Discussions will begin almost immediately between First Nations and the provincial government on how to best address the situation facing Aboriginal children in care.
Alberta’s Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan and Randy Ermineskin, Treaty 6 Grand Chief and chief of the Ermineskin First Nation, appeared at a press conference on Tuesday, July 19 at the Ermineskin First Nation’s council chambers to respond to a pair of reports from the provincial auditor general and Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate.
Both reports are extremely critical of the way Alberta has operated its children-in-care program, especially when it concerns Aboriginal children and the fact this population is vastly over-represented in the system.
Chief Ermineskin welcomed the results of both reports, stating there is nothing new to First Nations described in either report and all of the concerns that have been expressed over the years were legitimized by the two reports. He also stated the immediate need for changes to be made in partnership with First Nations.
“There is a dire need for legislative and policy change within the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act. In partnership, First Nations expect full engagement in making fundamental changes to assist in reducing the over-representation of First Nations children in the child intervention system,” Ermineskin said.
He added that challenges and barriers – such as jurisdictional delineation, poverty, social needs and the lack of proper resources – still prevent First Nations children from accessing the right services and lead to failure in addressing their best interests.
According to figures released by province, as of last March, a total of 5,783 aboriginal children were in the system – making up 60 per cent all children needing intervention. The amount increases to 69 per cent – for a total of 4,753 – when figures for aboriginal children actually under government care – statistics that have seen no change from the previous year.
Richard Feehan, minister of Indigenous Relations and a former social worker for over 30 years, called the report a significant call to arms for discussion and action on making improvements for children in government care.
“Front line workers strive to help at-risk children, but it’s abundantly clear the status quo isn’t working and that more still needs to be done,” he said, adding the need to move forward and make improvements.
Feehan also expressed the need to proactively address the areas where systematic and structural failures have occurred to eliminate the discriminatory practices that have been a hallmark of the child intervention system in Alberta.
“We need to move forward in a respectful way and jointly manage as equal partners,” he stated.
The minister explained the process of discussions will start this summer regarding the issues at hand and hope that over the next three years decisions will be made and protocols signed off on to improve the situation.
Both reports came up with a list of recommendations with a focus on enhanced supports and service delivery for aboriginal children and families involved in the system; better overall monitoring and reporting on plans, services and results; more child-centred approach to care with specific goals and standards in place while involving First Nations in delivering programming on and off reserve; better staff training on the history and culture of First Nations using their expertise; and for government to review and improve department practices when it comes to First Nations children in care.