By Shari Narine
Sweetgrass Contributing Editor
ERMINESKIN CREE NATION
July 21, 2016.
Treaty 6 Grand Chief Randy Ermineskin is calling for changes to the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act and for First Nations to be in full partnership in those changes.
Ermineskin was responding to the release of two reports Tuesday – one by the auditor general and one by the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate - that were critical of how the Alberta government handled Indigenous children in care. Aboriginal children presently represent 69 per cent of those in care although they make up only 10 per cent of the children in Alberta.
“First Nations expect full engagement in making fundamental changes to assist in reducing the over-representation of First Nations children in the child intervention system,” said Ermineskin.
Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff began the first meetings for his report, Voices for Change, in January 2014. His intentions were to guide some of the changes the Conservative government was looking at making to legislation. The preliminary work to review the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act had gotten underway, but an election call and change in government put an end to the review.
The Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, which Ermineskin says is in “dire need” of change, has been in place since 2004.
Graff wants his report to figure prominently in changes made to the act.
“I want to be able to put some pressure on the government to consider the things we have raised when they’re considering reviewing the legislation,” said Graff.
Graff and his staff spoke in depth with users of the child intervention system – Elders, parents and youth – and other stakeholders. Those discussions led to eight recommendations focused in four areas: legislation, governance and jurisdiction; resources, capacity and access; program and service delivery; and outcomes and accountability.
“We’re hopeful that what we’re recommending will be key considerations and in fact centre pieces in relation to that child welfare reform,” said Graff.
Auditor General Marwan Saher, who reviewed three key processes implemented by Alberta Human Services, which is responsible for child and family services, said improvements were needed – and the government was fully capable of delivering - in early supports and early intervention programming; in training staff in the area of intercultural understanding; and in ensuring processes supported a child-centred approach.
Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan committed to using the reports as “starting points” and working with First Nation communities and Metis settlements in a “respectful, joint manner” to move forward.
However, Feehan said, changes were needed in more departments than Human Services.
“There are large structural reasons why we have found ourselves in this place in society and we need to take responsibility for all of those things,” he said.
Ermineskin said he expected changes in government policies to address the history of trauma; social determinants, which stem from colonialism, residential school, and current western ideologies; and poverty.
“All we ask, all governments, both federal and provincial, is that at the decision-making table we want First Nations representatives there,” said Ermineskin. “We want to make sure that we are truly involved in the process now.”
Aboriginal involvement was a key message that came through clearly during discussions with child welfare system recipients, said Graff.
“Giving Aboriginal people a greater voice in what the child welfare system looks like for their children and families, giving them greater authority in how they’re implemented. Certainly there will be challenges with that but if we’re ever to find a long term solution for these issues, I think they must reside in Aboriginal people having greater control over what happens to their children,” said Graff.
“We’ve just got to start working together to make these structures a little more solid so our First Nations kids and families can start getting together and be a family once again,” said Ermineskin.