Manitoba leaders warn of inequity in youth services
OTTAWA — A court order expanding services to Indigenous youth who are no longer in foster care has drawn praise, but Manitoba chiefs warn it could have harmful consequences.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs welcomed a recent decision by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to include youth who are aging without care in federal services. However, he argues that Ottawa must do the same for children who are not in the care of Child and Family Services.
“Whenever CAS services expand beyond what is available to First Nations children through Jordan’s Principle or other existing services/programs, we are creating a perverse incentive for people to place their children in charge,” Acting Grand Chief Eric Redhead wrote.
Jordan’s Principle is a concept ratified by Parliament in 2007 that First Nations children should receive care up front and let governments wrangle payment later.
The principle is named after Jordan River Anderson, who was born at the Winnipeg Health Sciences Center with multiple disabilities. He died there in 2005 at the age of five, after two years of wrangling between the governments of Manitoba and the federal government over who would pay to provide home care for Norway House Cree Nation.
The concept was the basis of a decade-long court case that ruled that Ottawa racially discriminates against First Nations children by providing inferior services to those non-Indigenous children get in the provincial system. These services include dental care, special education and physiotherapy.
As part of the court case, a March 24 ruling extended programs for foster wards beyond the age of 17 until they were 26.
Redhead hopes this will translate into programs for all First Nations children, not just those in foster care.
“We hope this is a step in the right direction to ensure long-term systemic change for First Nations children and families,” he wrote.
Perverse incentives for foster care have long been of concern to First Nations in Manitoba and other provinces.
Both the provincial and federal governments have reformed CFS in recent years to better fund prevention work such as parenting classes. For decades, foster care was largely funded based on the number of children agencies removed from the family home, often leaving social workers with no choice but to apprehend a child, instead of working to solve problems at home.
Last week, AMC released a lengthy report from academics on how Jordan’s Principle works in Manitoba.
The report argued that bureaucracy and colonial structures prevent the program from truly achieving equitable services. He recommended greater autonomy and better monitoring of whether children can actually access adequate services.