Ontario Enhancing Access to Customary Care for Indigenous Children and Youth
TORONTO — The Ontario government is taking action to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous children and youth in the care of children’s aid societies. Amendments to Ontario’s Child, Youth and Family Services Act will enhance access to customary care arrangements so children and youth can remain closer to home, helping ensure they remain connected to their culture and traditions.
“Our government is committed to helping ensure Indigenous children and youth have a safe, stable and loving home that reflects their values, beliefs and traditions,” said Jane McKenna, Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues. “We have worked with Indigenous partners to bring forward legislative amendments that will help meet their specific needs while addressing the overrepresentation of Indigenous children and youth in Ontario’s child welfare system.”
The legislative amendments respond to calls from Indigenous communities for a child welfare system that better reflects the central and unique role that First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples play in the well-being of their families.
The changes will establish a legislative framework that will help improve outcomes for Indigenous children and youth by:
- Enhancing access to customary care, which helps children and youth to remain connected to their culture and traditions, reducing the need to access residential placements further away from home.
- Improving access to culturally appropriate prevention and early intervention services that embody Indigenous cultures, heritages and traditions for all First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and their families to reduce to number of children and youth who come into care.
- Implementing Indigenous “circles of supportive persons” and other holistic, wraparound, culturally appropriate supports.
- Strengthening the role of prevention-focused Indigenous service providers to increase access to culturally appropriate supports, including parenting programs, mental health supports, alternative schooling, jobs and skills training and community programs that respect Indigenous languages and spirituality.
These enhancements will build on the supports that exist within the current system, including the important culturally appropriate services offered by Indigenous children’s aid societies.
“For too long, Indigenous children and youth have been over-represented in the child welfare system—a system that up until recently did not fully recognize the importance of Indigenous culture in healing and well-being,” said Greg Rickford, Minister of Indigenous Affairs. “With this legislation, we are moving towards a more relevant and holistic system that will better support Indigenous caregivers in their important work.”
“These amendments have been years in the making and represent a significant step forward in the landscape of culture-based supports provided to Indigenous children and youth,” said Jennifer Dockstater, president of the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres. “These amendments will help us and our partners do this critical work more effectively. We look forward to on-going cooperation with government to ensure the legislation is implemented in an equitable and accountable manner in the interest of the communities we serve.”
“Within the Indigenous sector, the work ahead will require the development of regulations that foster collaboration between Indigenous child and family wellbeing agencies and Indigenous prevention-focused service providers to ensure a robust and integrated service network to support healing, wellness and prosperity for Indigenous children, families, communities and nations,” said Dr. Jeffrey Schiffer, executive director of Native Child and Family Services of Toronto.
Research shows keeping First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families connected to their communities and culture is key to their success. It also contributes to the well-being of the local community and improved overall economic outcomes.
- The legislative amendments are included in the Fewer Fees, Better Services Act.
- Although Indigenous children make up only four per cent of children under 15 in Ontario, they make up about 30 per cent of children under 15 in foster care.
- Customary care means the care and supervision of a First Nations, Inuk or Métis child by a person who is not the child’s parent, according to the custom of the child’s band or First Nations, Inuit or Métis community. It allows children and youth to remain connected to their culture and community.
- While many community-based Indigenous service providers that are not children’s aid societies already offer important prevention and early intervention services to First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, their role is not currently recognized within the Child, Youth and Family Services Act.
- Ontario is committed to reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and these proposed amendments are responsive to the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.