The House

Frustrations linger around treatment of Indigenous children

Both the government and Indigenous activists say it's time to act now to change the way the foster care system operates — but they don't see eye-to-eye on the pace of reform.
Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott will table a new bill in 2019 to help return Indigenous children to their families, instead of throwing them into the foster system. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Both the government and Indigenous activists say it's time to act now to change the way the foster care system operates — but they don't see eye-to-eye on the pace of reform.

The Liberal government has held roundtables, consultations, conferences and meetings to try to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in Canada's foster care system.

Two weeks ago, Ottawa announced legislation, developed with Indigenous leaders, to hand authority over Indigenous children in the foster system to First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities.

More than half of children under 14 in foster care are Indigenous, even though they make up less than eight per cent of children in Canada.

Though there are signs of progress — including that new legislation, which Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott will be championing in the new year — advocates still say things are moving too slow.

"I worry sometimes that governments like talking to avoid doing," Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, told The House.

Cindy Blackstock has spent a decade fighting to get equal funding for the health care, education and other services needed by indigenous children. She discusses what the government still has left to do.

"I've seen lots of documents written up that look really nice. What I want to make sure is that all those supports are in place so it actually works when children are affected by it."

Those supports should include addressing poverty, trauma and substance use in the communities, Blackstock said. If you put children back into disadvantaged situations, the cycle will continue, she added.

Philpott agreed there's still work to do and acknowledged that the system's default action still isn't to leave children with their families.

Ottawa announces changes to Indigenous child welfare

4 years ago
Duration 2:13
New legislation will give control and responsibility to First Nations, Inuit and Métis governments with a goal to reduce the huge number of Indigenous children in foster and group homes. But the announcement is being met with mixed reaction.

"I would say that the situation is not yet reformed to that extent," the minister said to host Chris Hall. "It is absolutely better for all if you find a way to support that family and keep that family intact."

Philpott vowed the legislation will be law before the 2019 election campaign starts in the summer.