APTN National News
The federal budget unveiled by the Justin Trudeau Liberal government Tuesday failed First Nation children and families, says Cindy Blackstock, the tireless children’s advocate behind the successful human rights complaint against Ottawa over its underfunding of child welfare services on-reserve.
On the surface, the Liberal budget commitment to invest $634.8 million for child welfare on reserves appears like a big figure, but scratch a little and a different reality emerges. The number is spread out over five years, with the largest amount appearing in the fiscal year after the next federal election which is scheduled for the fall of 2019.
“I measure change at the level of children themselves and what I am looking at is what is going to change tomorrow for First Nation children and families. In this budget, not a lot,” said Blackstock, who is president of the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society. “I am quite disappointed.”
Despite a ruling from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to end its discrimination of First Nation children through its underfunding of child welfare services on reserves, the federal Liberals will only invest $71 million of new money into the system this year. Those funds will be spent on transitioning communities in British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Yukon into the federal Indigenous Affairs department’s Enhanced Prevention Focused child welfare program system, which has already faced criticism from the Auditor General of Canada.
“Children only get one childhood and they can’t wait for a government to treat them equally,” said Blackstock.
New funding for child welfare will grow only slightly next year, rising to $99 million.
Budget table of planned investment for First Nation child welfare in 2016-2017 and 2017-2018
Click to enlarge
Blackstock said internal federal government documents from 2012 revealed the First Nation child welfare system needed an immediate $109 million shot of new money.
Funding for child welfare will only reach $126 million in 2018-2019 and then grow to $162 million in 2019-2020, which is the last year of the current federal Liberal government’s mandate.
The budget, however, projects a $177 million investment for First Nation child welfare in 2020-2021, which would be the first year of the next federal government’s mandate.
“We will have to wait for the uncertainty of the next election for major investments to be made,” said Blackstock. “A government with a new mandate has the right to be bold and courageous.”
The budget document states that the federal government plans to implement reforms to the First Nation child welfare system through consultations.
“The goal is to ensure that programming emphasizes the prevention of harmful conditions for children rather than interventions after harm has occurred, which typically involves separating children from their families and communities,” the budget document states.
Blackstock said the budget document is as clear as mud in explaining how it plans to implement these proposed reforms. She said it doesn’t come close to meeting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) calls to action, which listed reforms to the child welfare system as a top priority.
“This falls far short,” said Blackstock. “It doesn’t provide a clear pathway as to how they are going to achieve that within the confines of the (Canadian Human Rights Tribunal) order.”
The Liberal government has promised to implement all the TRC’s calls to action. The 2016 budget document makes no mention of the TRC’s 94 recommendations.