Indigenous communities will have greater involvement in child-welfare decisions to help keep their children out of care, safe in their home communities, and connected to their cultures under proposed legislation changes that were announced by the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD).
“Keeping Indigenous children connected to their family and communities is a key priority of our government and these legislative changes are a first step towards this goal,” said Minister of Children and Family Development Katrine Conroy. “We will continue to listen to, and work with Indigenous communities to reform the child-welfare system and reduce the number of Indigenous children in care.”
Under current legislation, MCFD can only reach out to a child’s Indigenous community with the parent’s consent or to ensure the child’s safety and well-being. This makes it challenging for social workers and the Indigenous community to find alternatives to removing children from their home or to plan for their ongoing care and connection to their culture and community.
"Our government believes that Indigenous children should have every opportunity to live and thrive and grow in their home community, surrounded by their language and culture,” said Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “This legislation ensures that the rights and needs of Indigenous communities are recognized and that children’s rights and connections to family are core to reconciliation.”
If approved by the legislature, the proposed changes will allow MCFD to share more information with Indigenous communities right from the start to keep children from coming into care in the first place, and will give the ministry more opportunities to work collaboratively on planning and caring for Indigenous children by:
- Promoting routine involvement of Indigenous communities, through a written agreement, in child-welfare matters before a potential removal.
- Enabling greater information-sharing between MCFD and Indigenous communities.
- Enabling MCFD to refer child-protection reports to an Indigenous government that has child protection laws.
- Supporting more ways to keep children at home or in their community, by working with their Indigenous community.
- Ensuring Indigenous communities receive ongoing notification of legal proceedings affecting their children.
- Welcoming Indigenous communities’ continued involvement in planning for their children who are in care.
“These amendments allow us to proceed with a fulsome, operational, on-the-ground agreement for Splatsin’s children right now, as we move towards establishing jurisdictional process for the Secwepemc Nation and all our communities,” said Kukpi7 (Chief) Wayne Christian, Tribal Chief, Shuswap Nation Tribal Council.
Currently, Indigenous children account for 63% of the total number of children in the care of MCFD, while less than 10% of the child population in B.C. is Indigenous.
The proposed changes reflect comments and concerns from Indigenous partners and help fulfil Grand Chief Ed John’s recommendations for a more collaborative approach to child welfare and improved information sharing.
The proposed changes are an interim step to clarify and support increased involvement of Indigenous communities in child-welfare decisions, while the Province, Canada and Indigenous communities continue to work together on systemic reform and jurisdiction, including consideration of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action within the Province`s legislative framework.
The legislation, if passed, will be brought into force by regulation at a later date.
A backgrounder follows.
Media RelationsMinistry of Children and Family Development
If approved by the legislature, key proposed changes to the Child, Family and Community Service Act (CFCSA) will increase involvement of Indigenous communities in child-welfare decisions by:
- Giving ministry the authority to make agreements with an Indigenous child’s parents and community to allow for greater involvement in planning for the child (Sections 5, 6, 7, 8, 12.2);
- Allowing the ministry to withdraw from proceedings if the parent has made an agreement with an Indigenous community that the ministry considers adequate to protect the child ( Sections 33 and 48);
- Requiring the ministry to give notification of all CFCSA proceedings to an Indigenous community regarding their children when there are extensions to temporary custody order(Sections 44);
- Requiring the ministry to provide a copy of a continuing custody order for a child to the child’s Indigenous community, including when the order is cancelled (Section 54).
- For an Indigenous child under a continuing custody order, requiring the ministry to make reasonable efforts to involve, at least on an annual basis, a child’s Indigenous community regarding planning for the child (new Section 50.01);
- Expanding and clarifying the grounds under which the ministry can disclose information, without consent, to an Indigenous community (Section 79).
- Giving ministry the authority to make agreements with communities regarding information-sharing, involvement in child protection responses, plans of care, placement decisions and plans of independence for Indigenous youth (new Section 92.1); and
- Giving the ministry the authority to make agreements with communities to refer child-protection reports to those communities who have child protection laws (new Section 92.1);
Other proposed changes:
- The term “Aboriginal” will be replaced by the term “Indigenous” to include children and families who identify as being First Nations, Inuit or Métis.
- A number of proposed changes to the definitions, principles and rights section of the CFCSA will clarify and recognize:
- the shared responsibility of Indigenous families and Indigenous communities in caring for their children (Guiding principles, Section 2);
- the impact of residential schools (Service delivery principles, Section 3); and
- the definition of the "best interest of a child test" to include the importance of a child belonging to, learning about and practicing their Indigenous traditions, customs and language. The courts and the ministry are required to apply this test when making decisions about the child. (Sections 4 and 70)
The proposed bill is available online: www.bclaws.ca