Tribunal again tells feds to fund Indigenous child welfare, minister agrees
OTTAWA -- The federal government says it will immediately begin fully funding the actual costs for child welfare agencies to allow them to help Indigenous families without having to take kids away from their parents.
Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott has written to 105 Indigenous child welfare agencies to make the commitment, which she says will be retroactive to Jan. 26, 2016.
The promise responds to another order issued Thursday by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which says the federal government is still not complying with a 2016 ruling that found it discriminates against Indigenous kids.
Cindy Blackstock is executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, which brought the original discrimination complaint in 2007. She said it's a shame it took five orders from the tribunal to get the government to comply, but is glad it is finally happening.
"Today is a good day for kids," said Blackstock. "We have to stop letting them down."
Indigenous children make up about seven per cent of all Canadian kids under the age of 15, but they account for more than half the number of children in foster care. In some provinces, like Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Indigenous kids make up almost 90 per cent of the kids in care.
Many and child welfare experts say this is largely because child welfare agencies are not given the money or authority to work with families to keep them together.
In fact, there is an incentive to take Indigenous kids away, because the only time the agencies get their actual costs reimbursed is when they put children in foster care.
In its order, the tribunal gave Ottawa two months to start reimbursing the actual costs for prevention and investigation programs, as well as legal and travel costs and building repairs, but Philpott said the reimbursements will start immediately.
Blackstock said the commitment will eventually mean more families can stay together, because they will get the kinds of support they need rather than just have their kids yanked away.
The vast majority of children in foster care are there because of neglect and poverty, not abuse. Child welfare experts have said for decades that if programs could help lift families out of poverty, rather than just take kids away, it would be far more beneficial to everyone.
"It's going to take some time to see any effects of this," Blackstock said.
The next step, she said, is to have Ottawa amend its policies to allow direct funding to First Nations child welfare agencies when they are governed by laws passed by First Nations, rather than provincial policies.
Currently, child welfare agencies are only funded when they comply directly with legislation in their provinces. Last week Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde urged communities to take it upon themselves to control child welfare by passing their own laws.
Blackstock says the hitch is that Ottawa has to agree to continue to provide funding. There are instances where this has happened but they are on a case-by-case basis.