Liberals announce $382M for health, social services for Indigenous children

The federal government has announced $382 million in new funding to implement Jordan's Principle — the rule adopted by the House of Commons in 2007 ensuring equal access to health care and social services for First Nations children.

New funding in support of more equal access to health care and social services for First Nations children

Jordan Anderson, seen here in a 2003 image from video, died in 2005 at the age of four while the federal and provincial governments argued over who should pay for his care. (Submitted by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs)

The federal government has announced $382 million in new funding to implement Jordan's Principle —  the rule adopted by the House of Commons in 2007 ensuring equal access to health care and social services for First Nations children.

The money will fund the Liberal government's "new approach" to implementing the principle with the funds directed to ensure that "children's needs are assessed and responded to quickly."

Jordan's Principle is named after Jordan River Anderson, a four-year-old boy with serious and complex medical needs who died in hospital in 2005 after a drawn-out court battle between the federal government and Manitoba over who should pay his home-care costs.

While Indigenous people are a federal responsibility, the provinces deliver health care and social services, which has led to confusion over who is responsible for Aboriginal children's needs. 

In 2007, the House of Commons adopted the principle that First Nations children should be able to access the same government services as non-Indigenous children.

In the case of health care, the principle says when a patient is in need of treatment, the care should be provided first, and any dispute over how those services will be funded can be dealt with at a later date. 

A release from the Liberal government says the new funds will "ensure that the federal government is positioned to meet the goal of immediately responding to the needs of First Nations children living on reserve, while also working to develop the capacity to proactively identity and manage the support and service needs of vulnerable children."

A long road to implementation

According to the government's announcement, Health Canada will set up funding arrangements with First Nations organizations to hire regional service co-ordinators to assess needs, develop care plans, connect sick children and their parents with required services and remove the stress of navigating the system. 

In January, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the Canadian government knowingly discriminated against tens of thousands of children on reserves and underfunded child welfare services. 

On April 26, the tribunal gave the Department of Indigenous Affairs two weeks to confirm it would implement Jordan's Principle. 

In May, the federal government issued a written response saying it would implement two key measures to reach that goal. 

The first stipulated that funding disputes would be resolved after the patient was treated. The second measure expanded the number of children who can receive medical treatment — previously a patient had to have "multiple disabilities requiring multiple service providers" to qualify.

MP Charlie Angus, the NDP's Indigenous affairs critic, said Tuesday he was "pleased" the federal government was moving to implement Jordan's Principle, but more still needs to be done.

"[The] government continues to deny basic medical services and mental health support to Indigenous children across this country," he said in a statement to CBC News. "This new funding will help but there needs to be a clear commitment to dismantle the systemic denial of rights to Indigenous children."

Unanswered questions

Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, also said she was encouraged to see the government deliver funding, but was unwilling to endorse the move until she better understood how the plan would work. 

"They are not providing any details, and they are also not saying over what span of time" the money will be allocated, she said. "We don't have any idea of … how they arrived at this figure of $382 [million] … and then how much of it is going to services for kids and how much [is going to] these other broad categories of partnerships."

Blackstock also has concerns as to why the "new approach" only mentions health care and social services and not education and other government services that are supposed to be equally accessible to First Nation's children under Jordan's Principle. 

"Why aren't they applying it to education? Why aren't they applying it to early childhood? Why aren't they applying it to culture and language?" Blackstock asked. 

"I want to learn more before I come out and say this is a good thing for kids," she said. "I hope it is, I really do. I finally want to see these kids finally get what they need."