he Manitoba government has introduced initial amendments to The Child and Family Services (CFS) Act that would allow Indigenous communities to create care plans for children that recognize and reflect their unique customs, Families Minister Scott Fielding announced today.
“Supporting customary care is a key aspect of Manitoba’s overall plan to transform child welfare,” said Fielding. “These ground-breaking amendments are a first step to allow for more community decision-making and greater support for families and children. This allows a shift to greater extended family and community involvement in the care of and upbringing of the children from that community in a way that preserves cultural identity and respects their heritage.”
The customary care concept was first introduced as a bill in late 2015 but failed to pass into law. Over the past year, government met with Indigenous leadership, community members and child and family services authorities and agencies to strengthen Manitoba’s model for customary care, which is designed as another option to existing CFS prevention and protection supports and services.
Changes include a new title that incorporates Taking Care of our Children (a translation of a traditional Indigenous concept suggested as a title by Elder William Osborne of Pimicikamak), stronger recognition of the needs of Indigenous children to maintain their cultural identity and community ties, the expectation that allcourt-related decisions take the new principle into consideration and clear identification of the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) as the Indigenous community for children whose parents are members or who request their participation in customary care.
“Stakeholder input has been clear that customary care must be community-driven and the bill must reflect the needs of Indigenous children to be cared for in a way that maintains cultural connections and community ties,” said Fielding. “Government listened and we made important changes. This new bill strengthens the legislative role of Indigenous communities in leading the development of their own unique models of care that will lead to better outcomes for children.”
Once passed and proclaimed, the bill will see these needs entrenched in all care decisions related to First Nations, Metis and Inuit children. Indigenous families would be able to request customary care services and supports from their CFS agency. Communities would be able to work with agencies to identify customary caregivers, assist with the design of care plans for children and share in the responsibility for keeping children safe. The bill would enable CFS support for children who live with customary caregivers and allow sharing information for the purpose of customary care.
“Today marks a new era for CFS where our children will be supported in the achievement of their hopes and dreams for the future,” said Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, Southern Chiefs’ Organization. “Customary care is about a community-driven approach and a reflection of best practices. The time has come for the Annishinaabe and Dakota nations to assume full control and jurisdiction over our children and families.”
“The Province of Manitoba is embarking on a legislative reform process for The Child and Family Services Act that acknowledges and is premised on the fact that the current system has failed Indigenous families and children and the current reform process must be Indigenous led,” said Grand Chief Sheila North, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO). “It is important there is enabling legislation that supports First Nation community customs, codes, languages and best practices. MKO leadership supports in principle the concept of customary care and is ready to move forward in full partnership with both levels of governments in achieving First Nations’ jurisdiction over child and family matters affecting MKO First Nation territories.”
“We commend the work of Minister Fielding in attempting to address a serious matter that has divided our families and children from their nation,” said David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation. “As Metis people, family is everything. From birth to death, we embrace our family, and if the past teaches us anything, it’s that the policies and administration of children by government has caused our families great harm. This is a good start and further recognition of our Metis government is ongoing.”
An overall review continues of the two acts that guide the CFS system, The Child and Family Services Act and The Child and Family Services Authorities Act. A legislative review committee appointed in December is expected to make recommendations to the minister in the coming months.