The federal government is underfunding family support on aboriginal reserves and its system makes it more likely that aboriginal children will be taken into government care, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth says.
Representative Bernard Richard issued a report Thursday that found B.C.’s 23 delegated aboriginal child welfare agencies have similar problems as the provincial Ministry of Children and Family Development: insufficient staff and high caseloads of children taken from their families.
Ottawa is legally responsible to provide on-reserve education and social services, but provides extra funding only after a children are removed from their families. The formula effectively means delegated agencies are rewarded for taking more children into care, one reason why aboriginal children are 17 times more likely to be removed from their families than non-aboriginal children.
“Federal funding does not account for the real needs of children and families living on-reserve in B.C.” Richard wrote. “Nor does operational funding provided by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada adequately cover essential capital costs such as office space, computers and vehicles.”
B.C. Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux accepted Richard’s criticism that the province has its own funding problems, with its delegated agencies not receiving the same funding as ministry services.
This year’s ministry budget includes an additional $14.4 million to bring funding for delegated agencies up to the same level as the ministry, with the same target of a maximum 20 cases per social worker, Cadieux said.
Richard said his interviews with staff at delegated aboriginal agencies reported average caseloads of 30 children.
Cadieux said the province is implementing recommendations made last year by Grand Chief Ed John, a former minister brought in to make recommendations on culturally appropriate support for aboriginal children.
B.C. is in talks with Ottawa to convince them that more on-reserve family support is needed to keep children with their families, Cadieux said.