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Have a Heart Day

Caitlin Tolley explains the importance of reforming child welfare in Canada

Have a Heart Day is a child and youth-led reconciliation campaign that brings together caring Canadians to help ensure First Nations children have the services they need to grow up safely at home, get a good education, are healthy and are proud of who they are. The campaign was initiated by the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada because of the government’s inaction around improving child welfare. On February 14, hundreds of youth will be on the steps of Parliament Hill to call upon government leaders to “Have a Heart” for Indigenous all children.

In 2007 the Caring Society filed a human rights complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, initiated by the organization’s executive director Cindy Blackstock. The landmark ruling was released in January 2016 and the federal government has failed to take action on this matter. In fact, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that the Canadian government is racially discriminating against 163,000 First Nations children and their families by providing flawed and inequitable child welfare services under the Indigenous and Northern Affairs of Canada and the First Nations Child and Family Services Program.

Blackstock recently spoke to the Toronto Star. She said it’s been over a year since the ruling on child welfare was released and there has been no action on the part of the federal government.  

From my personal perspective, it is no coincidence that the first five TRC Calls to Action address the issue of improving the child welfare system in Canada. The TRC stressed the importance of improving the child welfare system by speaking about this issue in the beginning of the Calls to Action (see Calls to Action 1-5). How children are raised and taken care of at a young age has on impact on how they live their lives. Being disconnected from their culture or being mistreated and unloved are very negative things—and are directly related to the intergenerational trauma that continues after the residential school system was dismantled.

Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, has admitted that there are now “more children in care than at the height of residential schools. That has to stop.” 

If the federal government was truly committed to enhancing reconciliation, then it would adopt the Calls to Action about child welfare immediately.

Changing the Indian Act to improve the child welfare system is a task that requires a strong commitment on behalf of the federal government. The first task that the federal government should do is equally fund First Nations children to bridge the funding gap. The second task is to begin applying Jordan’s principle (Jordan’s principle states that no child should be denied services due to jurisdictional disputes). The third area would be to re-structure and reform the First Nations Child and Family Services Program. The fourth task would be to comply with the orders as mandated by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (in October 2007, the federal government stated that they were committed to a comprehensive reform on First Nations child welfare, but there has been no concrete action since the October 2016 announcement).

Going forward over the next year, I believe that reforming the current child welfare system in relation to the Indian Act will be the most important issue for the government to address. Otherwise, the government will continue to face pressure from Indigenous leaders and Indigenous-led advocacy organizations until progress is made on this file.

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