Saskatoon

FSIN pleased with 'long overdue' proposed changes to Indigenous child welfare system

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations says it is pleased with a new federal bill that would cede control of child welfare systems to First Nations and other Indigenous groups.

New federal bill would give Indigenous groups control of child welfare

FSIN Vice-Chief David Pratt says Bill C-92 is a promising step forward. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations says it is pleased with a new federal bill that would cede control of child welfare systems to First Nations and other Indigenous groups.

On Thursday, Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan unveiled Bill C-92, an act that would take control of child welfare systems away from provincial governments and allow Indigenous peoples to look after their own children.

"This is something we view as very significant and long overdue," FSIN Vice-Chief David Pratt told CBC Radio's Afternoon Edition. "We never gave up jurisdiction over our children. Our children were never on the bargaining table when we signed treaties."

For years, Pratt and the FSIN have drawn parallels between residential schools and the child welfare system. According to the FSIN, Indigenous children account for 85 per cent of the child welfare system, despite only making up one-quarter of the population.

"The residential school system ended but the continuing attack on Indigenous families in assimilation continues through the Ministry of Social Services," he said. 

The new system will prioritize supporting parents over apprehending children and will include programs for teen parents and treatment for substance abuse, according to the federal government. It will also move away from removing children from families over a lack of housing or health of the child's parent or caregiver.

In the interim, Ottawa has begun a system of "trilateral tables" that will bring together federal, provincial and Indigenous governments to new child welfare agreements.

Pratt said the transition may be difficult but is necessary.

We never gave up jurisdiction over our children.- Vice-Chief David Pratt

"A lot of the current social services employees are going to have to transition over to of working with First Nations," he said. "But I believe that at the end of the day, it's all about the children. And the best interests of those children are reconnecting them with their families and communities."

O'Regan affirmed Thursday that Ottawa has already made some key policy shifts to rebuild the system by moving away from a model that almost exclusively tied funding to the number of kids in care.

Advocates have said a per-child funding equation provides incentives to agencies to apprehend more children to pad the bottom line, essentially transforming at-risk children into commodities.

In the last budget, the government committed $1.4 billion in new funding for the child welfare system over six years.

While the bill has not been passed, O'Regan asked for the legislation to be approved quickly by the house.

With files from John Paul Tasker, The Afternoon Edition

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