Summit group responds to reports of BC and Canada Auditor-Generals

by Lloyd Dolha

The First Nations Summit welcomed the strong recommendation of the respective reports of John Doyle, the B.C. Auditor General and the federal Auditor General Sheila Fraser.

“Combined, these reports reveal a startling picture of how the welfare of vulnerable aboriginal children is often subjected to government whimsy. This is totally unacceptable,” said Grand Chief Ed John, leading member of the First Nations Summit’s political executive. “Both governments must move with the highest priority and extreme diligence to address the important recommendations and findings contained in these reports, which, among other things, found our children do not receive appropriate in-care services comparable to other children, nationally or provincially.”

In Doyle’s report entitled ‘Management of Aboriginal Child Protection Services, the auditor general notes that many of the child protection needs of aboriginal children and their families remain unmet. In other words, the province’s approach of devolving authority to aboriginal child protection agencies has only partly successful and needs to be reviewed.

In 2006/07 alone, over 4,600 children of the roughly one million children in the province were found to be in need of protection. While aboriginal children account for only 8 percent of the children in the province, they make up 51 percent of children in care of the province, a proportion that is higher than the national average of 30 to 40 percent.

“An aboriginal child is about six times more likely to be taken into care than a non-aboriginal child,” states the report.

While Doyle said that some progress has been made in the collaborative efforts of aboriginal organizations and provincial and federal agencies, he noted that more collaboration and a more strategic approach is needed to if aboriginal child protection goals in the province are to be met.

For example, Doyle reports that the actual cost of implementing the province’s aboriginal child protection service approach of devolving that authority to aboriginal agencies is still unknown and the majority of those agencies were not completely up to the task.

”Only eight of the 24 delegated aboriginal agencies have qualified to deliver full child protection services,” says the 47 page report. “We recommend the ministry, in consultation with First Nations and aboriginal organizations, determine whether transfer of all child protection services to aboriginal agencies is still viable, and if not, adjust the service delivery approach to support some continued ministry service.”

The report was co-signed by federal Auditor-General Sheila Fraser, whose office conducted a concurrent review of all aboriginal child services across the country. The provincial report makes ten recommendations in all.

The provincial report further criticizes the Ministry for Children and Family Development for failing to identify and monitor the needs, resources and funding that are required to protect the province’s aboriginal children from abuse and neglect.

The disproportionate number of aboriginal children in care was blamed on a “host of reasons” by Minister Tom Christensen, “some of them historic.”

Christensen said the report underlines the complexities of a child welfare system that involves the province, the federal government in the case of on-reserve children, and nearly 200 First Nation communities.

The federal report notes that the funding the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) provides to First Nations child welfare Agencies for operating child welfare services is not based on the actual cost of delivering those services. Rather it is based on a funding formula the department applies nation-wide that was developed almost 20 years ago.

The INAC formula has not been changed to reflect variations in legislation and in child welfare services from province to province, or the actual number of children in care.

“It is well understood that the federal government is responsible for contributions to the provincial system to address on-reserve aboriginal children at risk, and that the ministry wants more funding from Ottawa in order to improve outcomes for those children,” said Chief Judith Sayers, a member of the Summit’s political executive. “But, as the provincial auditor general found, the ministry has been lax in not developing a persuasive business case in which to negotiate adequate funding.”