Nov. 17, 2022

Responce to high number of deaths of Indigenous children in child intervention services

Statement from the Indigenous, Local and Global Health (ILGH) Office and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health
Photo provided by: Miskanawah Community Services Association

Indigenous children and youth are at exceptionally high risk of child intervention services because of the ongoing effects of colonialization. According to Statistics Canada census data, less than 10 per cent of children in Canada are Indigenous, yet they represent over half of the children in foster care.

Advocates and scholars including Dr. Cindy Blackstock describe child welfare interventions as a continuation of residential schools because Indigenous children are forcibly removed from their homes, communities and their families and become institutionalized and harmed through the child welfare system. Researchers have shown that social and health outcomes for Indigenous children in care are very poor in the current system and they are at high risk for poverty, homelessness, violence and victimization.

Newly released data from the Alberta provincial government shows there were an average of 8,100 children in care each month in 2021. While 10 per cent of Alberta’s children are Indigenous, more than 70 per cent of children in care are Indigenous. Forty-nine children died while under government care in Alberta in 2021. This is the highest number ever recorded. About four-in-five of those who died were Indigenous children.

The ILGH office is committed to continuing to improve accountability to enhance Indigenous health outcomes and Indigenous health education and challenging systemic anti-Indigenous racism pervasive in all our systems. The O’Brien Institute is committed to health equity and to challenging systemic and structural barriers through evidence-based solutions to complex and persistent public health issues. Together, we believe that this is a family, community and public health crisis that needs immediate solutions.  

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) states that self-determination is essential for the health of Indigenous people worldwide. In Canada, Bill C-92: A federal Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families came into force in January, 2020, and was the first federal legislation recognizing Indigenous community jurisdiction over child and family services. The Act calls for self-governance and provides national standards for “Indigenous led and evidence-based best practices… It includes the importance of ongoing relationships for Indigenous children and should be considered in light of the cultural continuity and substantive equality principles providing child and family services relating to Indigenous children and families.”

Together, ILGH and the O’Brien Institute support Indigenous scholars and advocates who are calling on governments to de-colonize the child intervention system by formally and publicly affirming the jurisdiction of Indigenous peoples over child and family services.

We support the implementation of Bill C-92, which commits the Government of Canada to working in partnership with Indigenous peoples to reform child and family services and support dignity and well-being of Indigenous children and youth while “…achieving reconciliation with First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis through renewed nation-to-nation, government-to-government and Inuit-Crown relationships based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership…”

In addition to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action 1-5 that outline actionable steps to addressing the harms of the child welfare system, we support the recommendation made in the recently released Mandatory Review into Child Deaths October 1, 2021 – March 31, 2022, calling for “a coordinated action plan to address service gaps for young people with complex needs while longer-term initiatives are under development.” The time for action is now. The lives of children depend on it.

More on this issue

4 in 5 people who died last year while receiving child welfare in Alberta were Indigenous, CBC

Cindy Blackstock: Indigenous children are worth fighting for, Dal News

Alberta First Nation claims province refusing to cede control over child welfare, Family Lawyer AB

Ministry of Community and Social Services response to the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate: mandatory reviews into child deaths, Open Alberta