Labour Views – Indigenous Children in Care

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Jack Bourassa
Regional Executive Vice President, PSAC North

It is time for the federal government to acknowledge and address the glaring inadequacies regarding indigenous children in care across Canada.

The state of foster care for indigenous children is a disgrace to all Canadians and needs to be rectified swiftly and efficiently to address inequalities. The government has an obligation to make changes to ensure the equality of indigenous children in care by addressing and eliminating discrimination against them based on their race and ethnic origin.

The statistics paint a bleak picture across Canada. Indigenous children 14 and under represent just seven per cent of all children in Canada, according to 2011 Statistics Canada numbers. Yet they account for 48 per cent of all foster children in the country - a gross over-representation.

To put that into context, the current number of indigenous children in foster care is higher than the peak number of indigenous children forcibly removed from their homes and placed into residential schools.

The federal government is certainly aware of the issue but has failed to tackle it with meaningful programs to alleviate the inequality.

The government was brought to task on the matter, having been found to have discriminated against First Nations children on reserves by failing to provide the same level of child welfare services that exist elsewhere in a 2016 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal finding, and yet has done nothing to improve those conditions.

The Human Rights Tribunal decision stated the government's funding model and management of first Nations child and family services "resulted in the denials of services and created various adverse impacts for many First Nations children and families living on reserves."

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett acknowledged the issue, saying, "My job is to go forward and fix these things."

She agreed to work with the Assembly of First Nations and other indigenous groups to come up with solutions. And yet here we stand midway through 2017, and no action has been taken. Of the $3.4 billion in new money allocated to First Nations in the 2017 federal budget, there is no new funding to improve the welfare of indigenous children in care and no promises for any future funding. The federal government spent more than $3 million in legal fees to have the Human Rights Tribunal case dismissed on technicalities, and yet government officials still refuse to put forward the funding required to address the issue.

It's time to invest federal money where it belongs, to improve the conditions for indigenous children in care and raise their standard of living to that shared by children elsewhere in Canada.

It's crucial for activists and municipal, territorial and federal leaders to continue to push the federal government for fair treatment of indigenous children in care.