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Jane Philpott doesn't see 'eye to eye' with Manitoba on First Nations child welfare reforms

Jane Philpott doesn't see 'eye to eye' with Manitoba on First Nations child welfare reforms
From CBC - January 3, 2018

Indigenous Services Minister JanePhilpottsays she has concerns with Manitoba's plans toreform itsFirst Nations child welfare system.

Specifically, the minister told CBCshe believes incentives to encourage non-Indigenous families to adopt First Nations children should be avoided so as not to replicate mistakes of the past.

Philpott, who described the state of the child welfare system in Canada as a "humanitarian crisis," said the federal government is determined to work in concert with the provincesand Indigenous peoples to create a system that keeps more First Nations children in their communities.

Indigenous people make up 17 per cent of Manitoba's population, but Indigenous children are overrepresentatedin government care, accounting foralmost 90 per cent of the 10,700 children in the province's system.

The Progressive Conservative government in Manitobais pushing ahead with reforms, with a special committee expected to present recommendations this spring.

As the systemis currently structured, most child welfare agenciesobtain part of their funding for each First Nations child they place in care, creating what some see as a financial incentive to take kids from their families. Manitoba has sought to dismantle such a system by granting block funding to agenciesentirely independent from the numbers held in care.

Promoting guardianship

But,the province is also introducing adoption supports, promising legislation that will include subsidies to promote the legal guardianship of foster children, something that has First Nations leaders worried.

"This is putting children at risk of being in non-Indigenous homes permanently," Cora Morgan, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs' family advocate, recently warned.

"When probably close to 90 per cent of our children are placed in non-Indigenous homes, and they are not having access to culturally appropriate services or meaningful connections to culture and identity, then I have trouble with that."

In an interview withCBCNews,Philpottsaidshe will raise similarconcerns when she meets with her provincial counterparts in Ottawa later this month for an "emergency meeting" to discuss Indigenous child welfare across the country.

"My understanding of the [Manitoba] system to date suggests there is need for reform. I am not sure the ways of getting there arethat we necessarily see eye to eye on how to get there," she said.

"Instead of paying a non-Indigenous family, is there not a way that the baby, infant or child could stay in the community surrounded by their language, culture and family in a kinship model or with a grandparent who is willing?"

Philpott said history dictates that removing First Nations children from their communities can have devastating consequences. And, with more Indigenous children currently incare than there was at the height of the residential school era, co-ordinated action is needed now more than ever to combat intergenerational trauma, she said.

'Room for change'

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