Ottawa, AFN agreement to map out funding for First Nations child welfare overhaul

The federal government will enter an agreement on Tuesday with the Assembly of First Nations to outline how it will fund an overhaul of the First Nations child welfare system — a detail that was left out of recent legislation.

The Trudeau government passed Bill C-92 — officially known as An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis Children, Youth and Families — last year to reduce the number of youth in care, and allow communities to create their own child welfare systems to bring and keep their youth home.

The groundbreaking legislation came into effect this year, but did not include any funding tied to the law. 

The new agreement is expected to start the long process of mapping out the funding model. CBCnews.ca will carry the signing and media availability live at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Determining funding for First Nations child and family services will be a joint effort under the agreement, which has no dollar figure attached, according to a draft document obtained by CBC News. 

Funding was not tied to federal legislation passed last year to recognize Indigenous control over child welfare. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Effectiveness questioned

Long-time Indigenous child advocate Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, has seen the draft protocol, which is not legally binding. 

“It’s really unclear to me what this actually is going to mean on the ground, and how it’s going to be different from the countless other memorandums of understanding and other documents the federal government has signed over the years,” Blackstock said.

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, is concerned the agreement won’t lead to changes for youth. (Simon Gohier/CBC)

Blackstock said it’s difficult for communities to establish and operate their own systems under the law without any attached funding. 

“This becomes kind of like a paper tiger,” Blackstock said. “That’s why the funding element is so critical to really making this bill a real game-changer for kids.”

Bill C-92 also created national standards on how Indigenous children are to be treated. For example, when looking to place kids in foster care, authorities are to prioritize extended family and home communities.

Indigenous children make up seven per cent of Canada’s population, but they represent more than half of youth in care, according to the 2016 census.

There are more Indigenous children in care now than at the height of the residential school era.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde called for the protocol in the fall. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Blackstock said Ottawa always had money to address the inequalities within the Indigenous child welfare system, as shown from the billions of dollars being spent on COVID-19 relief.

“They simply chose not to do it,” Blackstock said.

“They may be wanting to use this as political cover, but hopefully I’m wrong. Hopefully, it actually is something that’s going to be meaningful change.”

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