The Association of Native Child and Family Service Agencies of Ontario is agreeing with the release of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s fifth legal order. It recognizes that Indigenous Child and Family Service Agencies in Ontario have been chronically underfunded. The tribunal says they view the underfunding as discriminatory.
Ontario Indigenous Child Well-Being Agencies are funded by the Province of Ontario through the 1965 Welfare Agreement. It allows the province to be reimbursed 93 cents on the dollar by the Department of Indigenous Services Canada. Under the last order, Ontario Indigenous Agencies did not receive any direct funding. The 1965 Welfare Agreement is now under review by both the Chiefs of Ontario and the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.
The Association of Native Child and Family Service Agencies of Ontario conducted its own funding review, and they found that agencies in Ontario are underfunded under the current funding formula. They say they support a more preventative, family preservation approach, when it comes to child welfare. They also say they want child welfare to be rooted in cultural healing practices.
“In Ontario, we use socio-economic factors and volume factors to determine funding. The assumption was socio-economic factors would determine funding. In actuality, it’s volume that’s been driving the funding for our agencies, which is kind of lopsided. We need to look at that and come up with a separate funding model for Indigenous agencies,” said the association’s executive director, Theresa Stevens, who led Anishinaabe Abinooji Child Services for 13 years.
The association notes that roughly 80 per cent of Indigenous children in care are special needs or complex-needs children. They hope that extra funding from the province would allow child care agencies to meet mental health and treatment needs of the children, while keeping them at home with their families in their own communities.
“The majority of reviews show that the majority of our children have been addressed as high-needs. We’re using our funding for primarily boarding, to meet the needs of the children in care. We’re having to pay high rates for specialized placements. If we’re able to offset some of that to build the resources closer to home, we won’t have to be spending high amounts of resources and sending our children away to treatment resouces. We want them closer to home. That will also save additional dollars for programs for our children,” Stevens said.
Last week, Grand Council Treaty 3 Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh travelled to Ottawa to take part in the National Emergency Child Welfare summit called by the federal government. Kavanaugh says that he was impressed by what he heard, but noted that he was ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the implementation of the Department of Indigenous Services’ six-point plan.
The six-point plan includes:
Continuing the work to fully implement all orders from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal;
Shifting the programming focus to prevention and early intervention;
Exploring the potential for co-developed federal child welfare legislation;
Supporting Inuit and Métis leadership to advance culturally-appropriate reform;
Developing a data and reporting strategy with provinces, territories and Indigenous partners; and,
Accelerating the work of trilateral technical tables that are in place across the country.
“This is only going to be successful if our agencies receive the resources that they need. If the plan assists in that regard, we’ll be well on our way. If it’s difficult to access the resources that we need, or take too long to get us the resources that we need, it’s going to make it difficult,” Stevens added, speaking of the government’s six-point plan.
Stevens points to the most recent initiative by the First Nations Caring Society, that’s been endorsed by the Assembly of First Nations and the Chiefs of Ontario, the Spirit Bear Plan – as a solid guideline on how to move forward with addressing the child welfare crisis.
“We’re not just looking at the crisis in child welfare and the lack of funding in child welfare. We have to look at the reasons for the high number of children in care. We know that it’s poverty, housing, substance abuse, lack of mental health resources. Those are the areas that we need to focus on if we’re going to see any change,” she said.
In September 2017, a relationship agreement was signed by Kavanaugh and Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau, which aimed to strengthen the relationship between the two parties – in regards to allowing Treaty 3 to transform the system of services for youth to better meet their needs.
Kavanaugh noted that he hopes to see Treaty 3 have full-jurisdiction over child welfare in the area within five years.