Asking about the report on the death of an Indigenous child in care and systemic change

Jun 14, 2021 | 42-1, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Question Period, Video | 0 comments

There have been far too many stories of Indigenous youth who have died while under the guardianship of the provincial government.

Last week, the Representative for Children and Youth released another report outlining how the system let down Skye. As has been the case for decades, our child welfare system repeatedly failed to deliver the type care Skye needed.

The consultation draft of the action plan connected to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act was published on Friday June 11, 2021. It serves as the minimum the government is committed to doing to implement the commitments made in the Act.

Transferring the child welfare to Indigenous communities and service providers is an important first step. However, the stability that Skye needed comes from ensuring those services have sustainable, reliable and consistent funding.

Minister Mitzi Dean agrees the transfer of jurisdiction and authority is needed, but unfortunately the Minister is not as forthcoming with the fiscal framework to ensure the stability of the services.

This is most certainly be the focus of many future questions to ensure the government action is consistent with the BC NDP rhetoric.

Transcript

A. Olsen:

Last week, the Representative for Children and Youth released a report on the tragic circumstances that led to the death of an Indigenous child, Skye. Skye’s story is tragic and reflects the stories of many others under the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development. The institution that should be protecting these children is, instead, taking Indigenous children away from their families and perpetuating the colonial child welfare policy. The report’s recommendations of more training and more conversations are just more of the status quo that is failing Indigenous children and families. They don’t go far enough to ensure that children won’t experience the same as Skye.

The consultation draft of the action plan on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act was released on Friday. None of the actions in the plan are surprising. These are all actions that we’ve been talking about for years. The plan calls for the province to, at minimum, reduce the number of Indigenous children in care, support family preservation and to create long-term change for Indigenous-led child care.

My question is to the Minister of Children and Family Development. The story of Skye is all too familiar in this House. Will the minister commit to ending this colonial legacy of taking children away from their communities by giving Indigenous communities full authority over the systems that provide care for their children and families?

Hon. M. Dean:

Thank you to the member for the question. I would also like to thank the representative for this report, and I want to say thank you to all of the family and friends and everyone who was involved in this amazing young person’s life for stepping forward and sharing their stories and helping us understand her story as well.

I agree with the member, and I agree with the representative that on top of what we’re already doing, we have to do more to ensure that children and youth from Indigenous communities are no longer overrepresented in the system.

[2:05 p.m.]
Since we formed government in 2017, it has been a priority of ours to directly tackle and address the overrepresentation of Indigenous children and youth in the child welfare system, working with Indigenous communities and Indigenous nations to make sure that we can achieve that. This is part of a long history

This is part of a long history and legacy of overinvolvement of the government in the lives of Indigenous children and youth in care. We’ve changed budgets and we have changed provincial legislation to make sure we’re achieving that goal and, specifically, to supporting nations exercising their jurisdiction so that they can take care of their children, and their children are not overrepresented in the child welfare system.

We are working with nations and with communities. We had started this work previously, under provincial legislation and regulation. Now, we have a federal act and we can work together with nations and communities to support them in exercising their jurisdiction in the ways that they want to, to take care of their children and best meet their needs.

Mr. Speaker:

The Member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.

A. Olsen:

I’m encouraged by at least the second half of that answer. I think it gets to the point.

The report states that Skye had a total of 18 social workers from when she first came into care until her death, 12 years later. That’s more than one social worker a year for the duration of her life.

I hear similar stories of instability from constituents in my riding. Children in care, especially Indigenous children, are removed from their communities and placed into an unstable system of care that leaves children falling through the cracks.

The provincial government has committed, through the action plan that was released on Friday, to change the system of care, and the minister spoke to that. The third action of the draft action plan is to develop a B.C.-specific fiscal framework that supports Indigenous jurisdiction over child and family services. We need to ensure that that new system provides the stability for children that the current system failed to provide for Skye.

A stable system requires stable funding, not just this year and next, but every year going forward. My question is to the Minister of Children and Family Development. What work has the ministry done to prepare a sustainable, fiscal framework to support Indigenous jurisdiction over child and family services?

Hon. M. Dean:

Thank you, again, to the member. This matter is a high priority, a top priority, for our ministry. As I said earlier on, for far too long there has been an overinvolvement of government in the lives of Indigenous children and youth and overrepresentation of Indigenous children and youth in care.

We need to be working in partnership with Indigenous communities and Indigenous partners. We are starting that work. We’ve already taken steps and we know that there’s a lot more to do.

We changed provincial legislation to be able to allow social workers to reach out to community and ask communities is there an aunty, is there a grandma, is there someone who is able to take care of an Indigenous child or youth while we work out a long-term plan — hopefully, rehabilitation back to family — because we know that keeping Indigenous children and youth connected to family and community and culture is leading to better outcomes for them.

We are trending now that we’re getting lower numbers of Indigenous children and youth coming into care. We have the lowest number of Indigenous children and youth in care in 20 years. That’s also because we’re supporting that financially. We’re providing funding for carers at the same level as foster carers so that Indigenous children and youth can stay in community.

This year, Budget 2021, we committed $13 million to supporting this approach, which is leading to reductions of Indigenous children and youth in care. We are committed and I am committed to continuing that work and working on a fiscal framework so that we can continue to provide for Indigenous children and youth to be cared for in community.

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