by Lloyd Dolha
First Nations child and family services agencies in Saskatchewan are getting almost $105 million in preventative funding geared at helping on-reserve families in crisis before children are taken away and put into foster care. Saskatchewan Social Services minister Donna Harpauer said the federal investment would mean the province can provide “a more consistent level of service to children and families whether they live on or off-reserve.”
Saskatchewan Children’s Advocate Marvin Bernstein applauded the funding as well, saying it helps to create a more equal level of services. Bernstein had been critical of what he sees as a disparity in the services that are available to children on-reserve and those off-reserve.
“If a child doesn’t need to be apprehended in particular circumstances off-reserve, that child should not be removed and separated from family and culture because that child geographically happens to be living on-reserve,” said Berstein.
Indian Affairs minister Chuck Strahl made the announcement on July 22nd in Regina. “We know that intervening early, before families reach a crisis, can result in a much better outcome for children and really, in the long run, a much better outcome for society,” he said. Saskatchewan’s 17 First Nations child and family services agencies will use the new funding over the next five years to develop more ways of supporting children in the home and protecting their welfare.
The $104.8 million announced is in addition to the approximate $450 million a year the federal government already provides for First Nations child welfare across Canada. About $55 million of that goes to Saskatchewan.
Vice-chief Guy Lonechild of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) said the additional funding would be used to look for answers other than apprehension. Lonechild said the lack of prevention funding has been an outstanding issue for First Nations agencies for many years. Three-quarters of children in care in the province are said to be First Nations, a number that Lonechild said the FSIN is determined to reduce. As of March 2007, there were 1,159 Saskatchewan First Nations children in care. “First Nations are not looking for solutions that will move children away from their family and communities, but solutions that will help support the inter-generational healing that needs desperately to take place,” said the vice-chief.
The additional funding coincides with the announcement of a historic framework for First Nations Child and Family Services (CFS) program endorsed by First Nations, INAC, and Saskatchewan which outlines a broad set of provincially comparable goals and objectives.
The enhanced prevention-focused approach supports community-based services and the child welfare system working together so families receive appropriate services in a timely manner. The new framework is considered an effective model for other provinces and First Nations agencies that may wish to develop similar arrangements.