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Province creates Indigenous child welfare director position

BC Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee. Bill Phillips photo
BC Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee. Bill Phillips photo

VICTORIA – A new Indigenous child welfare director (ICWD) position came into effect on Thursday, March 7.

“We know Indigenous children are best cared for by Indigenous communities and when connected to community, family and culture,” said Grace Lore, Minister of Children and Family Development, in a news release. “This position has been long advocated for by First Nations leadership and Indigenous partners, and continues our work to reform the child welfare system and reduce the over-representation of Indigenous children and youth in care.”

Bill 38, the Indigenous Self-Government in Child and Family Services Amendment Act, was passed into law in November 2022. Since then, the ministry has worked to co-develop with First Nations leadership and Indigenous partners the role and responsibilities of this position, better defining the position’s scope and responsibilities in anticipation of posting the position this spring.

“There continues to be a crisis in First Nations child welfare in the province of B.C., rooted in the intersecting and devastating impacts of colonialism,” said Chief Don Tom, vice-president, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. “We are hopeful that the position of Indigenous child welfare director is one step toward increased accountability and support for First Nations kids. We look forward to the role being filled and for the new director to create a strong relationship with title holders.”

“This new position is long overdue. It will be a significant benefit for all First Nations to have an Indigenous child welfare director who is familiar with First Nations’ histories and contexts, and the range of complex issues and policies relating to First Nations child welfare,” said Cheryl Casimer, political executive, First Nations Summit. “It is our expectation that the new director will have tremendous influence in changing the colonial policies and practices of the current child welfare system, and that they will advocate for new policies, practices and approaches that respect and support the exercise of jurisdiction by First Nations.”

The ICWD will hold powers equal to the provincial director of child welfare, with both roles designated at the assistant deputy minister level.

“Efforts have been made to reduce the over-representation of First Nations children and youth in the colonial system of care, and much work will need to be done to address systemic barriers and promote culturally appropriate solutions,” said Regional Chief Terry Teegee, British Columbia Assembly of First Nations. “The new Indigenous child welfare director position is a positive step toward reconciliation and implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but more comprehensive reforms and community-driven approaches are needed to support and uphold the rights of First Nations children within the child welfare system in British Columbia.”

The ICWD role will include:

* providing advice, guidance and oversight on key Indigenous child and family services and supports;

* an intense focus on prevention services aimed to keep young Indigenous people in their home and connected to their communities, cultures and languages; and

* supporting Indigenous jurisdiction by harmonizing the rights and laws of Indigenous Peoples with provincial and federal child welfare laws, and upholding the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Quick Facts:

* There has been a 19% reduction of Indigenous children and youth in care between March 2019 and Jan. 31, 2024, and a 23% reduction of all children and youth in care in B.C during that time.

* As of Jan. 31, 2024, there were 4,835 children and youth in care, and of that number, 3,331 were Indigenous or 68% of children and youth in care.

* At the same time, there has been a 74% increase in the number of children and youth in care who are living in alternate-care arrangements, close to family, extended family, living within their communities, exposed to their cultural traditions and languages.

* First Nations in B.C. are working on a variety of agreements, including co-ordination agreements, a tripartite agreement between the Province, a Nation and the federal government, to support Nations to achieve self-determination over child and family services.

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