British Columbia

Special advisor calls for overhaul of Aboriginal child welfare system

A special advisor on the care of indigenous children in British Columbia is calling for an overhaul of the current system. Grand Chief Ed John has released 85 recommendations that would "transform child welfare" by — in part — dedicating resources directly to indigenous communities.

Grand Chief Ed John has 85 recommendations in new report

Gran Chief Ed John hands B.C. Premier Christy Clark a blanket as part of a ceremony following the release of the John Report on November 21, 2016. (CBC News)

A provincial advisor on indigenous children in British Columbia is calling for an overhaul of the current system.

Grand Chief Ed John has  85 recommendations that would "transform child welfare" by — in part — dedicating resources directly to indigenous communities.

"It was the complete focus of the report. The children are never the problem, it's everything else that is around them and how do we do that and how do we bring them home," said John.

"What we have seen heretofore has not worked that well."

Grand Chief Ed John has made 85 recommendations. (CBC)

The report focuses on how to lessen the number of indigenous children who to go into provincial care.

The report John presented Monday afternoon found indigenous children are 15 times more likely to end up in the child welfare system than non-indigenous children. 

The recommendations include hiring care workers in individual communities and better communication between the provincial government and First Nation's leaders.

Fixing problem comes with 'significant' price tag

The report suggests a more equitable funding partnership is required between the provincial and federal government, with Ottawa picking up more of the costs associated with recommendations such as implementing early intervention services.

Premier Christy Clark said the provincial government is planning on implementing, with the financial help of the federal government, all 85 recommendations in the John Report. (CBC News)

"The requirement that Grand Chief Ed John has outlined is significant. We intend to make sure we can implement, with the help of the federal government of course, all 85 recommendations. For a lot of that the ball is in the feds' court, Ottawa's court." said Clark. "Separating a child from their family must always be a last resort for government."

Not new ideas

Aboriginal children make up 61 per cent of children in provincial care in this province.

The province's Representative for Children and Youth has put forward dozens of recommendations over the last decade.

Dawn Thomas-Wightman, the Deputy Representative for Children and Youth, said the office has recommended in the past Indigenous social workers be hired within the Ministry and on the front line, something John highlighted in the report.

"It is good to have another voice at the table to strongly suggest some of these recommendations," he said. 

"The big question for us at the end of the day is the funding, where is this money going to come from. I think the barrier to having some of these met is the financial barrier."

NDP not sold recommendations will be implemented

The Ministry of Children and Family Development, which appointed John as a special adviser last year, said it's currently working on 40 of the recommendations in the report.

Melanie Mark, NDP MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, doesn't buy that the province will implement all of the recommendations. Mark, who also serves as the party's critic for children and family development, said the province has failed before in providing support for indigenous youth.  

"That's 85 things that need to be improved by this government. And they are not quick to move on these big systemic issues like transferring jurisdiction over the indigenous communities. That is what indigenous communities are calling for. They are not looking for pilot projects or a seat at the table. They want action," said Mark. 

With files from Canadian Press

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