"We've got a big problem": Manitoba families minister to attend emergency meeting on child welfare
Manitoba Families Minister Scott Fielding is scheduled to attend a two-day meeting in Ottawa next week along with his provincial counterparts and federal Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott to discuss Indigenous child welfare.
Of the 10, 714 children in care in Manitoba, 89 per cent are Indigenous.
It’s an issue the Manitoba government is hoping to tackle with its proposed reform of the province’s Child and Family Services system but not all the ideas are sitting well with Ottawa and Indigenous leaders.
Manitoba unveiled its proposed child welfare reform in October and Fielding said he has already met with the province’s southern chiefs on the possible changes and still plans to meet with northern chiefs and Metis leaders.
A legislative review committee has been struck and Fielding said that committee will report back to him in March before any provincial legislation is introduced.
“The child welfare system across Canada has failed Indigenous families,” said Fielding. “Our plan is based on evidence, based on a community driven process that we think will reduce the amount of children in care and the days in care.”
“We’ve got a big problem. That’s why we’re taking it on, head on, as a government.”
Fielding hopes the meeting in Ottawa will help give the province a clearer picture about Ottawa’s involvement in child welfare and what role the federal government might play.
Since the child welfare system is a provincial responsibility, Fielding said he wants to know if Ottawa will be involved in a financial role or if the federal government is considering any legislation on Indigenous self-governance of the system.
Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott said the meeting will include Indigenous leaders, provincial and territorial ministers as well as experts and advocates.
“In holding this meeting, we hope to identify shared priorities and a path forward in reforming the system to put the needs of children and families first,” Philpott said in an emailed statement.
In a news release earlier this month, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs called on the province to halt any “unilateral actions” to reform Manitoba’s Child and Family Services system specifically referring to the promotion of permanent guardianship.
In statement AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said, “the Chiefs-in-Assembly has been clear: First Nations must assert their inherent jurisdiction over our children and families caught in the current CFS system. First Nations must completely reform the system, and have the Province of Manitoba be accountable to First Nations in the area of child and family services.”
Fielding acknowledged the federal government seems to be at odds with a portion of Manitoba’s proposed CFS reform involving the possibility of a “lifelong connection” or subsidized legal guardianship of Indigenous children with non-Indigenous families.
“We said if someone wants to take on a lifelong commitment to a child, an immediate family member or someone within that family network, we’ll provide financial supports to take on that role,” said Fielding. “What we are talking about is providing that extended support and services. I think where there was some miscommunications, and maybe what the federal minister is talking about, is if non-Indigenous families want to take a lifelong commitment.”
“What we have said to Indigenous communities, right after this issue happened, is we’re taking a step back right now. What we want to do is hear from Indigenous communities about how that would work.”
The emergency meeting will take place in Ottawa on Jan. 25 and 26.