Canadian Government to overhaul First Nation child welfare program

By Lynette Amoroa

Canada's federal Government will overhaul its First Nation child welfare program after the Human Rights Tribunal found it discriminated against aboriginal children living on reserves.

The reforms are likely to  look at New Zealand's models of whānaungatanga and customary care as a suitable model.

This week's tribunal decision is a huge victory for families like Maurina Beadle and her son Jeremy Meawasige.

Three years ago she won a major court battle against the government when they refused to pay the extra costs to help her care for Jeremy at home.

Beadle says, “Cause when you're fighting with the government you're fighting with a brick wall.”

Her legal victory didn't change the federal government’s stance on health care services for indigenous children on the reserve. But the tribunals legal binding decision does, meaning the government have to take action. 

Charlie Angus says, “It's going to cost Canadians and it's going to cost the government serious deneros and they're going to have to start to come up with it now.”

Advocate for social services, Cindy Blackstock says, “I think that's what I find the most shocking of this case. I'm a social worker. Why did we have to bring the government of Canada to court to treat First Nations kids fairly?”

The tribunal found the government's program denied services to First Nations children and did not adequately address their needs.

“First Nations children are more likely to be in child welfare care today then at the height of the residential schools by a factor of three,” says Blackstock.

After a decade of advocacy Blackstock, who is a former social worker couldn't ignore the inequality of service and funds to first national child welfare.

Blackstock says, “Another little girl, shes 9 years old and she's at the end of her life. She's one of these girls that tragically leave us too early. She was to go home and all she needed was a bed so she wouldn't go into respiratory distress, instead of providing that the govt argued with health Canada who should pay for the costs. It took 9 months and all she wanted to do was breathe.”

In a government report from 2010 it showed that First Nations child welfare were underfunded by 34%. The Minister of Indigenous Affairs made an announcement that the proposed reforms will draw from whānau models currently used here in New Zealand.

Minister of Indigenous Affairs Carolyn Bennett says, “There are many ways that we can wrap services around a family so that the child isn't taken from the family and some other family is paid to raise them. That doesn't make any sense to me.”

The federal government is looking to meet with Blackstock to begin the work on welfare reforms for First Nations and increased funding will be likely in this year’s budget.