'This is what reconciliation looks like': Northern First Nations regain control of child welfare services
Problems with tracking system resolved, former administrator says
First Nations in northern Manitoba have regained control over child welfare services in their communities.
After 2½ years of meetings, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and the Manitoba government have signed an agreement that ends control of the northern authority by a government-appointed administrator.
The province removed control from the First Nations of Northern Manitoba Child and Family Services Authority Board and appointed administrator Issie Frost in late 2014 after concerns about how the authority was tracking kids in care were raised.
The agreement includes a commitment by all the child welfare agencies under supervision by the northern authority to use a common tracking system and work collaboratively to ensure its proper use.
"Our meetings were very meaningful and very frank and very honest, and we built that trust. And this is what reconciliation looks like," said Sheila North Wilson, grand chief of MKO.
The newly re-empowered board operates under the supervision of MKO and the provincial government.
We have resolved on having a process that's workable, that's acceptable by all of us so that we ultimately are protecting the families and the children that we are responsible to and for.- Chris Baker, O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation chief
At a news conference Friday, North Wilson said although there were some disagreements over the reasons for the administration order, the new system is one that all parties can agree upon.
"We know our agencies knew where the children were at the time, but these are the finer points that we had to work out and negotiate over the past 2½ years," she said.
Frost agreed with North Wilson, saying that the problems were with the tracking system.
"As the grand chief said, the children were accounted for. They were safe and they were not at risk," he said.
Poor technology played a role in the authority's difficulties, North Wilson said.
"There was a lot of technicalities that happened with this system … simply, technology sometimes wasn't conducive to the record keeping," she said.
The board will include a representative of the provincial government for six months as part of the agreement.
Minister of Families Scott Fielding said the authority has made substantial improvements, and the negotiation process has led to greater trust among all parties. He said the negotiations included "frank and honest" discussions.
Fielding singled out Chris Baker, O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation chief, as being particularly frank during the meetings. At the news conference on Friday, Baker said he's confident they have reached a point where an administrator will not be needed again.
"We have resolved on having a process that's workable, that's acceptable by all of us so that we ultimately are protecting the families and the children that we are responsible to and for."
Part of the agreement involves an "alternate dispute resolution mechanism" intended to help avoid a repeat of the administration order, Frost said.
"So there is a process engaged at various levels right up to the minister and the grand chief to deal with issues of concern. So there is an alternate way of getting at this in a more collaborative process."