The Telegram (St. John's)

Nunatsiavu­t to run own child-welfare system

Inuit self-government hopes to take over the services in three years

- EVAN CAREEN THE TELEGRAM evan.careen @thelabrado­ @evancareen

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.


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.

 ??  ?? Gerald Asivak
Gerald Asivak
 ??  ?? John Abbott
John Abbott

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