British Columbia should rally the federal government and First Nations communities to a new approach to caring for aboriginal children in provincial care in light of a ruling this week by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, says B.C.'s independent children's watchdog.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the provincial representative for children and youth, was responding to a tribunal finding that First Nations children have been victims of discrimination by Ottawa with less funding for on-reserve social-service programs than equivalent programs off-reserve.
Ms. Turpel-Lafond said the debate over whether there is a problem facing First Nations children in care is done.
Nine years after the case was launched by the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, the tribunal found that funding formulas used by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada resulted in reserve social-service programs receiving funding between 22 and 34 per cent less than equivalent off-reserve programs. On Tuesday, federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the government will review the ruling as a prelude to renovating the child-welfare system.
The federal government currently spends about $60-million annually to fund care for First Nations children in British Columbia, Ms. Turpel-Lafond said.
In an interview, she called for the two levels of government and aboriginal communities to work on a new $30-million program, in addition to current funding, to aggressively pursue a greater role for aboriginal communities in caring for troubled children.
"If we had a $30-million annual fund, we could really see some movement," she said.
"Kinship placement means in lieu of removing children and putting them in stranger foster care, you work directly in that community with the families to have safe kinship placement," she said.
She is proposing that First Nations communities be given the tools to care for First Nations children who need to be placed in care.
"We could respond to what the human rights case talks about, which is preventing trauma, preventing removal of kids, preventing the continuation of the kids losing their language, culture and connection to their families," Ms. Turpel-Lafond said.
She said she had "no doubt we could lead the country in terms of innovation. We have a historic opportunity."
She said she has raised the issue with the deputy to Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux.
Cheryl Casimer, a member of the executive for the First Nations Summit, said there was some merit to general idea.
She said the only way a First Nations community can assume jurisdiction or authority over child-welfare issues and providing services is with provincial approval.
"We need to revisit those delegated, enabling mechanisms and find ways of being able to enhance them so it meets the needs of children and families at an even greater level," she said.
"The answers to the situations we face surrounding child welfare lies in the community. The more we can do to make sure kids can stay with family and kids can stay in community and have strong cultural ties, I think you'll see more success rather than taking a child out of the community and their family."
Scott Fraser, the NDP critic for aboriginal affairs, said the tribunal ruling should prompt the province to push the federal government to action on effectively supporting aboriginal children and communities.