January 30, 2018
First Nations, Inuit and Métis, Federal, Provincial and Territorial Governments Meeting on Child Welfare Reform
On January 25 and 26, First Nations leaders, Elders and child welfare experts and advocates gathered with Métis and Inuit leadership and federal, provincial and territorial representatives for an emergency meeting on child welfare reform.
The meeting was called by federal Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott prior to the December 2017 Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Special Chiefs Assembly.
The emergency meeting was an opportunity to address the current human rights crisis currently facing our children and our families, and to challenge all governments to work with First Nations on child welfare reform. The AFN and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society’s human rights complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal against the Government of Canada, led to a landmark ruling in 2016 that found Canada is discriminating against our children. That was an important ruling. We continue to pressure Canada to fully implement the Tribunal’s decision. I have always maintained that provincial and territorial systems must also come to the table to talk about reform and transformation.
At the emergency meeting, we heard from leaders, Elders and families on the harms caused to our children and families under the current systems. The systems are broken. We need to work together to fix them.
I challenged the federal government, provinces and territories to work with First Nations to establish new decision-making process in each province and territory – with clear roles, responsibilities and timelines and to live up to the Premiers’ 2016 commitment to make child welfare reform a priority. I also delivered this message by letter to each of the Premiers prior to the meeting.
It is time to shift the overall focus from apprehension to prevention and to establish approaches that unite rather than divide. The different systems need to improve communication and respect innovative, First Nation-led approaches to reform, including a shared focus on keeping children with their families and communities whenever possible. With more than 40,000 children in care, we all agree the current approach harms our children. The pain is real for our families. We know the problems. We know there are innovative solutions. Now is the time for action.
The federal government put forth a six-point plan of action by Minister Philpott during the meeting:
- Continuing the work to fully implement all orders from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal;
- Shifting the programming focus to prevention and early intervention;
- Work with our partners to sup
- port communities to draw down jurisdiction in the area of child and family services, including exploring co-developed federal legislation;
- Supporting Inuit and Métis leadership to advance culturally-appropriate reform;
- Developing a data and reporting strategy with provinces, territories and Indigenous partners; and,
- Accelerating the work of trilateral technical tables that are in place across the country.
First Nations remain focused on our key priorities. We must immediately close the funding gap that deprives First Nations children of their childhood, including essential programs and services other children in care receive. Minister Philpott has committed to a new infusion of resources in the upcoming federal budget. That is important, but we know our agencies and our children need support now. We also know that focusing on prevention and addressing issues that are related to poverty will help more children stay with their families and extended families and avoid being forced into care. We need to get better data and information and that needs to be shared between First Nations, the federal government and the provinces and territories. Investments today will save lives and future costs. I want to see action and a real plan for change.
The meeting took place during the two-year anniversary of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s ruling that the federal government discriminates against First Nations children and families on reserve.
I acknowledge the federal government and Minister Philpott for making this meeting happen, and welcome the dedication and commitment of the First Nations representatives who participated. Let’s remember, though, that we spent ten years at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to achieve this kind of attention. Now that the meeting is over, what is important is what happens to transform the systems so our children have fairness, hope and opportunity. We must see immediate action.