A recent agreement between Ottawa and the Assembly of First Nations on child welfare completes more than 30 years of lobbying. Kenora lawyer Doug Keshen says elders with Grand Council Treaty 3 and Ojbiway Tribal and Family Services were pioneers on this issue.

"Finally, as a result of the Sixties Scoop and the day-school and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decisions, the feds finally agreed," said Keshen last week. 

The funding for OTFS ended in 2002 after more than 17 years, but Bill C-92 restored the federal responsibility for child welfare.

"They always asserted jurisdiction over child and family services was a federal-First Nations matter, and the province should not be involved," Keshen added, giving credit to Anishinabe elders.

The agreement was made earlier this month, but there was no timeline for working out a budget or implementation. Keshen said this was a good start, and he looked forward to seeing more details. However, he expected delays related to COVID-19.

In January of 2018, the federal government hosted an emergency meeting on Indigenous Child and Family Services. It brought together over 300 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis child and family services technicians, experts, Chiefs, provincial and territorial Ministers in the realms of child and social services and policy representatives, and federal representatives from various departments.

At the emergency meeting, Canada Commitment to six points of action to address the over-representation of Indigenous children in care:

  • Continuing to implement the CHRT orders, including Jordan’s Principle, and reforming child and family services funding to a flexible funding model.
  • Work with partners to shift program focus to culturally-appropriate prevention, early intervention, and family reunification.
  • Work with partners to support communities to “draw down” jurisdiction over child and family services (including exploring the possibility to co-develop federal legislation).
  • Participate and accelerate work of tripartite and technical tables.
  • Support Inuit and Métis leadership to advance reform on child and family services.
  • Create a data strategy with provinces/territories and Indigenous partners.

Since 2016, the federal government has made available $679.9 million to Jordan's Principle to help with health, social and education services that are needed right away. Examples of this include mental health supports, medical equipment, speech therapy and educational supports.

To ensure that First Nations children continue to have access to the services that they need, Budget 2019 announced $1.2 billion over three years, beginning in fiscal year 2019 - 2020. During that time, the Government of Canada and First Nations will continue to work together to develop a long-term approach to improving services for First Nations children, based on Jordan's Principle.

For more information:

Government of Canada - Child welfare

AFN - First Nations child and family services