The Telegram (St. John's)
Nunatsiavut to run own child-welfare system
Inuit self-government hopes to take over the services in three years
For years Indigenous governments across the country have reiterated time and time again that the childwelfare system does not work for them. Newfoundland and Labrador has been no exception, with both the Inuit and Innu governments calling for massive changes to the system in the province.
Speaking with Saltwire Network from his office in Happy Valley-goose Bay, Health and Social Development Minister Gerald Asivak said they’ve been working toward this for numerous years and now is the time to proceed.
Bill C-92, the federal act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, came into force in 2020, which allows Indigenous groups to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services if they choose.
Asivak said that legislation is what has allowed the Nunatsiavut Government to take this step, and it has applied for federal funding to investigate if the devolution of services is possible and how it would look.
“It’s funding for research, legal advice, legislation development, policy, programs, more or less a broad view of how we plan to do this and what’s involved,” he said. “This is not going to be immediate. It’ll take a few years to develop.”
Asivak said he estimates it will take at least three years to go through the paperwork, negotiate with the federal and provincial governments, and consult with communities, but he’s glad it’s underway.
PROVINCE ON BOARD: ABBOTT
Minister of Children, Seniors and Social Development John Abbott said Friday the province sees this as a positive move for Labrador Inuit, and the government has encouraged other Indigenous communities and governments in the province to look at taking over the services.
“We have started conversations with the other Indigenous groups in the province and we said quite clearly we’d support them at every step, but we’ll be guided by them,” he said.
Abbott said there has been interest expressed by other groups in the province since the federal act came into force last year, and he’s glad to see the Nunatsiavut Government go to the next step.
An independent review released by Child and Youth Advocate Jackie Lake Kavanagh on Inuit children in care in 2019, “A Long Wait for Change,” had 33 recommendations, and Asivak said it was an impetus for this transfer of responsibility.
“It seems like something that’s always on the back burner, and this is affecting families. It’s not acceptable,” he said. “The system is broken, and it has been for a long time.”
The report found the current reactive and crisis-oriented approach to protecting Inuit children is not working, and there is an undeniable and pervasive sense of fear and mistrust of child-protection authorities among Inuit.
“Child protection is not seen as a resource, but rather as a source of fear,” the report read.
A former registered social worker in the province for over five years, Asivak said he knows all too well how the system works.
“There’s still a long way to go,” he said. “There’s a lot of trauma with children and families. The systems aren’t Indigenous-friendly or supportive. The system is failing in family intervention and prevention, the numbers are still too high for children in care and outside their own communities.”
Abbott said his department is working through those recommendations and will table a report next week in the House of Assembly on children in care and will present annual reports on progress. He said the number of Indigenous children in care is coming down in the province, and they’re confident that will continue.