Good afternoon committee members, witnesses and guests.
This is the 40th meeting of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
Today, we will be considering first nations child and family services.
This afternoon we are welcoming three important witnesses to our continuing study on child and family services. We will take them in the order that they appear on the agenda today. I'll introduce each one individually as we go.
I'm sure you have all done this before.
I think we have our connection with our witness on video conference.
Mr. Doyle, can you hear us there?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good afternoon to the members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
It is an honour to speak to this committee on the traditional ancestral homelands of the Algonquin people. I am a Mi'kmaq woman who has lived off reserve my whole life. I am from Geary, New Brunswick. I am the former president and chief of the New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council and I am also the national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, as a national aboriginal organization, represents the interest of off-reserve non-status and status Indians, and Métis aboriginal peoples living in urban, rural, remote, and isolated areas throughout Canada.
We are also the national voice for the constituency and their affiliate organizations making up the congress family of advocates for the off-reserve aboriginal peoples of Canada.
Through reviewing the chapter of the Auditor General's report focused on the first nation child and family services program offered through the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, which I will refer to as INAC for the remainder of this presentation, I have several concerns about the program and its overall effectiveness.
The Auditor General's report indicates that the number of children who live on reserve and who are ending up in care is continually increasing.
The report indicates that 51% of children in care in British Columbia are aboriginal. This is shocking, due to the fact that only 8% of British Columbia's total population is aboriginal.
The recommendation that INAC define the meaning of “culturally appropriate services” is one that the congress strongly stands behind. It's important to the aboriginal peoples of Canada to be connected with our cultures, traditions, histories, customs, and languages. The congress feels it's imperative that these culturally appropriate services be outlined.
Our children are being taken into care at alarming rates. The Auditor General mentions that the cultural services the aboriginal peoples need are required to be detailed so aboriginal peoples can know and see proof that our children are being kept close to their heritage as aboriginal peoples.
I would like the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs to explain what is meant by the term “comparable services” when referring to the comment that the first nation child and family services program be comparable to services offered off-reserve through provincial ministries. The fact that INAC has no agreement on child welfare services with B.C., Manitoba, and Quebec is shocking. INAC should have the same agreement nationwide with each province. There must be consistency among the provinces and the requirements set out by INAC to ensure that aboriginal children and youth are receiving the best care available to them in each province.
Once again, it appears the primary perspective on improving the first nation child and family services program is fiscal management and accountability rather than outcomes in relation to improvement of the health and safety of aboriginal children living on reserve.
There is poor coordination between federal programs related to first nation child and family services. Given that the primary basis of this poor coordination between departmental programs appears to have been based on concerns about financial commitments, federal departments have now adopted Jordan's Principle as the basis for decision-making regarding jurisdictional and departmental battles that involve the health and safety of aboriginal children living on reserve. Jordan's Principle should be used as the basis of all programs dealing with the health and safety of all the aboriginal children of Canada.
The Auditor General's report also notes that INAC's funding formula is outdated, and that INAC has known this for several years. This has resulted in cases of reserves receiving duplicate funding for children in care from both INAC and the federal government's Children's Special Allowance Act with no recovery of costs required by INAC.
As of 2008, the Treasury Board required INAC to deduct the Children's Special Allowance Act payments from funds they directed to aboriginal agencies and/or reserves. There is very little information related to actual services being funded, the volume of activities carried out by on-reserve aboriginal agencies, the number of assessments undertaken, or reasons why children were placed in care to begin with.
Each of these indicators previously mentioned measured the outcome and value of the program, not just the fiscal management of the program, and did not address the core issue of why children are being placed in care.
Have the performance information requirements been established by INAC in conjunction with on-reserve aboriginal agencies? If so, are these requirements available to the public?
As to the health and safety of aboriginal children in general, it appears from this report, what is included and what is omitted, that INAC in particular and the Government of Canada in general place a greater priority on demonstrating an extreme sensitivity to aboriginal culture and self-government issues than they do to ensuring the health and safety of aboriginal children, whether they be on or off reserve.
As you may have noted throughout my presentation, I've spoken very little of the plight of the off-reserve aboriginal children. There are little or no statistics on this forgotten group of aboriginal children who continue to fall through the cracks of society in Canada. This is due to the fact that this group of aboriginal children is administered to by provincial services, which have little or no contact with provincial and national aboriginal organizations such as CAP and its affiliates. Once more, the children and young aboriginal people living off reserve are Canada's forgotten aboriginal peoples.
If aboriginal children are left to live in unsafe housing, in unhealthy environments with insecure or abusive family conditions, whether on or off reserve, then the future of the aboriginal peoples, aboriginal communities, and aboriginal cultures in our country will be placed in jeopardy.
All children living in Canada must come first. This is Canada's most important and valuable resource, and it's being squandered away in the aboriginal communities. The children and youth of Canada are our future. They are going to lead us tomorrow.
Thank you. Merci.We lalioq.
We thank you for this opportunity to discuss chapter 4 of our May 2008 report on the first nations child and family services program. I should note that the audit work for this chapter was substantially completed in November 2007.
Joining me at the table are assistant auditors general Ronnie Campbell and Jerome Berthelette, both of whom were responsible for our audit.
The audit examined how Indian and Northern Affairs Canada manages its first nations child and family services program. John Doyle, the Auditor General of British Columbia, conducted a concurrent audit covering child welfare services for aboriginal people in B.C., and we prepared a joint foreword to our reports.
Some of the most vulnerable children in Canada are first nations children. At the end of March 2007, there were about 8,300 on-reserve children in care. This represents more than 5% of all children living on reserves, and this percentage is almost eight times higher than the percentage of children living off reserves who are in care.
A 2003 study found that the higher incidence of child neglect occurring on reserves is largely attributable to poverty, inadequate housing, and substance misuse by caregivers. This indicates that the resulting problems experienced by children in care cannot be resolved solely by child welfare services.
In 2007, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada spent $450 million on this program, $270 million on direct support for first nations children in care, and another $180 million on the operations and administration of child welfare services provided to first nations.
In 1990, the federal government adopted a policy requiring that child welfare services provided to first nations children on reserves meet provincial standards, be reasonably comparable with services for children off reserves, and be culturally appropriate. Over the years, this policy has been confirmed through several government and Treasury Board decisions.
However, we found that the department had not defined the meaning of “reasonably comparable” and “culturally appropriate”. We also found that the department had not analyzed and compared the child welfare services available on reserves with those in neighbouring communities off reserve.
Department officials and staff from first nations agencies told us that the child welfare services in first nations communities are not comparable with off-reserve services. Furthermore, we found the department had not sufficiently taken into account provincial standards and other policy requirements when it established levels of funding for first nations agencies to operate child welfare services on reserve.
At the time of our audit, the funding formula dated from 1988 and had not been significantly changed since then to reflect variations in provincial legislations and the evolution of child welfare services. In addition, the funding formula assumed that all first nations agencies have the same percentage of children in care--that was 6%--and that the children all have similar needs. This assumption led to funding inequities, because the percentage of children in care, as well as their needs, vary widely among first nations.
Mr. Chair, in 2007, through the cooperation of federal, provincial, and first nations parties, the funding formula was revised in Alberta. This revision links the funding provided to first nation agencies in Alberta to provincial legislation. Although the new formula does not address the inequities of the existing formula, when fully implemented it will provide 74% more funds for the agencies' operations and prevention services. As you may be aware, the federal government has signed similar agreements with five other provinces since then.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada agreed with the recommendations in our audit report and made several commitments in its response. It also prepared an action plan.
Following the tabling of our audit report, your committee, as well as the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Issues and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts all held hearings on this audit. The public accounts committee also issued its own report on this issue.
Your committee may wish to note that we are currently working on a follow-up audit of some of the key issues from seven previous chapters including this one on child and family services.
This audit report will be tabled next spring. We would welcome a request to appear before your committee in the spring to present our audit findings on this issue and other issues.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions.
Good afternoon, members.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to present on our report entitled Management of Aboriginal Child Protection Services, which we published in May 2008. I have with me today Morris Sydor, Assistant Auditor General, who is responsible for the work in this report.
The report on managing aboriginal child protection services was published in May 2008. At the time we carried out our audit, aboriginal children accounted for only 8% of the one million children in B.C., but they made up 51% of the children in the province's care. This is considerably higher than the national average of 30% to 40%.
Protection is one part of the child welfare services managed by the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which I'll refer to as “the ministry” from now on.
We focused our audit on the high-risk, high-impact component of child welfare--that is, protection for children who may be at risk of harm. Like most jurisdictions, British Columbia is facing growing pressures to address inequities in the lives of aboriginal children. In 2007 the government stated a goal to ensure that “children and youth in B.C. have their developmental needs met and are supported by healthy families and inclusive communities”.
As part of accomplishing this, the government has turned its attention to the aboriginal children who make up more than half of those it serves. I expected to find aboriginal child protection services that were appropriately designed, resourced, managed, and reported on to meet the goals set for it. I found the ministry had attempted to work collaboratively with aboriginal organizations and the federal government to deliver effective, culturally appropriate, and equitably accessible child protection services, mainly through aboriginal agencies to aboriginal children and their families.
However, several challenges, some anticipated and some not, have slowed the transferring of service delivery responsibilities to aboriginal agencies. As a result, many of the child protection needs of aboriginal children and their families continue to remain unmet.
This audit was carried out at the same time as the Auditor General of Canada's similar audit of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada's management of its responsibilities for child protection in B.C. and several other provinces.
Specific to the issue of funding, the audit found that the ministry had not identified the needs and resources required for aboriginal child protection services. It lacked sufficient data on the level of child protection services needed by aboriginal children and their families. It had not been able to determine the staff resources required by aboriginal children and their families.
For these reasons, the ministry was unable to determine the cost of delivering culturally appropriate child welfare services. Nor was it able to develop a persuasive business case to negotiate for both provincial and federal funding. Thus, the ministry was facing funding gaps within these critical labour- and resource-intensive services.
We also identified a shortage of aboriginal social workers, aboriginal service providers, and supports for both the ministry and the delegated aboriginal agency programs.
For each of these findings, we issued a recommendation to the ministry. As part of our follow-up process, we have systematically asked for updates from the ministry on its progress in implementing the ten recommendations contained in our report. We have conducted three follow-ups to date.
As of their latest update, which we published last September, the ministry has addressed all these recommendations, including the four relating to identifying needs and resources for aboriginal child protection services. As a note of caution, I am repeating what the ministry has told us. We have not yet gone in and done detailed follow-up work, which is still an option. We may actually go and do that.
For recommendation six, which deals directly with creating a business case for funding, the ministry notes that they have submitted their framework to the federal government, and that this was done in September 2008. They have yet to receive a formal response.
May I thank you again for your invitation to appear. I will be happy to take your questions regarding this audit and our follow-up work.
Good afternoon to each of you, and thank you for being here.
This is no doubt a very important issue. I mean, it's hard to find the right words to express it, in the sense that it's 5%...a full eight times more than the general Canadian population, which is, I believe, under 8%; it's not even a per cent.
It seems that we're taking...and I don't know about “we”. Maybe it's the government or maybe successive governments. Who the hell knows? But it seems that we have a crisis situation that is not being addressed in a crisis management way or methodology.
I just want to ask a couple of questions, and I'll start with you, Ms. Fraser. In your remarks, on page three, you said, “Although the new formula does not address the inequities of the existing formula....” Could you expand on that particular statement?
We had the department in front of us a couple of weeks ago, and they have put a lot of emphasis on a new funding formula and a tripartite arrangement, almost using the Alberta model. They're taking this now across the country. If the Alberta model doesn't work, or if it has significant challenges, then we're only importing that problem across the country, without fully understanding what's happening in Alberta.
All the department has told us to date is that there are some preliminary results that point to some improvement. That's all they said. They never quantified it. There was no qualification of that particular statement. Maybe we didn't ask enough of the appropriate questions in order to get to the crux of it.
Can you explain that particular statement to me and expand on that somewhat? I think the new formula you're talking about is the one they're using in Alberta.
Then to the Auditor General in B.C., with your findings and this new approach by the federal government, what is the relationship between the federal government and the authorities in B.C. about moving to this new formula? What kind of approach are they taking? Did you find much collaboration amongst the different authorities, both federally and provincially and first nations-wise?
As I noted in my opening remarks, one of the issues we found with the old funding formula was that it assumed that a certain percentage of children would need care, and that was applied across all first nations. With the new funding formula, that is still the same. There's a fixed percentage, if you will, that is given.
So it's not based on the needs of particular communities. Some communities have many more children in need than the 6%, and some have fewer. We would have expected, I think, that a new funding formula would have taken into account the actual needs of the community, but it's still based on a fixed percentage across the board.
Yes, the funding focus is on two areas. One is the range of services that are made available to the people. The new formula is to enrich and expand that range of services. But the funding of the first nations agencies, that hasn't changed, that part of the formula—and that's the funds they need for salaries, benefits, operations, training, and development.
As we found in the audit, they find it very difficult to compete for salaries for social workers and the like, so they can't keep experienced people on, and those are the kind of people who they need to do these kinds of jobs.
Thank you for the question.
We have a detailed follow-up process within the province. Some 12 months after every report is published we go back to the entity concerned and we ask about their progress in dealing with all the recommendations that were made. Then we continue doing it every six months until such time as I determine that we've received enough information or that the recommendations have been dealt with appropriately.
We've had three follow-ups--the first one at the 12-month mark, and then every six months thereafter. We're now in a situation where the ministry has said to us that all the recommendations have been dealt with, although, as I mentioned earlier on, in respect to recommendation six, although they have presented information to the federal government, they have not yet received a formal response.
It's now my option as to whether or not I go in and do more detailed work in regard to the work that they've completed.
I would now like to ask a question of Ms. Fraser or Ms. Lavallée.
I've been listening, I've been reading, and I've been analyzing the situation. Perhaps even Mr. Doyle could answer this question but I get the impression that it's always long to implement things, despite tripartite agreements signed between the federal government, the provinces and quite often aboriginal communities. The process strikes me as being cumbersome and not particularly quick.
I was shocked to see that 51% of the children taken into custody by the youth protection services in British Columbia are aboriginal children. Elsewhere in Canada, those children represent somewhere between 25% and 30%, and almost 50% Canada-wide, despite these tripartite agreements.
Is the solution for the government to invest more money? And yet hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested without any tangible improvement of the situation.
Ms. Fraser, I read your report, and don't worry, in April we will think of you and have you back to see us. Is that part of your current audit, the follow-up to the 2008 report?
I want to thank our witnesses. I have a bad cold, so you'll have to forgive me.
Mr. Doyle, I represent the riding of Nanaimo--Cowichan on Vancouver Island, so I'm very familiar with B.C. I'm going to make a comment before I ask you a question.
On November 29 the representative for children and youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, issued a news release that said, “B.C. children's watchdog slams government”. And although this isn't specific to first nations, the release said:
||B.C.'s children's watchdog has issued another scathing report on the province's child welfare system and its progress reforming its operations....Representative for Children and Youth's Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond says the government has only fully implemented less than half the recommendations in the 2006 landmark report on the child welfare system by retired judge Ted Hughes.
||Turpel-Lafond says she is deeply disappointed with the government's progress and is particularly critical of what she sees as a lack of accountability and oversight in the child welfare system.
So despite the government's self-assurances that they've looked at your recommendations, I would be somewhat suspicious that they're actually being fully implemented.
I have one more comment before I ask you a question. A report was issued on July 23, 2010, by the Canadian Council of Provincial Child and Youth Advocates. In that report they indicated things we already know about aboriginal children being disproportionately represented, and as well:
||In British Columbia, Aboriginal children are six times more likely to be taken in care than non-Aboriginal Children, and as of March 2010, represent 54% of the province’s In-care child population.
So not only is the child advocate saying that the child welfare system in B.C. is in dismal shape, but in fact the numbers of aboriginal children in care have increased since your report.
In that context, and given your statement that the government is saying it's moving on your ten recommendations, in fact at this point there has been no independent assessment of whether that's accurate.
Is that true?
I don't normally comment on work that I'm undertaking or may undertake. However, I do respond in a similar way to all such requests for information--that is, I think it is time to go and have a look at this area again. Whether that's a follow-up of what we've done previously or additional work, I'm not sure at this stage; I need to fit that into the work plan of the office.
I'm not just forgetting about it. I am actually still considering what needs to be done and to monitor what is happening.
The report that you refer to from the representative, and the relationship that she has with the ministry, is obviously something you'd appreciate that I don't want to comment about. It is a fact at the moment that Mr. Hughes is currently working on talking to both sides of that to see exactly what the issues are and how they can be dealt with.
It is true that the representative has published some very insightful and direct reports in regard to children's safety within the province.
I won't comment on the difficult situation that the representative often finds herself in, but I appreciate your comments on this.
This next question is to both Mr. Doyle and Ms. Fraser. It's to do with comparable services.
Again, I'm referring to the report of June 23, 2010, by the Canadian Council of Provincial Child and Youth Advocates. In that report, there are a number of key indicators and gaps, but I want to talk about poverty just for one moment.
They indicate—and this is of no surprise to any of us, but I just want it on record--the following:
||Aboriginal children are disproportionately living in poverty. Incidence of severe economic hardship is dramatically higher for Aboriginal children and their families. Information collected during the 2006 Census of Population reported by Statistics Canada revealed the following:
||Nearly half (49%) of off-reserve First Nations children under the age of 6 were in low-income families, compared to 18% of non-Aboriginal children;
||57% of Off-reserve First Nations children living in large cities also lived in low income families....
They go on in this to say that these numbers are very similar for on-reserve children.
My question is around comparable services. I know that both of you have talked about comparable services. Given the fact that first nations children in significant numbers of cases often start off significantly less well off than their counterparts, when we're talking about comparable services, have you made any recommendations around that kind of context?
I know, Ms. Fraser, you've talked about comparable services, and we know that a lot of work hasn't been done around that, but could you comment on that? Just saying that you each get x number of dollars per capita for children doesn't take into account the starting place.
Could you comment on that, Ms. Fraser, and then Mr. Doyle?
Well, absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, I think this is one of the main issues in this whole program: the department has not analyzed and compared the child welfare services on reserve with those off reserve. And so you have to question, how can they establish funding levels if they haven't determined the levels and the types of services that should be provided, and the funding that would be associated with that?
One of the problems we noted with the old funding formula—it is in existence in certain jurisdictions of the country—is that preventative services weren't being funded, and yet many of the provinces had moved to that, to preventative services, many years ago.
So I think the department has a responsibility, in my mind, to define what is “comparable services”, and then what is the level of funding associated with that, rather than the way it's being done now.
I want to welcome all of our witnesses, and those on video conference as well. It's nice to have you here.
I take child and family services issues pretty much to heart. I spent four and a half years in the child abuse unit and worked very closely with social workers and child and family services workers to protect the interests of mainly our aboriginal children. So I'm glad to be talking about this issue here in our committee; however, we never seem to get to the root causes. That's unfortunate, but we have to work together—governments, aboriginal organizations, and aboriginal people of course—to try to resolve that.
I want to touch on a couple of things that have already been said. In point ten of her statement, Ms. Fraser mentions—and I'm speaking, Mr. Chair, to the CAP president—a new formula that is going to be used. Her paragraph states that five other provinces are now on board with this new enhanced prevention-focused approach.
I make note, Ms. Lavallée, that you thought—and I may have heard it wrong—that Quebec and Manitoba didn't have any kind of agreements with the Government of Canada on CFS matters, but in fact they are two of the five provinces that have joined.
Did you know that Quebec and Manitoba...? I was at the Manitoba announcement, at which $177 million was dedicated. As I say, I may have misunderstood you, but I wanted to make sure that you did know that Quebec and Manitoba do have the enhanced prevention-focused approach agreement in place and are moving forward with it. By 2013 we expect to have all provinces and territories on board.
Did you know that?
We do get the basic numbers, but if we want to do comparable services.... It's not comparable funding. It's not just money. It's what are they providing? And they are not willing, at this point, to give that.
So we're going to continue to try to reach a definition. As I say, I think it's a good recommendation, but I did want to bring up the fact that it has been difficult to get to that point.
While we're talking about this new approach, can you tell me what you think about the new approach? Do you think that because prevention services are included...? I've heard you with regard to the funding, although in your statement you acknowledge that 74% more funds will be going to Alberta, given the new approach. I would think that's a good thing, is it not?
Thank you all for being here.
I am sitting here listening to all of you, and listening to the extent of the problems and the issues, and struck by the lack of urgency on the part of governments to address them. A year in the life of a five-year-old or a six-year-old or a seven-year-old is a lot of time. A lot can happen during that period. As I say, listening to the lack of urgency in addressing these issues is really quite stunning, actually.
Ms. Fraser, your audit showed that first nations child and family services expenditures were growing faster than the dollars allocated. As a result, funding was reallocated from housing, from infrastructure, perhaps from education--all of which have a profound impact on the lives of these children. In your report you said that this is not sustainable.
Were these relocation decisions made in the context of a larger framework, of a larger plan, or were they done as an ad hoc, stopgap measure?
You indicated your finding, in point 4.73, that the approach is “unsustainable”.
I'd like you to comment on that, please.
I'd like to thank the witnesses for coming in, and the ones from B.C. for making the time to be here in this committee meeting.
I grew up in B.C., and being first nations myself, I got to see a lot of foster children coming through my parents' door. I saw the cycle that aboriginal people have to go through.
Later on in life, when I joined the police force, the RCMP, and was stationed in first nations communities, I saw the cycle repeated over and over again. I saw children having children. It was an ongoing cycle.
My foster brother still lives in British Columbia. He has become pretty much a foster parent, just from my parents' teachings, in taking children into the home and giving them hopefully a better life.
Now, we're talking about the province of British Columbia here, and I'm very interested in the province. I'm wondering what type of successes you have had there with regard to aboriginal child welfare.
Thank you for the question.
I'll read you one of the recommendations we made, recommendation ten:
||We recommend the ministry provide information to the Legislative Assembly and the public on the costs, successes and challenges of the Aboriginal child welfare program, consistent with the B.C. Reporting Principles.
They have responded to us that they're going to continue to report to the standing committee for children and youth on “Strong, Safe, and Supported”, and also make presentations to the public accounts committee. More than a year ago they updated their operational plan, which shows what they're going to do.
We made the recommendation because we felt they weren't providing enough information to adequately assess their performance over time.
Good afternoon, ladies. Good afternoon, Mr. Doyle.
I made a tour of Canada, I went to Vancouver. Within the framework of the work of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, we met several members of first nations communities regarding the review of small craft harbours. I realized that these young people had the opportunity of doing other things in their village apart from committing misdeeds.
We also went to Yukon, to the Northwest Territories, to Nunavut and to Nunavik. The difference from one place to the other is unbelievable. This is the reason why I wonder how the federal government, a central government, could go about defining the standards that would suit the needs of each province. In fact, these are general standards that apply to all provinces as a whole.
My question is for Ms. Fraser, for Ms. Lavallée or for Mr. Doyle. Do you believe that the federal government will succeed some day in setting standards that will be appropriate for each province, given the fact that the provinces are already having difficulties in setting standards for each of their regions?
Let me answer you first. Services for children are first of all a provincial mandate. The federal government funds services for children living on reserve.
In my opinion, it should take into account the standards established by each province and make sure that the services offered to children on reserve are comparable, which means that they receive the same services, whether they live on reserve or off reserve.
I think that some progress has been made regarding the extent of services that it is ready to fund. However, we can suspect that the agencies are still having difficulties with paying wages and remaining competitive, especially in small isolated communities where the costs are obviously much higher.
I do not believe that the federal government is responsible for setting the standards, but it must define the principle of comparability and make sure that it has properly evaluated the associated costs and that the funding is adequate.
I believe there certainly has to be a minimum standard set right across Canada for all children, regardless of whether they're aboriginal or not aboriginal. There has to be a minimum standard. But then the standards can be built on by each provincial government to suit the geographic area and the unique culture of that province.
One of the biggest complaints I've heard from aboriginal social workers is that, again, as the Auditor General has stated, they have the same criteria or qualifications but are grossly underpaid and are not able to keep their credentials up to date, and so on. I believe this could be resolved quite simply. I know that in New Brunswick, where I come from, they did a project in conjunction with the University of New Brunswick, where there was an aboriginal social workers program. They put them through in two years instead of the normal four. Most of the aboriginal social workers in the province who were servicing the reserves were, in fact, paid by the provincial government. Thus, any training provided by the provincial government was offered to them at no cost.
So there are ways to do this to ensure that there are comparable services for aboriginal children.
I have a couple of questions, and I'd like to start with Ms. Fraser once again, if that's okay.
On page 16 of your May 2008 audit, it says that there were “fundamental differences between the views of INAC and Health Canada on responsibility for funding Non-Insured Health Benefits for First Nations children who are placed in care”.
Do you know whether any work has been done between INAC and Health Canada to address these differences?
There are rumours running around the communities right now that there's a capital freeze in place until 2016. The department has said that's not the case, but when we hear numbers like that, even if there's not a capital freeze in place, there's still less money going into infrastructure.
I just want to come back to comparability for a second. There was a national policy review in 2000, which estimated federal child welfare funding was 22% below provincial funding levels. And then there was the Wen:de report in 2005 that found a minimum of $109 million per year in additional funding was needed to account for the shortfall. INAC actually participated in those two joint policy reviews, so there was some work done on comparability.
Then, back on March 19, 2009, the deputy minister wrote to the chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts in response to a question around comparability, and in that response acknowledged that funding varies from province to province and so on, but went on to say that with the move to an enhanced prevention-focused approach, INAC has been working with participating provinces and first nations to develop child and family service models that provide comparable INAC standards across the provinces.
So it seems that despite what the department told us last week, in fact the deputy minister, in this letter, has indicated that there was work being done around the standards.
Ms. Fraser, in your report in section 4.49, you indicate that where provinces deliver their service, “in these provinces, INAC reimburses all or an agreed-on share of their operating and administrative costs of delivering child welfare services directly to First Nations and of the costs of children placed in care”. So it seems that in some cases there's an agreement that they'll pay the provincial rates.
Given that there has been work done, by the department's own admission—the department participated in a joint review process where there was some comparability done—can you suggest some next steps that should be taken, in terms of the comparability? It seems to be the crux of the matter in terms of delivering adequate services.
]...you could start right there.
And I would presume, when they did the agreements with Alberta and the other provinces, that there must have been some discussion around the kinds of services, because they expanded it, then, to the preventative services, which hadn't been in the funding formula before.
So I think it's just, you know, getting on with it.
Thank you for the question.
It will probably mean some fundamental challenges in regard to the delivery of services to children. When the different agencies were assessed, we assessed them in terms of their status and capability--a maturity model, if you like--on what they could deliver and how they could deliver that.
Now, some have progressed since then, and there has been a lot of recruitment of aboriginal staff within both the ministry itself and the different agencies. We haven't gone back to assess their capability at the moment. I think only the ministry would be able to provide us with an assessment on that.
My take on what the ministry has said to me is that they wouldn't be handing over responsibilities unless they were satisfied that the work could be done appropriately.
I've been listening very carefully, and going from the testimony we heard from officials to some of the testimony we're hearing now, it seems like a whole different picture is being painted about child and family services.
I hear difficulty around what is “culturally appropriate”. For three years we haven't arrived at a definition of “comparable services”. I was shocked to hear as well that the provinces won't share information on what types of services they provide, even though they send the bill up and the federal government sends a cheque down. That doesn't seem to counter very well, seeing that they're ultimately responsible for the delivery of child and family services.
I hear about a funding formula where the 6%, the number of children who are in care or are affected, is still a principle.
I hear that we're robbing Peter to pay Paul when it comes to the reallocation of resources within INAC. The case was used by my colleague around housing, but if they're taking money from education and putting it into child and family services, this cannot work. This approach just cannot work.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I hear in B.C. what sounds like some jurisdictional issues with the matter of dollars that are at play. That almost goes back to Jordan's Principle, when people were fighting over who the hell was going to pay the bill for a sick child.
So I think as a committee we're really going to have to wrestle and ask if this is the true picture. If this is the true picture we've got to see a hell of a lot more movement than what we've seen in the last three years.
But I also have a question. What about those first nations, Métis, Inuit kids who are...? Do we have any data on first nations off-reserve children, Inuit children, Métis children who are in the provincial systems, or in some kind of a system? How are they being treated? What kind of care are they getting?
I know we're concentrating on one group, but there's a whole number of other aboriginal children out there.
National Chief Lavallée, do we have any data on that whatsoever, either in B.C. or from, let's say, a national perspective?
Thank you, Mr. Russell.
I'm going to take one of the slots for the government.
It occurs to me that at issue here is the question of funding. We've heard from witnesses that the focus of this—from the standpoint of what this committee considers, which is the Government of Canada and its role through the department—is principally with funding. What's at issue here is whether the funding is sufficient, and in comparable terms to what is required at the provincial level because it is essentially the provincial and aboriginal agencies that actually deliver the programs and services that support families in their communities.
We received some information, and I believe this was from the department in July 2010. They essentially told us that over a ten-year period, the funding has in fact doubled in that time. They do cite some reasons around the necessity, the extra costs of maintenance and care, special needs families, and so on. There were some legitimate reasons there, but over that ten-year period the number of children in care did not decline, despite a complete doubling of the dollars going to that.
As I sit and listen to the testimony, I'm thinking that clearly it's not just about money here. I wonder if I could direct a question to each of the auditors general. Could you comment on anything you came across in your investigations that would suggest that this direction—taken up by the Province of Alberta since 2007—to direct more of that funding into the preventative side to, in fact, get kids out of care and get them streamed into something else will alleviate that cost and frankly bring a better outcome for the kids? This is really what we're after here. Is there anything you came across that would indicate that direction was correct?
Ms. Fraser, and then Mr. Doyle.
At the time we did the audit, Chair, this agreement with Alberta was very recent. It was just beginning--it would only be fully implemented, actually, this year--so at that point it was very difficult to have any kind of information about the results of it.
I think most people could understand, though, that the fact that preventative services had not been funded previously could certainly be one of the factors why so many children were taken into care, because that was the only way to get them services. In many of these problems, as you say--I mean, funding isn't the ultimate solution to all of this--it really is working with the whole family, working with the community. Obviously protecting a child is crucial in this, but in the longer term it involves those preventative kinds of services.
One would hope that by providing these services now—services that were not funded previously—we will see a decline in the number of children being taken into care, and hopefully an improvement in these communities over time as social workers are working with them.
So I think we should be hopeful in that respect, but we still have to remember that there are many provinces still on the old funding formula. So they are not being funded for those services. It's going to take quite a long time, I think, to see concrete results.
I want to take a moment, Ms. Fraser, because after we spoke very briefly....
Making things public is very different from getting information that is not allowed to be released. I want to make sure that the committee understands, when we're talking about the provinces and what they supply as far as information goes, that there is information that we have to get permission from the provinces to make public.
I want to ease the minds of some of the committee members who ran with that statement...that INAC does get a lot of information, but we must negotiate with the provinces to make sure that some of that information can be made public. At times, both sides of the negotiations aren't always in agreement as to what can and what cannot be made public. I just want to put that on the record.
With regard to the Alberta experience, I'd like to ask Ms. Lavallée a question. The early indicators are that the Alberta experience is producing outcomes showing that the numbers of children in care are going down; that more families are accessing the enhancement programs that exist; and that there has been a rise in permanent placements for children. That is what the early indications are telling us.
Tell me what you think of that.
You have to address the whole family. We're talking of intergenerational dysfunctionality, to put it bluntly. These are issues that are being dealt with through the truth and reconciliation forum, too, that's ongoing right now.
What has occurred over decades is not going to disappear overnight. Sometimes it's not about just throwing money at the issue; it's about addressing the family situation and working with the whole family--i.e., putting preventive measures in place to deal with it.
If a child does not have a safe, warm, happy environment, with good food in order to learn, or a warm bed to sleep in at night, or a full belly, he's not going to learn. That's the bottom line.
As a quick comment, a couple of people have mentioned Jordan's Principle. Although it was passed unanimously in the House, I want to remark that it has only been minimally implemented. Although the will of the House was that we would implement Jordan's Principle and end the funding disputes, that still hasn't happened in many cases.
To Mr. Doyle, two things: first, in response to somebody else's question, you mentioned that when a child has been identified as aboriginal, there's an attempt to look at culturally appropriate services. Could you comment on exactly how culturally appropriate services are determined?
Second, has any work been done on comparability between provincial service delivery and on-reserve service delivery? I think you noted that currently on-reserve service delivery still is not funded for the enhancement model, it's still only at the apprehension model.
Could you comment on those two questions?
The on-reserve delivery is normally provided by the groups that have been developed over the last 20 years. Some of them have sophisticated processes whereby they can deliver interventions, although not much in the way of prevention.
Others are still in the embryonic stage, even after 20 years, and haven't really reached a level of maturity to deliver services. The reasons are that it's been quite difficult for them to, first of all, get the funding, and secondly, to recruit the people who can actually deliver on a local on-reserve type situation.
When it comes to in the cities or off reserve, there are entities that provide appropriate support--other than the provincial government, the ministry--in a similar way to the on-reserve area, but there are some difficulties and problems with that. So what you find is that, initially, there is an attempt to provide the right service provider. If they can't provide the right service provider, then they default to the provincial government, the ministry, if you will, to provide the support services they need.
Thank you for the question.
I've no idea what a curveball is. I assume it's a difficult bowling action.
When it comes to ethnic groups within B.C., we have some very large ethnic groups. Again, they would need access to culturally appropriate support services.
I don't think it's done well, at the moment, within the province. There are pockets of excellent work, but I don't have any statistics on it, because that wasn't the focus of our report when we did the work. However, it's an interesting point, and one that I will put on our “to watch” list to see whether or not it could actually be part of any future work we do.
Mr. Rob Clarke: John.
I'm a little surprised by your comment on the matrimonial bill, in that we've had such huge push-back from huge numbers of aboriginal people, men and women, that they're not part of the design and not consulted enough. But I don't want to get into that right now. It would take all my time.
I want to ask, from the Auditor General and from the B.C. auditor, if you've seen in your study any examples of good cultural practices or good cultural attitudes that are appropriate. Just to give some background, we had a chief in the Yukon recently who all of a sudden had a big press conference and said he wasn't going to allow the territorial workers on site because of this lack of consultation. It blew up; it just wasn't working. If you don't have workers on site, then the kids are in danger, so it's a disastrous situation.
The second piece of background, of course, is that we know this is a collective society we're dealing with, as opposed to an individualized society.
The third point is that they're not all the same. There are different cultures right across the country with aboriginal people. Inuit is not the same as Blackfoot, or Mi'kmaq.
So are there any examples from B.C. or from the Auditor General on good cultural attitudes or appropriate practices that others might use?
Mr. Chairman, I would echo the comments of the B.C. Auditor General.
I would just bring to the committee's attention one particular community that we had a chance to visit in Alberta. They had taken on the responsibility for adoptions, which is not often a responsibility that is taken on by the first nations child and family service agencies. They had taken on this adoption responsibility. They had tied it in to the way that adoptions were culturally, the way they used to be done in the community. In essence, they had updated the cultural practice and had become a model for many communities across the country who go and visit with that particular community and seek that community's advice about how to go about doing culturally appropriate adoptions.
Unfortunately, I can't remember right at this moment the name of the community, but if the members would like, I could share that with you.
Ms. Lavallée, earlier we raised the issue of adopting and implementing Bill , which has to do with matrimonial affairs. Larry told us a few things about it. Now, you startled me when you said that this would help the children be more secure.
Most of the community members who came to meet us expressed their concern regarding this almost crazy reflex that many people will have to require that their membership to first nations communities be recognized. They also discussed the growing population in the communities. This is a great and worrisome concern for the communities.
You are already short of funds with regard to help for children. How will the children be better protected? Could you explain this to us?
The fact of the matter is that you do have family breakups where children are involved. Depending on the family dynamic, you do have families who have intermarried: some are aboriginal, some are non-aboriginal. You have some from other reserves who have married in.
In some cases, as in every segment of life or society, you have violent family situations. I'm speaking to the violence where normally, in a situation, mother and child are removed from the home and the abuser gets to stay in the home. I think that's totally unfair. There's been enough gender imbalance on reserve, which is not our culturally appropriate way for us, and I'd like to see it stop.
I believe the MRP bill is going to give some of the women and children some dignity and self-worth.
Thank you, Monsieur Lévesque.
To the witnesses, I appreciate your attention this afternoon. Thank you for joining us for these two hours.
For our witnesses in British Columbia, I guess you can go to lunch now. You're just about at that point. We're almost at the end of our day, so we'll thank you for your attention.
Members, we are back here on the same subject on Wednesday afternoon. I would remind you that you have until this Wednesday to get in your list of witnesses for our next study on specific claims.
Mr. Bagnell, you have a question?
We'll have that subcommittee meeting on Thursday, and we can work that in. We haven't considered the list of witnesses yet. Once that is established, we'll be able to answer that question, but I'm sure if you talk to your critic we should be able to get that.
I think that's all we have....
Pardon me, members, there's one more thing, if you could just hold your fire for a moment.
It looks as if we will be able to table the northern economic development report on Thursday during routine proceedings, shortly after 10 o'clock. Subject to the concurrence of the committee, we have tentatively booked a press conference in the Charles Lynch Press Room from 10:45 to 11:15.
I just need to get the committee to confirm that it is a go. We discussed this at the last meeting. If there are any objections, please say so now.