The head of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada says the federal government is still underfunding the Nova Scotia agency in charge of child welfare in Mi’kmaw communities.
Cindy Blackstock says the Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services of Nova Scotia should have received $4-million shortly after her organization and the Assembly of First Nations won a Canadian Human Rights complaint against the federal government in January.
“That’s not to do everything that needs to be done for families but that would eliminate the worst effects of discrimination and Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services got $400,000 from the federal government,” Blackstock said Wednesday.
“So there’s a long way to go,” she said.
Blackstock was invited to speak at the Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services of Nova Scotia’s annual general assembly in Dartmouth, N.S. Wednesday.
Arlene Johnson, executive director of Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services of Nova Scotia, agrees the agency has been underfunded for numerous years. The agency provides child welfare services to all 13 Mi’kmaw communities in Nova Scotia.
According to the Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services’ 2016 annual report, it received $22-million in funding from the federal and provincial governments for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
Johnson confirmed her organization has been in negotiations with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services to increase funding to offer more preventative programs for Mi’kmaw children and families.
A couple of those preventative programs include custom adoption and family-group conferencing and circles.
“We need to expand on that program because one of our goals is to work with families out of court, diverting away from courts and engaging the family,” Johnson said.
“Having social workers doing community work and not just focusing on child welfare,” she added.
Blackstock explains Canadian Human Rights Tribunal Decision
During her keynote address, Blackstock provided background on the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision in January.
The tribunal ruled the federal government discriminated against First Nations children in care by underfunding programs and services compared to non-Indigenous children in care. It also ruled the federal government’s narrow interpretation of Jordan’s Principle was flawed and discriminatory.
Jordan’s Principle is a child-first principle that calls on the government of first contact to pay for services for a child in care and deal with reimbursements afterwards. It is named in memory of Jordan River Anderson from Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba.
The four-year-old boy was born with complex medical needs which required home care. Jordan died in hospital in 2005 while the federal and provincial governments fought in court over who should pay for his home care.
On Tuesday, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and Health Canada announced $382-million in new funding in order to apply Jordan’s Principle more broadly to First Nations children in care.
“We welcome, of course, any effort to address the gap but we don’t think it’s sufficient from what we know of the news release,” Blackstock said.
“They applied only to health and social services when Jordan’s Principle applies to child and maternal health, early childhood education, every service that kids could access,” she said.
“We’re still pretty fuzzy on what process they’re going to use to implement it. It still feels like there’s some red tape there that maybe other kids don’t experience so we need to know that,” Blackstock said.