Indigenous jurisdiction of child welfare must include proper funding support!

Apr 12, 2024 | 42-5, Bills, Blog, Governance, Indigenous, Legislature, Video | 0 comments

For decades Indigenous child welfare has been in the hands of the provincial government. Their policies have disrupted families, separating children from their parents and extended family, and had devastating consequences.

In 2022, the province made large changes through Bill 38: Indigenous Self-Government in Child and Family Services Act. This new Bill is building on that. Jurisdiction of child welfare is being returned to Indigenous communities that want to take it.

This is excellent news. BUT… and there is a massive BUT!

It does not appear the provincial government is delivering with the jurisdiction the financial resources to support the programs. Currently there is approximately $150,000.00 for each child in the child welfare system. It does not appear these funds will be transferred to the new jurisdictional authority.

Minister of Child and Family Development, Hon. Grace Lore, suggests the discussion about the finances will come after this Bill is passed. There is a potential for a big problem for the new authorities to deliver supports and program successfully to some of the most vulnerable children in our society.


A. Olsen:

I rise to speak to Bill 19, the children and family and community services amendment act No. 2.
So many times, acts have been opened multiple times. This is the second time that this act gets opened this session, and amendments get made, in amending both the adoption and the Child, Family and Community Service Act.

This indeed is one of the, I think, most tragic chapters. If there was a book of British Columbia, the child welfare system is the saddest chapter of that. It’s the chapter that causes our province the most embarrassment out of them all.

As I spoke to in the previous bill around Indigenous language preservation and the responsibility that the Crown government holds in making sure that there is an ample amount of resources available to restore and protect Indigenous languages that are seeing fewer and fewer fluent speakers — indeed, as I mentioned, some have no speakers — the child welfare system in this province is where much of the work of previous generations of elected officials that sat in these seats is visible today.

To think that this is a past problem that we have in our province would be a mistake. The problem is current, and it’s ongoing. And it’s built on the premise that, basically, you can’t trust Indigenous people to look after their own children. That’s what the whole system was built on.

The absolute devastation and destruction that the residential and day schools caused in our communities — the result of it has been crushing poverty in our communities, broken families, intergenerational trauma, intergenerational struggles. So often, when a child welfare worker shows up to a place, they confront that reality every time.

[3:55 p.m.]

So the result of a series of policies has the Ministry of Children and Family Development with little options. Frankly, the failure of providing adequate housing for First Nations.

We just heard an article the other day about the infrastructure gap. We’ve got an infrastructure gap in communities across the province. The infrastructure gap in First Nations communities is far wider, far deeper, far more problematic. First Nations communities in urban areas haven’t had access to proper drinking water. And so, there’s no doubt that in those scenarios, legislated poverty, poverty by policy, which is what we see in First Nations communities, federal government decisions have led to this.

Ministry of Children and Family Development have been on the front line separating children from their families, sending them to group homes, sending them to foster care, breaking families down, breaking communities down. That is the challenge. Breaking identity. As I talked about, there are a lot of connections between the bill that just passed second reading and the one that we’re debating here. A lot of the same policy tools were used to separate Indigenous peoples from their territories. They’re hard topics to discuss.

As we, as a province, begin to follow the lead of the courts…. The Crown governments have been scrambling to keep up with the decisions, what governments are forced to do.

We see the bill last year, Bill 38, and now we see these amendments here.

This bill that’s in front of us today will expand the scope of joint consent-based decision-making. Legislative changes will allow for Indigenous governing bodies to enter into the power or duty agreements with the minister. Requires any agreements and amendments made be public. Removes requirements of the Lieutenant Governor in Council to approve the agreements and requirements under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. Provides for further appeals to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, if the provincial court has jurisdiction in relation to a legal dispute arising under Indigenous law.

Today we are building upon the changes that were made through Bill 38 through the fall of 2022, the Indigenous Self-Government in Child and Family Services Act. It’s a result of requests that were made from the minister from Indigenous governing bodies to broaden the scope of joint and consent-based decision-making, to encompass most decisions taken by a director — as the minister stated — under the Child, Family and Community Services Act and the Adoption Act. Indigenous governing bodies were seeking to sign agreements such as developing care plans, voluntary agreements, similar to the duty of directors, rather than the statutory powers regarding procedures.

We’re just in the process of understanding the deeper implications of what this bill will do. But just as I talked about, at great length, in the previous bill, the resources in order for the rebuilding, the reconciliation, the reconstruction need to be available. The mechanisms in which those communities who are taking back the control of child welfare in their communities need to follow those communities.

These Crown governments were responsible for that destruction. The source of it is here. We often blame Indigenous communities for being in the position that they’re in, but the reality is, is that it’s because of Crown government policy that that crushing poverty exists.

[4:00 p.m.]

And for the vast majority of the decades that Indigenous people have been facing this policy decisions, the poverty that has resulted is because of a lack of ability to generate own-source revenue in an effective way.

We had a bill earlier that…. Soon, it will be the first time that First Nations can hold land under the name of the First Nation. There are lots of laws around how Indian reserves and First Nations can hold land. From everything that I’ve been told about this….

We see here the Crown government that played a major role in breaking, in disrupting, First Nations handing the responsibility back with not the resources in place to be able to properly administer it. This potentially facilitates another situation where Indigenous people will be blamed for the failure of not being able to manage the child welfare system that we gave back to them. Is that where we’re at?

Are we at a situation where Indigenous communities have gone through this process — have gone through all of the changes that were made in Bill 38, the Indigenous Self-Government in Child and Family Services Act, taken back the jurisdiction of child welfare in their communities — but yet been given none of the resources that the provincial government’s child welfare system previously used to support those children? We’ll be asking many questions about this. It’s not good enough to simply break the system, cause the damage, and then say: “Here, it’s yours. Good luck.”

We need to see from the government that’s passing these legislations — this one here today, the one two years ago in the fall of 2022 — that the resources that were initially set aside for the children that come from those communities, the responsibility for which is now going back to their home communities, are following the children to the administrators within their community, so that the administrators of the child welfare services and the child and family services in those communities are not constantly moving money around and trying desperately to do the things that are needed.

We know that this government spends $160,000 a year per child in the child welfare system, up from $135,000 a year. Is that money following? Is that money now available for kids that are no longer in the system? Does it stay in the system? Or does it follow the children to the communities? I think that it’s really important to note that this ministry is not just handing the jurisdiction back with none of the resources in order for those communities to be successful. My understanding is that that’s the case, and I certainly hope that by the time we get to the committee stage, that can be made clear.

I really hope that when I look back at this part of this speech, I can be reassured that everything that I just said was a moot point, that I was misinformed. That would be the best day for me to learn that I was misinformed about this whole part of this speech.

We do need to acknowledge that there have been people in our communities who have been fighting to get the responsibility of the child welfare system back within our communities. Look after our children. We’ve been fighting with this government to get information about our children who are no longer in our communities but who are in the system. This government has been hoarding the information: “We can’t give it to you, it’s private information.”

[4:05 p.m.]

We hope that the information follows as well, so that the administrators of our child welfare systems are not fighting this government to ensure that we know who all our kids are and where they are, our youth, so that we can maybe get them to that language that I was talking about just a few minutes ago — so that they can start to understand who they are and how they’re connected and who their families are and how they’re connected to these communities. I’m happy that this policy is beginning to take shape.

I’m really thankful for the First Nations in the province that are at the front end of this. To all of the people who have worked to move this forward. I’m really thankful for them. I just want to acknowledge that there are some serious resourcing issues that need to be addressed, that the jurisdiction isn’t going back lacking resources, and that now it’s not just the old, “Here you go,” so that then the government can stand up and say: “We’ve never had fewer.”

I think that for successive Ministers of Children and Family Development, the numbers have been getting better and better. From the first Minister of Children and Family Development under this B.C. NDP government to now, the numbers have been consistently getting better.

The current minister and future ministers are going to be able to say: “As First Nations communities, it’s gotten so good under us, under our government. There have never been fewer Indigenous kids in care. It has never been so good,” yet when you go to those communities and you say, “How well resourced are you?” are they going to be able to say, “Yeah, we’re good. We’ve got the money that we need in order to be able to deliver the service”?

The situation is not a utopia, right? The damage has been done. The policies have been in place for decades. The intergenerational impacts are well known. I’m not going to repeat them again here. We’re not handing over an untroubled situation. We’re handing over a situation that is most desperate, in many cases. It needs to be linked with the housing policy.

It needs to ensure…. At the rate of $160,000 a year that those children currently get in our system, and if there are multiple children in the system from the family, that would be more than enough to really, really well house that entire family, to super-well house that entire family, especially in the reserve scenario.

For these children who have now come under the jurisdiction of their communities, are those resources going to go to ensure that those families have access to the money to build, to maintain and to have a home that can house everybody? That would be remarkable. My sense is that it’s not, but I’m hoping that in committee I learn that I’m wrong. We know that a lot of these child welfare cases are as a result of other health and social concerns. There needs to be a coordinated effort that looks at that.

Coming from a First Nations community, I know the thing that our leaders struggle with the most. It’s the most challenging file for any newly elected chief and council member: “You get child welfare.” There’s no support for those people.

You know, when I look across the street to my municipal council colleagues, nobody gets child welfare as their portfolio. They get sewer and water, or they get parks. That’s a good one. They get development, planning. They get all the things in a municipality. Nobody in municipal government gets child welfare when the child welfare person calls up.

That’s a commentary to our society. It’s a commentary to the systems that the Crown governments have built and maintained over decades: when a chief and council get elected, they appoint someone to the child welfare. That’s not on them. Society is more inclined to blame First Nations for that scenario. That’s on us.

[4:10 p.m.]

The housing situation is on us and is on the federal government. I know the government is going to say: “Well, the province has invested more in on-reserve housing than ever. In fact, it’s a federal issue.” So, I celebrate that.

However, the reality is far greater than the resources that have flown to the First Nations communities. We cannot fix what has been broken over decades. We cannot fix it by simply handing jurisdiction back. We cannot simply fix it by focusing only on child welfare. It needs to have a full-breadth scope view that the health and well-being includes a good home, includes a good education — we talked about that in the last bill — includes connection to your identity, to who you are and to your family. It requires a government that respects the relationship between parents and their children, which has been part of the deliberate attack of Crown governments over decades, to undermine that and to erode it. That was to a great extent what the residential and day school system was about.

So I will take my seat on this.

Actually, I will make one mention, and this is something that I think…. I’m going to put this on the record, because these are the types of things that need to change. We got a briefing from the government on this. And in the briefing documents, there was a rationalization that was made that under the engagement with Indigenous partners, due to the technical nature of this amendment minimal feedback has been received. The reason why there was minimal feedback received to this consultation was due to the fact that it was too technical.

What am I to read into that comment? That I don’t understand it? That the people who are working in child welfare in our communities don’t understand technical things? Perhaps it was not intended to come off that way, but I can tell you the feeling that I had when I read it was that I’m not able to navigate, or my relatives in communities across the province who have been working on the front lines of child welfare didn’t engage with this because they were confused.

There’s nothing in this about the timeline to engage. There is an acknowledgment here, quite thoroughly, that Indigenous governing bodies approached the government wanting these changes to be made. And I assume that those were Indigenous governing bodies that were further in the process. We’ll hear about that as well.

But I did want to make sure that this was on the record in my second reading speech, because it is the kind of language that…. Well, frankly, it’s the kind of language that we’re talking about. It’s the kind of way that the Crown government frames Indigenous people. It’s the kind of thing that needs to change.

It could have been that the notification went out, and 20 minutes later it was closed. I don’t know. It could be that it’s very technical in nature. However, I can tell you that whatever the intention was and how it landed…. I’m hoping was very different — the intention of it was — but what it left was that these changes were so bewildering that nobody understood what they meant, so nobody engaged in the process.

Yet, we know the reality. In most of the notifications and engagements, the pile is this high on the desk. There’s one person sitting there, two people sitting there toiling away, working through the notifications of a Crown government that’s moving quickly, that wants to get on with the business, that wants to get moving, whose timelines are tightly controlled in this place or in the ministry and not the timelines of First Nations.

I’ve raised this a number of times. We’ve entrenched a number of times — 30-day notifications, 90-day notifications. The right to self-determination. You’ve got 90 days to respond. If you can get through the pile….

[4:15 p.m.]

I think every one of us that has relationships with First Nations communities in our province knows that they are absolutely overwhelmed with the number of notifications and the lack of resources.

This is the reason why, when the jurisdiction and authority of child welfare gets handed from one Crown government to an Indigenous governing body, the resources need to go along with it so that there are the adequate financial and human resources available to be able to coordinate with the provincial government, the federal government, when needed.

I certainly hope — and I’ll ask this question in committee stage — I certainly hope that something completely other than what the feeling in our office was when we read through this, when we sat down and reflected on what this felt like…. I certainly hope that the ministry meant something entirely different, and that it was just we were reading it incorrectly.

With that, I will take my seat and look forward to the opportunity to engage with the ministry in committee stage.



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