Recommendations Focus on Empowering Families and Communities Through Dramatic Shift in the Child Welfare System: Stefanson
The provincially appointed legislative review committee on child welfare submitted its final report and recommendations to government, Families Minister Heather Stefanson announced today.
“This is the first critical review in 15 years and we commend the committee for undertaking its intensive, four-month consultation with more than 1,500 people, agencies, authorities and other stakeholders across Manitoba,” said Stefanson. “We are reviewing the valuable advice compiled into this report to inform new legislation and policies. We’re grateful for the children, parents, grandmothers, elders, researchers, community leaders and service providers who took the time to share their thoughts and stories on how to better serve children and families.”
In October 2017, the province announced plans to reform the delivery of Child and Family Services (CFS) in Manitoba to reduce the number of children and youth in care, reduce the number of days spent in care, foster more lifelong connections and enable greater coordination of services. In December, the province tasked a committee to review and recommend transformational changes to The Child and Family Services Act and The Child and Family Services Authorities Act to support these outcomes.
Chaired by Andrew Micklefield, MLA for Rossmere, the committee brought together Sherwood Armbruster (community member), Diane Redsky (Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre), Michael Redhead Champagne (Aboriginal Youth Opportunities), Joanne Crate (Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak representative), David Daniels and Natalie Daniels (Southern Chiefs’ Organization’s representatives) and Frances Chartrand (Manitoba Metis Federation).
“We spoke with dozens of groups and learned anecdotally from a number of people who have reached out to committee members to share their personal experiences,” said Micklefield. “We heard an overwhelming amount of information that we’ve distilled into this report, which focuses on the salient points and summarizes what we found.”
Many recommendations focus on safely and successfully reuniting families when possible and finding community-based solutions when it is not possible. Recommendations include:
• reforming the definition of ‘child in need of protection’ in a way that distinguishes between safety and risk;
• intervening differently to cases with an immediate safety threat versus cases that require prevention and support to improve a child’s well-being;
• focusing on protective services when a threat to child safety exists;
• engaging families and communities when protective services are required, and empowering family- and community-based solutions and networks of care in cases of heightened risk;
• transferring responsibility for prevention and early-intervention services to non-governmental, community-based organizations with proven track records and expertise in these areas;
• integrating culturally safe practice, assessments and decision-making into the system;
• establishing early, proactive planning for young people leaving the child welfare system and better supports for their transition to independence; and
• ending birth alerts for girls and young women who are pregnant, replacing this system with community-based and culturally appropriate services to better support mothers and their babies.
“We believe the current structures and policies and systems in place to serve our children, especially those who are put in vulnerable positions, are not working,” said Champagne. “And so there is a need, if we value the lives of children in this province, to do better.”
The report highlights the need to strengthen connections to culture and community, particularly for First Nation, Métis and Inuit families. Approximately 90 per cent of children in care in Manitoba are Indigenous, the minister noted.
“We want to make sure, that we want to keep our children at home in our community, in the Métis community, making sure they have culturally appropriate programs and services,” said Chartrand. “It’s our inherent right as Métis people that we care for our own children and families.”
The report suggests the province establish a new, more equitable funding structure that incentivizes reunification and better outcomes, as well as regular legislative reviews to increase accountability in the system.
“There’s a real opportunity for the law to actually work for families and work for children in care,” said Redsky. “We all want children to be safe and secure and we all want families to be supported and have their voice in decision making. The real shift is to modernize our laws to reflect that.”
Read the full report and recommendations at www.gov.mb.ca/fs/child_welfare_reform/index.html.
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