group of communities or other organizations to take responsibility for delivering child and family services and for Indigenous people to be engaged in their development
  • desire to see child welfare be less reactionary and more comprehensive (focused on prevention, healing and family support)
  • need to find ways to support more Indigenous foster homes and early intervention and support
  • Elders should part of any discussion so that they can help connect discussions to cultural context and needs of families
  • desire to raise the age that youth stop being in care
  • desire to see band constables and band representatives be reinstated and be funded by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
  • need to network and connect across provinces/territories to help share information about what is happening in other communities
  • need to consider the criminal justice system in the reform of the program because the high rate of Indigenous people in the justice system affects the lives of First Nations children and families
  • desire for the government to recognize Innu language and culture
  • need for infrastructure resources for offices, buildings and safe houses for families or children in crisis

Child and family services agencies

  • importance of educating the community about child and family services in order to raise awareness about types of support that are available
  • need to revisit how foster parents are assessed—for example, the assessment should be based on the current health of foster parents and not their past medical history
  • need for flexible, secure and predictable funding
  • more funding needed for:
    • transporting children from the reserve to the city for services, such as education, counseling/mental health services and addiction programs;
    • capital costs/infrastructure funding for buildings in order to have more workers;
    • prevention, healing, early intervention and support;
    • lawyers to protect best interests of the children;
    • dedicated family violence program; and
    • making standards of pay the same as those provided under provincial standards
  • agencies need support to develop proposals for funding
  • desire to see more oversight on funding as the money does not always make it to child and family services when it is given directly to the communities
  • desire to open current programs to children as young as six months old so the mothers can go to school/work
  • need to continue to explore different models for agencies, including stand-alone agencies providing prevention and child protection, with an emphasis on healing
  • want to see First Nation children and youth from their communities get the services they need no matter where they live, and whether they live on or off reserve
  • suggestion to take a three-pronged approach to child welfare: legislation, public education and prevention
  • call to address poverty
  • desire to see a larger conversation between federal and provincial governments and First Nations about reconciliation and inclusion

Social and well-being workers

  • funding needs to be flexible and based on the community needs
  • need to build capacity of front-line workers and Elders
  • desire to see more mental health supports for children and families on and off reserve
  • need for more programs to train Indigenous peoples to be social workers and to provide cultural sensitivity training and education and child welfare workers
  • need family resources for maternal child care, pre-natal and post-natal, and for child and youth activities
  • Elders need to be funded for the work and support they provide
  • need for the federal government to provide resources and infrastructure/capital dollars to the communities

Child advocates

  • call for a National Commissioner for Child Advocacy to hold Canada to the Convention on the Rights of a Child and help move focus from needs-based to rights-based
  • need to educate communities about the role of social workers in order to help them trust social workers and understand their role
  • need funding for addiction programs, wrap-around services, and mobile services in remote communities
  • advocates need more support to focus on care, rather than court-time
  • need for child and family services to be better integrated and coordinated
  • importance of working together on data collection about Indigenous children in care
  • desire to see funding go to the band council rather than the agency
  • concern regarding how the resources for child welfare are managed and moved around by communities
  • desire for First Nation families to have access to services off reserve, understanding that communities are changing and people are moving on and off reserve
  • Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada needs to understand that not all communities have different approaches, that not all proposals from communities will incorporate language and culture as a priority, and that some are facing more challenges with historic issues and drug addictions
  • noted that some communities need support to deal with historic and current trauma
  • call for more investments in the education system

Key themes

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

  • Indigenous communities need to be involved in developing standards, including so more Indigenous families can provide foster care, early intervention and support
  • importance of 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, to go to another First Nation community
  • desire for agencies to have more infrastructure funding—for example, buildings, office space, computers and access to software used by provincial systems, appropriate storage facilities, security equipment
  • need for more funding and a stronger focus on prevention and healing (proactive rather than reactive child welfare system)
  • funding for designated band representative and/or lawyer that represents the interests of the child
  • funding to build front line worker capacity
  • desire for First Nation families to have access to services off reserve
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