Province announces $4.3 million to fund child intervention and suicide prevention programs

By Lara Fominoff - Lethbridge News Now
June 29, 2018 - 11:56am

LETHBRIDGE -  Children's Services Minister Danielle Larivee has announced a multi-million dollar, 39-point plan aimed mainly at protecting indigenous children, dealing with racism and reducing the number of indigenous children in care.

Larivee was in Lethbridge Thursday for the announcement to explain that $4.3 million would be immediately provided to implement 16-points of the plan before April 2019.

She says the report addresses the work of the all-party Ministerial Panel in Child Intervention that in 2017, was tasked with recommending ways to improve Alberta's child death review process and to strengthen the child intervention process. In March, 26 final recommendations were made.

Larivee says children in the province deserve every bit of support they can get to meet their full potential, and those in their care can benefit from additional support.

"In particular...for indigenous children who live on reserve, that level of support is a lot less than children who live off reserve within this province. So, a substantial part of the plan is looking at improving the supports for them because we think they deserve as much as any other Alberta child to meet their full potential and we are going to take the action to make sure that happens."

Kelly Provost, Executive Director with Piikani Child and Family Services, says the "Baby Serenity" file started the whole discussion about indigenous children that need better protection and care services.

"It's kind of addressing individual tribes and where they're from, and not just grouping Alberta Indians as one...it's been just kind of addressing concerns in areas of child protection."

He says some of the issues that need to be addressed include systemic racism.

"It's unfair that nation members that live off reserve to be unfairly treated. So that's a piece where that needs to be addressed, and there needs to be a quality for children in care. (They) always get the brunt of services and there's always a limit. And you know, we wouldn't treat our own children that way, so you know we wouldn't treat our own children that way. So, we want to treat children how we treat our own and to give them those services."

He adds that the consideration of culture and traditional ways of raising children also need to be taken into consideration, which is not generally occurring in children's services departments.

Baby Serenity was a four-year old indigenous child who died in 2014 after incurring catastrophic injuries including a fractured skull. She was also starved and showed signs of hypothermia and sexual abuse when admitted to the hospital.

She was living in a kinship placement with relatives on a reserve in the central part of the province. Despite repeated reports of abuse, full legal guardianship of Serenity and her siblings was given to her caregivers.

Her caregivers were each charged with one count of failing to provide the necessaries of life. No workers had checked on the three children for nearly one year before the little girl died.

Larivee says this fall, the provincial government will introduce amendments to the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act that proposes changes in three areas, including a purpose and principles to guide the interpretation of the CYFEA.

It will focus on the well-being of children, while respecting the principles of Indigenous culture, and the diversity of child-rearing practices.

It also proposes to increase accountability and transparency and to achieve equitable service provisions for Indigenous children and families both on and off reserve.

Other actions include:

-Establishing three Indigenous advisory bodies
-Allocating $500,000 to implement the Indigenous Cultural Understanding Framework
-Addressing racism
-Committing $400,000 to develop programs with Indigenous communities that involve parenting, social connections and relationships
-$2 million to promote Indigenous-led services tailored to the needs of individual communities
-Fully implementing Jordan's Principle (ensuring all First Nations children receive services they need, when they need them by removing barriers to health, social and educational services)
-Establishing a Youth Advisory Committee
-$1 million for suicide prevention programs and services
-$400,000 to support work to clarify the First Nation Band Designate role
-Improving the child intervention system
-Supporting Indigenous-led research
-Improving workplace culture for provincial employees

But Larivee says beyond 2019, it's not clear where funding to support the programs initiated will come from and there is no final cost for the entire plan. She says she's working on the numbers and expects to the Treasury Board with those numbers sometime this fall.

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