Tina Fontaine's community of Sagkeeng changes its child welfare system
Sagkeeng First Nation hosts pilot project that focuses on prevention before apprehension
One year after the murder of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, Sagkeeng First Nation is making changes to its child welfare system.
Fontaine was supposed to be in the care of Child and Family Services when her body was pulled from Winnipeg's Red River on August 17, 2015.
Now the Sagkeeng First Nation is taking part in a pilot project called Circle of Care where instead of having children apprehended by CFS, resources are offered to help the family stay together. If protection is needed, members of the extended family are encouraged to take the children in.
The Circle of Care pilot was first announced in January 2015. It was a response to the Hughes Inquiry, released in the wake of another tragedy involving CFS - the case of Phoenix Sinclair.
"The success of the program is going to make the community successful. Because we'll have kids that will be brought up in their community and raised in their community," said chief Derrick Henderson.
Henderson also calls it a return to Sagkeeng's not so distant past.
"There was no such thing as CFS when I was growing up, I never even knew anything about it. And I was a part of that in my growing up, my grandmother raised me all my life," he said.
"How much better would it be for your children to stay with family instead of being removed from the community to somewhere else?"
Once the family is identified as needing help, they're invited to sit in a circle with all of the agencies that normally might have worked with them separately. Together, they work out an action plan for being a healthy family again.
Circle of Care coordinator Harold Fontaine said it hasn't been easy getting all of these different agencies in one room. Then there are the often already-troubled family dynamics.
"Sometimes things surface, strained relationships," Fontaine said, adding that he sees a deep mistrust of child welfare in the community.
"They see them [CFS] just coming in to apprehend the kids and they have no say."
To combat that mistrust, the Circle of Care program is housed in the community's health centre, far from the local child and family services agency.
Six families have taken part in the Circle of Care so far and five more are set to begin but the community is already looking to expand the program.
"I have families calling my office and asking when they can sign up, that's success to me," said chief Henderson, adding he plans to request more time and resources for the Circle of Care from the province.