By Chris Marchand
It’s some game-changing news for First Nations child welfare agencies in Northwestern Ontario as the federal government recently announced it would heed the orders of a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and take immediate actions to address a funding imbalance and reform child and family services.
There are 105 First Nations Child and Family Services agencies nationwide. While most receive funding directly from the federal government, The Association of Native Child and Family Service Agencies of Ontario says a longstanding provincial/federal funding model in this province has hamstrung agencies’ ability to adapt to unique needs and challenges.
“In Ontario, agencies have to sign accountability agreements that they will not go into deficit in order to receive funding,” read a statement issued by the ANCFSAO, Feb. 5. “So, our agencies have had to make ourselves fit a funding formula that does not meet our needs and circumstances.”
The ANCFSAO adds that up 80 per cent of Indigenous children in care have complex needs that are hard to address in their home communities.
“We all know the traumatic consequences Indigenous children have had to face when they leave their communities and families. If these monies allow us to meet the mental health and treatment needs, while keeping children at home with their families and in their communities, we will have made huge strides in dealing with the child welfare crisis.”
Grand Council Treaty 3 Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh says the Treaty 3 area has a 30 year history of directing its own mandated Indigneous child welfare agencies like Anishinaabe Abinoojii Family Services in the Kenora area, Fort Frances’ Weechi-it-te-win Family Services and Sioux Lookout-based Tikinagan who oversee child welfare efforts at the reserve level as well as clients in urban settings.
“It’s been proven in court that Canada is discriminating when it comes to providing the necessary dollars to take care of these kids that require it,” said Ogichidaa Kavanaugh. “I’m cautiously optimistic. I know the system and I know there’s always a disconnect between the politicians and the bureaucracy. There needs to be work done at the bureaucratic level, to reshape their thinking. They have attitudes that don’t belong in this realm today.”
Among the new directions the federal government has committed to is a focus on prevention, early intervention and culturally appropriate reform.
“There are a lot of special needs kids whom we don’t have the facilities to serve and we have to ship them down south,” said Ogichidaa Kavanaugh. “That alone takes a huge chunk of our dollars. That end of it isn’t funded and we have to take it out of our budgets.”