By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The province introduced amendments to the Child and Family Services (CFS) Act to give more control to Indigenous communities and more opportunities for communities looking to take back control of their CFS systems.
On Tuesday, Families Minister Rochelle Squires announced the Manitoba government is proposing changes to CFS and to other statutes that she said would “recognize the jurisdiction of Indigenous governments over this vital area of public service.”
The proposed amendments, according to the province, come in response to recommendations from Indigenous leaders and CFS partner agencies, and they align with federal law respecting First Nations, Inuit and Metis children, youth and families.
In 2019, Bill C-92, a federal law that gives First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities in Canada the authority to take over child welfare systems was passed.
Earlier this year, Peguis First Nation became the first Indigenous community in Manitoba to take back child welfare responsibilities since Bill C-92 was passed, and the province says there are several other Indigenous communities in Manitoba currently pursuing co-coordination agreements with the province and the federal government, regarding their child welfare systems.
“Our government remains committed to the successful realization of Indigenous jurisdiction for CFS and engaging Indigenous leadership and community partners about changes that affect their communities, as a measure of our commitment to truth and reconciliation,” Squires said. “These amendments would adapt the provincial system to be responsive to new Indigenous CFS laws.”
According to the province, the amendments would work to bring provincial CFS laws more in-line with the 2019 federal act, and would work to “harmonize principles and service delivery standards that must be followed when providing services to Indigenous children and families.”
The province said the amendments would also give CFS agencies access to more resources to support children and families outside of the court process, including new agreements to provide expanded support to families, new placement options that emphasize the importance of placing children with family or community, and more opportunities to extend some temporary orders to reduce the need to sever parental ties due to missed deadlines.
The changes would also clarify the jurisdiction of the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth (MACY) and would allow for joint reviews upon request by Indigenous governments, and would recognize “alternate decision-makers” for health care or education decisions when a child is cared for by someone other than their parent or legal guardian.
The amendments are being proposed while, currently, as many as 90% of children and youth in care in Manitoba identify as Indigenous and the province said in a statement they believe the proposed changes would work to lower the number of Indigenous children in care.
“The changes would be a significant step towards addressing the over-representation of Indigenous children and families in the child welfare system, and improving services for all families in need of CFS supports,” the province said.
“Amendments are aimed at improving life-long outcomes for children by focusing on the preservation of cultural continuity and community connections for Indigenous children, prioritizing placements with family for all children, and allowing new agreement-based supports to prevent children from coming into care.”
– Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.