Feb. 24, 2010
FREDERICTON (CNB) - Ombudsman and Child and Youth Advocate Bernard Richard today released a report entitled, Hand-in-Hand: A Review of First Nations Child Welfare in New Brunswick.
In his report, Richard recommends sweeping changes to the child welfare system on First Nations, reducing the number of agencies to three from the current 11.
Richard also calls for the establishment of a single First Nations Child and Family Services Office that would provide financial and administrative functions to the three agencies. Furthermore, he provides recommendations related to funding, governance, service delivery standards, training and accountability.
"My objective was to recommend changes that will reduce the duplication of administrative work being done in each community in order to maximize frontline social work services," said Richard. "In my view, it is necessary to maintain and augment the number of social workers in each community who provide culturally based services and to give them access to the same resources employed by social workers in the rest of the province."
Richard, in his report, also delves into the deep-seated issues affecting First Nations communities, such as poverty, drug addictions, domestic violence, and the erosion of the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet cultures and languages.
"It was essential to examine the underlying social, economic and cultural conditions for this report," said Richard. "To simply put in place an improved child welfare system would not be enough to truly create equal opportunities for First Nations children. For real change to occur, we must address the determinants of child welfare and focus on prevention-based solutions."
Copies of the report will be available online. To request a paper copy, call 1-888-465-1100 or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Following is a backgrounder on Hand-in-Hand: A Review of First Nations Child Welfare in New Brunswick. MEDIA CONTACT: Bernard Richard, Office of the Ombudsman and Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, 506-453-2789, email@example.com.
Backgrounder: Hand-in-Hand: A Review of First Nations Child Welfare in New Brunswick
In May 2009, the Minister of Social Development asked the Child and Youth Advocate to review and make recommendations about the child welfare services provided in New Brunswick's 15 First Nations communities.
Bernard Richard, the ombudsman and child and youth advocate, consulted widely and produced a report that gives voice to the concerns expressed by First Nations youth, their families, community leaders and service providers.
The report's many recommendations are aimed at all levels of government: federal, provincial and First Nations. Beyond that, the report asks all New Brunswickers, First Nations and non-Aboriginals alike, to work together to achieve equal opportunity for all.
Part I of the report focuses on the delivery of child welfare services in First Nations communities. Richard recommends a rationalization of service delivery, reducing the number of agencies from to three from 11 and establishing a single First Nations Child and Family Services Office from which certain financial, administrative and specialized child welfare services would be offered.
In Richard's view, the strengths of the current service delivery model (such as Head Start programs for young children, community-based service delivery, social work outreach to the child's family and community, and the active offer of culturally based child welfare practices) must be retained and strengthened.
Richard recommends that the entire reform process be guided by the Touchstone Principles of First Nations child welfare: self-determination, non-discrimination, holistic and structural interventions and respect for culture and language.
The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is committed to moving to a more prevention-based service delivery model, but more funding from INAC and other federal agencies will be required for the prevention-based model to succeed.
Richard said the provincial government must also support service delivery by sharing its information management and case management tools; by supporting the roll-out and maintenance of payroll services and information systems to the new First Nations Child and Family Services Office and its agencies; and by helping regional Department of Social Development offices and First Nations agencies to work collaboratively, share training events and benefit from new initiatives such as family group conferencing.
According to Richard, chiefs and councils will have to shoulder collectively the task of governing the First Nations Child and Family Services Office and agencies while maintaining and improving investments in their own communities to ensure that children come first.
Beyond this reform of service delivery, Richard, in his report, calls for bold action to address the root causes of the disadvantages faced by First Nations children.
Part II analyzes the situation of children in First Nations communities. Richard noted that First Nations children in New Brunswick are six times more likely than other children to be taken from their homes and placed in foster care; four to five times more likely to be charged as young offenders; and may be at greater risk for health issues such as obesity and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Moreover, Richard noted that the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet languages are dying and may not survive past the next generation unless immediate measures are taken.
Richard invited all New Brunswickers and all levels of government to take new approaches to housing, job creation, economic development, drug monitoring and treatment and law enforcement.
Furthermore, he said, it is essential that new investments be made in early childhood development, youth sports and recreation, and cultural and linguistic preservation and promotion, in order to build resiliency and strong identities and to reinforce the strong attachment to community and family among First Nations children.
"When all New Brunswickers work together toward this goal, we will make swift progress and become, at long last, the living example of equal opportunity that we can aspire to be," Richard said.