Four Burning Questions for Dr. Cindy Blackstock, First Nations and child welfare advocate
On Oct. 17, Dr. Cindy Blackstock will deliver the inaugural Kagedan Lecture on Social Work and Human Rights. She will speak on Growing up at home: real strategies to ensuring the safety of Aboriginal children, her first-hand account of the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society human rights complaint alleging that the Federal Government’s provision of child and family services to First Nations was discriminatory. The case engages fundamental social work principles of equity, respect for culture, democracy, freedom of speech and justice. First launched in 2007, in was not until this year that the Federal Court of Appeal cleared the way for the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to hear evidence on the discrimination claim.
A member of the Gitksan Nation, Blackstock has worked in the field of child and family services for over 20 years. The author of over 60 publications, her key interests include exploring, and addressing, the causes of disadvantage for Aboriginal children and families by promoting equitable and culturally based interventions. An associate professor at the University of Alberta, she is currently acting as an Expert Advisor to UNICEF on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and holds fellowships with the Atkinson Foundation, the Ashoka Foundation, and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation. Her awards include the Atkinson Charitable Foundation’s Economic Justice fellowship (2009), National Aboriginal Achievement Awards (2011), Trudeau Mentorship (2012). Visit her website. She holds fellowships with the Ashoka Foundation and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and has received numerous awards and distinctions, including a National Aboriginal Achievement Award.
Growing up at home: real strategies to ensuring the safety of Aboriginal children; Oct. 17, 5:30 p.m.; the Wendy Patrick Room, Wilson Hall 1st Floor, 3506 University Street . For more information, click here.
What evidence is there that the Federal Government’s provision of First Nations children is inequitable?
The Auditor General of Canada (2008, 2011) confirmed that the Federal Government’s provision of child welfare services on reserves was not comparable to that provided off reserve. These findings echo a plethora of other reports commissioned by the Government of Canada (McDonald & Ladd, 2000; Loxley et al., 2005), as well as findings of the Public Accounts Committee (2009) and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003, 2012).
How do these inequalities occur and what are their impacts?
First Nations child and family service agencies (FNCFSA) began developing in the 1970′s in order to stem the mass removals of First Nations children by provincial and territorial child welfare providers. The federal government required First Nations to assume provincial/territorial child welfare laws in order to get any funding but, as the Auditor General and others have noted, the federal government does not provide comparable levels of funding and in most cases the provinces do not top it up. This results in a two-tiered child welfare system where First Nations children and families receive less even though they have higher child welfare needs related to residential schools, poverty, inadequate housing and substance misuse. One of the major impacts is the growing number of First Nations children being placed in foster care.
Are the inequalities only in child welfare and what are the solutions?
No, the same problem echoes across other programs such as elementary and secondary education, children’s health care, water, sanitation, and housing. The multiplier effect of the inequality creates significant hardship for First Nations families. But this is a solvable problem. The federal government worked with First Nations on two key studies that set out recommendations for improvements (McDonald & Ladd, 2000; Loxley et al., 2005). Instead of implementing these jointly developed solutions, the federal government imposed its “enhanced prevention based approach” and continues to advocate its implementation despite the Auditor General finding it to be flawed and inequitable in 2008 and 2011. Equally concerning is the glacial pace of reform – the federal government continues to fund First Nations child and family services in British Columbia, Newfoundland/Labrador, the Yukon and New Brunswick on the basis of an archaic formula known as Directive 20-1 which was developed 22 years ago. The Federal Government has made public statements that they are going to implement the enhanced approach in these remaining regions but the date keeps slipping into the future and there is no firm commitment by the federal government to fix the enhanced formula and take decisive action to end the inequalities for First Nations children.
How long have the inequalities for First Nations children existed?
As documented in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996) and by historian John Milloy (1999), Government documents provide convincing evidence that residential schools were dramatically under-funded. This inadequate funding has been linked to the deaths of First Nations children at the schools from preventable causes of disease, neglect (malnourishment), servitude (children having to grow food for the schools), and maltreatment (untrained and improperly supervised staff). In fact, I cannot recall a period in Canadian history where First Nations children received public services at the same benefit level as other Canadian children.