(October 31, 2018) – Today, the Provincial Government introduced Bill 22: An Act for Strong Families Building Stronger Communities in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, which would significantly alter First Nations child welfare care off-reserve within the province.
Although Assembly of First Nations Alberta Regional Chief Marlene Poitras thinks it is a step in the right direction, she would like to see legislation that impacts First Nation families co-developed with First Nations.
“I acknowledge the provincial government’s commitment to putting First Nations families first in a system that has consistently failed our children,” stated the Regional Chief.
Over 71% of children in care in Alberta are Indigenous.
“This startling statistic and the overrepresentation of First Nations children in care is an ongoing crisis that needs to be resolved as soon as possible. The Government of Alberta is listening to these concerns and is acting,” noted Regional Chief Poitras.
Indigenous communities currently have no formal role in court processes. Under the proposed legislation, First Nations would be automatically notified about all private guardianship applications involving children who are members or believed to be from a particular First Nation.
The new legislation would also close a legislative gap that allows private guardianship applications for children in care under the Family Law Act, without requiring a mandatory home study and cultural connection plan as stipulated in the Child and Youth Family Enhancement Act (CYFEA).
“This proposed legislation is a step in the right direction, though I would call on the provincial government to include First Nations leadership every step of the way when it comes to decision making that impacts our children,” stated Regional Chief Poitras.
“Co-development of the legislation should have been on the table in this process and I am anxious to see what subsequent phases hold for direct involvement of our Chiefs and leadership.”
Other key features of the legislation support the well-being of children by ensuring continuity of financial supports and making culture and safety central to all decision-making.
When a private guardian dies or is unable to continue in their role, children currently lose funding that helps pay for counselling, respite care, transportation and other important services. Under the new bill, those financial supports would follow the child, not be tied to the guardian.
In addition, the legislation clarifies court and caseworker criteria for making decisions in the best interest of the child. Culture is currently listed as one of 16 ‘matters to be considered.’ The new legislation creates a single, clear version of 13 interconnected considerations, with culture being a central theme.
“This is the first time First Nations will see the bill in its entirety and we will need to take the time to review all aspects of this legislation and how it could impact our rights,” concluded Chief Poitras.
“I have always said that reform of the child welfare system needs to be First Nations-led and it needs to respect First Nations jurisdiction over First Nations children.”