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N.W.T. response to family act changes criticized

A decision by N.W.T. health officials to accept only a third of the recommended changes to the Child and Family Services Act is not sitting well with people who have concerns about the legislation.

A decision by Northwest Territories health officials to accept only a third of the recommended changes to the Child and Family Services Act is not sitting well with people who have concerns about the legislation.

Seventy-three recommendations were made in October by the N.W.T.'s standing committee on social programs, a group of MLAs that reviewed the act and held public hearings across the territory last year.

MLAs on the standing committee called for major changes to the N.W.T.'s child protection system, such as the creation of child and family services committees in every community, better addictions services for parents, and assistance for extended family members to keep children in their home communities.

Politicians and child welfare professionals alike have said the 10-year-old existing Child and Family Services Act does not work well enough for aboriginal children, who are more likely to be in foster care than non-aboriginal children.

The N.W.T. Health and Social Services Department has accepted only 22 of the committee's 73 recommendations. It accepted dozens more of the recommendations in principle or on the condition that the department gets more funding.

'They lose out'

The department's response disappointed not only MLAs on the standing committee, but also the people who spoke to the committee at 10 public hearings.

"A lot of times, our children have been taken away and placed in different communities, different cultures, different environments, and they lose out — just the same thing as residential school survivors have gone through," Eileen Koe, an elder and former social worker in Fort McPherson, N.W.T., told CBC News.

The department has committed to set up only a handful of child and family services committees in the territory, despite the recommendation that such committees be established in every community.

Koe said she was part of a child and family services committee in Fort McPherson. It helped parents understand how they could get back their apprehended children, she said.

However, Koe said the committee fell apart because there was no money to encourage volunteers to put in the hours of work required.

Koe said it is important that the N.W.T. child protection system improves now, before another generation grows up feeling alienated from their culture.

Shirley Kisoun of Inuvik, N.W.T., said health officials need to work more closely with extended family members and allow them to get the same financial help as foster parents.

"If a child is being apprehended, usually it's the grandparents that end up knowing last and … they're the ones that practically raise kids these days," said Kisoun, a grandmother.

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