In November 2018, Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott announced a plan to hand over control of child welfare services to Indigenous governments in an effort to reduce the number of Indigenous children in care.
A draft of the proposed Indigenous child welfare bill received negative reviews in February 2019 from First Nations representatives involved in co-development talks with Ottawa. In particular, there were concerns about jurisdiction and funding.
Bill C-92 An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Children, Youth and Families received royal assent June 21, 2019. It came into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, though it has been challenged by the province of Quebec.
Bill C-92 does not guarantee the funding needed for Indigenous communities to implement their own child and family laws. Funding is to be negotiated between the Indigenous governing bodies and the provincial and federal governments.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and then-AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde signed an agreement in July 2020 establishing a "joint fiscal table" on First Nations child and family services — a forum where Ottawa and First Nations can negotiate funding agreements to support communities creating their own child welfare programs under Bill C-92.
In July 2021, Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan became the first Indigenous group in Canada to sign an agreement with Ottawa for federal funding of locally controlled child welfare services since the new act came into force.
The 2018 federal budget did commit to an increase in child welfare funding; however much of that money was already earmarked in a prior federal budget, and most of the funding is committed for the years beyond the 2019 federal election.
Regarding monitoring assessments of neglect investigations, the most recent national assessment was in 2008. Results specific to First Nations children were published in a 2011 report from the Assembly of First Nations. But there’s not been any since then.
The 2008 study compiled data from 89 provincial, 22 First Nations and Urban Aboriginal and one Métis child welfare site.
At the time, the study concluded that First Nations children were removed from their homes at a rate four times higher than non-Indigenous children (140 First Nations children per 1,000, versus 33 non-First Nations children per 1,000).
An updated study of child abuse and neglect-related investigations involving Indigenous children, the First Nations Incidence Study, tied to the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect, was to do data collection in 2019.
The study is a project of the Assembly of First Nations and a national First Nations Advisory Committee, with funding support from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
As of July 2021, the data collection has not been completed.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal provides up-to-date research on Canada’s Aboriginal child welfare programs and policies, and includes research borne out of the different provinces and territories. But this portal is made up of a consortium of academic researchers and child welfare service providers, through the McGill Centre for Research on Children and Families. It is not a federal or provincial agency.
Regarding providing adequate resources, in the February 2018 federal budget, the government committed to invest $1.4 billion, spread out over six years starting with the 2017-2018 fiscal year, for First Nations Child and Family Services.
But much of that money was previously earmarked in the 2016 federal budget, where it committed $635 million, spread out over five years, ending in 2020-21.
The commitment came in response to a February 2018 non-compliance order, in which the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found the federal government was not adequately funding the agencies.
As a result, the federal government committed to “cover agencies actual costs for prevention, intake and investigation, legal fees, building repairs, among other things."
In January 2018, Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott held an “emergency” meeting with provincial and territorial counterparts, months after the 2016 Statistics Canada Census revealed Aboriginal children account for more than one-half (51.2 per cent) of all children aged four and under, in foster care.
According to an Indigenous Services news release, the two-day meeting, which included national Indigenous, Inuit and Métis leaders, resulted in the commitment of “six points of action”; one of which is to reform child and family services, “including moving to a flexible funding model.”
No time frame was established to implement the six points of action.
Both the Canadian Association of Social Work Education and the Canadian Association of Social Workers have officially declared their support for the Truth and Reconciliation’s Calls to Action regarding Child Welfare. But as of July 2021, formal changes to policies and standards for professional training have not been implemented.
In June 2017, the board of directors for the Canadian Association of Social Work Education (CASWE) released a statement announcing their commitment to consider the Calls to Action when revising their policies and standards.
The CASWE is responsible for reviewing and accrediting Canadian university programs of social work education.
Their “Statement of Complicity and Commitment to Change” includes an acknowledgement of past and present social work practices that “have been and continue to be complicit in our colonial reality.”
The statement includes a commitment to support Canadian schools of social work in revising “curriculum and pedagogy in ways that both advance the TRC recommendations and the overall indigenization of social work education.”
CASWE President Dr. Susan Cadell told CBC News that while all of the 42 accredited schools of social work in Canada include some form of Indigenous history in their curriculum, it’s not always mandatory.
“Schools have to have it, but how schools have it varies widely,” Cadell said. “Some have courses that are optional, some have courses that are required.”
The subject matter also varies from school to school, she said; there’s no requirement to specifically include education about the history and impacts of residential schools.
Cadell says a committee has been created to take into consideration this and other TRC Calls to Action, when conducting the 2019 review of their curriculum and standards.
“[The TRC Calls to Action] are part of what’s informing that process,” Cadell said.
But Cadell warned it might be “unrealistic” to make such courses mandatory, because it might mean, in some cases, having to forfeit a different course more relevant to their area of interest.
As for the training of current social workers, the Canadian Association of Social Workers, which represents more than 17,000 social workers, told CBC News that “reconciliation is a priority."
Jan Christianson is the president of the board. In December 2017, a sub-committee began a two-year review of their national code of ethics and guidelines. Christianson said “reconciliation” is permeating that review and the TRC Calls to Action will inform revisions or changes to both their code of ethics and their practice.
In 2015, the government of the Northwest Territories expanded its mandatory training for all child protection workers; that training includes Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Training and a presentation on the links between the residential school legacy and the child welfare system.
In March 2019, a $3.05 billion potential class action lawsuit was filed against the federal government for discriminating against First Nations children by underfunding on-reserve child welfare services.
In September 2019, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered the federal government to pay $40,000 to each child — the maximum allowed under the Canadian Human Rights Act — who was apprehended or taken from their homes on reserve, no matter what the reason.
The order stems from the January 2016 tribunal ruling which said the government discriminated against First Nations children by underfunding on-reserve child welfare services.
The compensation order covers all children in the care of the on-reserve child welfare system at any point from Jan. 1, 2006, to a date to be determined by the tribunal.
Some estimates place the number of potentially affected children at about 50,000. The tribunal also ordered compensation of $20,000, plus an additional $20,000 for every child taken for each parent or grand-parent — if the latter was the primary caregiver — whose children were taken from their home unnecessarily.
On Sept. 29, 2021, the Federal Court dismissed the federal government's application for a judicial review of compensation order.
In January 2022, the federal government and First Nations leaders announced a $40 billion agreement-in-principle that sets aside $20 billion for compensation and $20 billion for long-term reform of the on-reserve child welfare system.
If approved, the financial settlement would be the largest of its kind in Canadian history. The parties have until March 31 to finalize the agreement.