Nunatsiavut wel­comes changes to child wel­fare sys­tem

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - Editorial - BY EVAN CA­REEN

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment an­nounced leg­is­la­tion on how child wel­fare is han­dled for First Na­tions, Metis and Inuit groups last week and the Nunatsiavut gov­ern­ment is happy to see the changes.

“It’s wel­come news,” said Nunatsiavut Health Min­is­ter Gerald Asi­vak. “It’s good for our peo­ple and fam­i­lies.

“It’s long over­due and we’re very ap­pre­cia­tive of this in­for­ma­tion to work with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment on en­act­ing new leg­is­la­tion.”

In­dige­nous Ser­vices Min­is­ter Jane Philpott an­nounced the leg­is­la­tion at the Assem­bly of First Na­tions spe­cial chiefs in Ot­tawa. Philpott said it was de­vel­oped in con­junc­tion with In­dige­nous groups and is planned to be in­tro­duced in Jan­uary.

The Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion com­mis­sion rec­om­mended this change in its Calls to Ac­tion in 2016. That same year, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, First Na­tions, Inuit and Métis Na­tion chil­dren un­der 15 made up 7.7 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion in the child wel­fare sys­tem, but rep­re­sented 52.2 per cent of chil­dren in foster care in pri­vate homes.

Asi­vak, a for­mer so­cial worker, said there are cur­rently 60 chil­dren in the sys­tem from Nunatsiavut, most of who are liv­ing out­side of the land claim area. This can have a great im­pact on them, he said, by not be­ing ex­posed to their cul­ture, lan­guage or way of life.

“We want to keep chil­dren in our own com­mu­ni­ties, within their own kin­ship or with closely re­lated neigh­bours, we want them to keep their cul­ture, tra­di­tions and val­ues,” he said. “We don’t feel that chil­dren should be, or need to be, sent away. It’s part of life to be with your fam­ily.”

Asi­vak said he un­der­stands it won’t hap­pen overnight, but they are look­ing for­ward to work­ing with the fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the na­tional body that rep­re­sents all Inuit in Canada, on how to im­ple­ment this new leg­is­la­tion in Inuit com­mu­ni­ties.

Asi­vak said Nunatsiavut has started the process by con­tact­ing the Child and Youth Ad­vo­cate of­fice for New­found­land and Labrador to do a re­view of Inuit chil­dren in care. They have con­tacted 250 fam­i­lies for feed­back on how to im­prove ser­vices and re­la­tions with the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment. The process of hand­ing over child wel­fare ser­vices could take years to fully im­ple­ment and Nunatsiavut needs to make sure things are done bet­ter in the in­terim as well, he said.

“We are over­rep­re­sented in the pro­vin­cial chil­dren in care sys­tem,” he said. “We want to im­prove that and start re­cruit­ing foster fam­i­lies with the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment in our home towns.”

He said rein­te­gra­tion is one of the big­gest is­sues they face and that chil­dren who are taken away lose part of who they are, their In­dige­nous iden­tity and their fam­ily con­nec­tions.

“When you’re away from your home­land you’re not part of it,” he said. “The op­por­tu­nity to come back isn’t al­ways fea­si­ble.

“There should be a plan in place, but deal­ing with mul­ti­ple lev­els of gov­ern­ment and agen­cies, it’s sadly over­looked.”

Asi­vak said the way chil­dren are re­moved from homes and sent to live else­where is rem­i­nis­cent of the Six­ties Scoop, where chil­dren were taken from In­dige­nous fam­i­lies and put up for adop­tion.

The specifics of how this changeover will work have not been made pub­lic yet but the fed­eral gov­ern­ment said they hope the bill can be passed be­fore the fed­eral elec­tion next fall.

FILE PHOTO

In­dige­nous Ser­vices Min­is­ter Jane Philpott an­nounced leg­is­la­tion on how child wel­fare is han­dled for First Na­tions, Metis and Inuit groups at the Assem­bly of First Na­tions spe­cial chiefs in Ot­tawa.

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