Alberta’s Auditor General Merwan Saher released a report on July 19, 2016 identifying inadequacies within the Department of Human Services in its delivery of child and family services to Indigenous children in Alberta.
“We identified three areas where the department can improve its performance, thereby increasing the chances for Indigenous children to experience improved results,” said Mr. Saher.
He added, “Improvements start with understanding the unique needs of Indigenous children and communities. From that point, relationships can develop that are based on respect and understanding, and sustainable change can occur.”
Saher indicated that although the department has systems in place to provide child and family services to Indigenous children and families in Alberta, these systems need to be improved. The report acknowledges the hard work being done throughout the system but concludes that too often jurisdictional and other limitations have resulted in weak processes to meet the needs of Indigenous children. Put simply, Indigenous children in care experience less favourable results than non-Indigenous children.
What needs to be done
While there are complexities surrounding the delivery of child and family services to Indigenous children, our auditors believe there is important work the department can do to make meaningful improvements. The report includes three recommendations, one for each of the key findings:
1: Enhance early support services (page 13)
The Department of Human Services should provide early support services to meet the needs of Indigenous children and families, and it should report publicly on the effectiveness of those services.
2: Ensure a child-centred approach (page 17)
The Department of Human Services should provide each Indigenous child with care appropriate to his or her needs by ensuring that all care plans meet the same standards of care the department sets for all children. The department should report publicly on its progress in achieving this result.
3: Strengthen intercultural understanding (page 24)
The Department of Human Services should provide all its staff with training on the history and culture of Indigenous peoples, working with Indigenous partners to develop the training.
Why this is important to Albertans
The continuum of care provided to the most vulnerable children and their families is vital work, and the consequences are tragic when the system fails. Long-term social costs are great. Indigenous children receiving services experience greater risk. As Alberta plans for a future of reconciliation and improved quality of life for Indigenous children, we must learn from past failures to ensure that the well-being of every Indigenous child is safeguarded and enhanced. The system must focus on the child.
The Ministers of Indigenous Relations and Human Services issued the following statements in response to today’s release of the Auditor General’s and Child and Youth Advocate’s reports on Indigenous children in care.
“Front line workers strive to help at-risk children in Indigenous communities, but it’s clear the status quo isn’t working,” stated Richard Feehan, Minister of Indigenous Relations. “We need to think differently and have real, community-driven conversations about how to close the gap. We must work towards clearer policy, more reliable funding, and a child-first approach fully consistent with Jordan’s Principle.”
Irfan Sabir, Minister of Human Services added, “Every child deserves the opportunity to thrive in a loving, caring environment and reach their full potential. The over-representation of Indigenous children and youth in care is an issue that we must address. While the number of Indigenous children and youth in care has decreased in recent years, there is more work that needs to be done.
“Our government is committed to providing culturally appropriate support to Indigenous children in care to ensure their safety and well-being. We accept the recommendations in the reports of the Auditor General and the Child and Youth Advocate and will work with their offices, as well as Indigenous communities, as we examine opportunities to implement them and improve the way we help Indigenous children and youth in this province.”
The audio stream of the conference can be found here.
A copy of the report can be found below.