Manitoba

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs hiring its own advocate to address child welfare issues

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says it is hiring its own child and family advocate to help address the problems many aboriginal children face in the province's child-welfare system.

Aboriginal group wants to address growing number of indigenous children in care

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs calls the situation with First Nations children in Manitoba's Child and Family Services (CFS) system an epidemic. Government officials have said that most of the 10,000 children in care are indigenous. (CBC)

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says it is hiring its own child and family advocate to help address the problems many aboriginal children face in the province's child-welfare system.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak calls the situation with First Nations children in Manitoba's Child and Family Services (CFS) system an epidemic. Government officials have said that most of the 10,000 children in care are indigenous.

Manitoba already has a provincial child and family advocate, but Nepinak said he hopes having a separate advocate will help the assembly work with families, get a handle on the growing number of aboriginal children in care, and improve the CFS system.

"I have engaged the province at every level, I've engaged the federal government, I've even been into court to try to help get some control or try and get some empowerment back to indigenous families in Manitoba, and each time have come up against barrier after barrier after barrier," he told CBC News on Thursday.

Questions about the CFS system are being raised in light of a serious attack on a 15-year-old girl in downtown Winnipeg early Wednesday.

Both the girl and the boy were wards of the CFS system and were being temporarily housed in the same hotel, just blocks away from where the girl was found.

Nepinak said Manitoba has the highest number of children in care in Canada, and that makes the province "the epicentre of child apprehension in the industrialized world."

"This is something that has been growing for quite some time now as foster children who are aging out of the system — or even within the system — are now having foster children, so it's become an intergenerational problem and the numbers continue to grow," he said.

Nepinak said the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs will join the Southern Chiefs' Organization in filing a class-action lawsuit, on behalf of affected children and families, against what he calls a $500-million "industry" of child apprehension.

"We see a tragedy unfolding, a social tragedy unfolding before our eyes," he said.

"We have done our best as Manitoba First Nations leadership to work with families to try and get some involvement back into this system that seems to be driven by the fact that there's $500 million in play."

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