The First Nations family advocate of Manitoba isn’t convinced a new report recommending changes to the child welfare system is going to lower apprehension rates in the province.
For the first time in 15 years the province ordered a review of the child welfare system.
The report was released this week and comes nine months after a seven-person committee was formed to review the current legislature.
Included in the report are 60 recommendations or changes to the system.
However, for right now, they are only suggestions, according to Cora Morgan, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ First Nations advocate.
“There’s no guarantee or there’s nothing that compels the province of Manitoba to take action on any of the changes that are in there,” she said.
Manitoba has the highest number of children in care among Canadian provinces. There’s just over 11,000 children in care with 90 per cent of those being Indigenous. There has been an 85 per cent increase in the number of children in care over the past decade.
Morgan says the report will do little to help fix the system.
“They’re just wasting time. At the end of the day we need to restore jurisdiction to our families,” she said. “We need to invest in prevention services and it could at a fraction of the cost of the way things are and far less damaging.”
According to the report, Manitoba’s annual child welfare budget has tripled in the past 12 year to $514 million, which works out to $46,800 per child in care.
Morgan believes the funding model should be flipped and this needs to be done with urgency.
“When you’re a five or six-year-old child that’s stuck in a shelter in some loveless environment, or children that are over the age of 12 sitting in the Manitoba Youth Centre, taking our time shouldn’t be an option,” she said.
The First Nations Family Advocate Office has worked to send 300 children home since opening in 2015.
Among the families they’ve worked with is a 23-year-old Winnipeg mother who aged out of the system and has three children still in care. She was successfully reunified with her youngest daughter this May.
APTN News cannot identify her because she still has children in care.
She was put in the foster care system at the age of 4. By the time she turned 18 she had been in 30 different placements. She said when she aged out her case worker dropped her off at a homeless shelter with $40.
There she became entrenched in a cycle of homelessness, addiction and violence.
She decided to get clean after her youngest daughter was born a year ago.
“It’s looking really good because I changed my life around,” she said. “I’m 14 months clean and my worker knows…I was a meth addict. I was an alcoholic.”
She credits the First Nations family advocate office for helping her confront her traumas.
“I’m going through my healing journey here,” she said.
She is accessing resources like therapy for the first time in her life and has plans to train to be a paramedic one day.
But she says more supports need to be available for families while they’re in the system and when they leave.
“There needs to be more help instead of just saying to that person ‘oh because you’re Indigenous you have no rights,’ especially when you’re asking authority to help you.”
In the report the committee emphasized a need for a, “community-based harm reduction framework that focuses on supporting parents in the fulfillment of their parental responsibilities.
“The act must ensure that addiction supports are provided when a parents seeks help, and that an addiction not be considered valid reason for apprehension when a parent is actively pursuing or participating in addiction services.”
On Wednesday the province wouldn’t commit to any of the recommendations. Minister of Families Heather Stefanson said the province is in the process of reviewing the recommendations.