Every Child Matters
Following Call to Action #80 of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, on September 30th 2021, Canadians are observing the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day to honour residential school survivors, their families, and communities, and to commemorate the history and legacy of residential schools.
The discovery of thousands of unmarked graves on the sites of Canada’s residential schools has resulted in a belated Canadian public awakening to the genocide of the residential school system and recognition of the deep trauma and impact of the residential school system on Indigenous children and families.
The harmful impact of residential schools has been exacerbated by the Sixties Scoop and the continuing overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care, with many separated from their families, extended family, and community. Responding to this continuing reality, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission dedicated the first 5 of its 94 Calls to Action to the reform and redesign of child welfare services delivered to Indigenous families and communities. Declarations from current and former authorities have reiterated the need for transformation:
- Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott called the overrepresentation of Indigenous children and youth in government care a “humanitarian crisis.”
- Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues Jill Dunlop stated that Children and youth in care experience significantly worse outcomes than those in a family setting, such as lower graduation rates, a higher risk of homelessness and more involvement with the justice system.
- Chairman of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission Murray Sinclair said there are more children in Canada’s child-welfare system today than there were at the height of residential schools.
NCFST History and Role in the Child Welfare System
On September 30th, Native Child and Family Services of Toronto will be honouring the lives lost and survivors of the residential schools and their families with a day of ceremony and reflection on our journey to decolonize child welfare services for urban Indigenous children, families and communities. We will reflect on the road we have traveled so far, and the road still to be traveled ahead. In 1986 NCFST was established by Elders, Knowledge Keepers, grassroots leaders and community members, and in 2004 NCFST accepted a provincial mandate to deliver child welfare services as a major step in the quest to decolonize child welfare in the city of Toronto. By accepting this mandate, NCFST and the Indigenous community understood that we were taking a strategic step in the journey to decolonization. While being subject to mainstream standards for child welfare services, NCFST has pushed the envelope in evolving strong, culturally grounded Indigenous child and family well-being services. Having now provided service to a generation of Indigenous children in the country’s largest urban setting, NCFST has become an expert in innovation to mitigate the continuing harm of colonial child welfare policies. This has been accomplished by focusing on evolving the integration of holistic, prevention-focused child and family well-being services in collaboration with Indigenous communities and service providers in Toronto.
Today, Native Child and Family Services of Toronto launches the next step in our journey to redesign child welfare services. Following Calls to Action number #2 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions 94 Calls to Action, Native Child and Family Services of Toronto is making the following commitment:
Native Child and Family Services of Toronto commits to prepare and deliver, beginning on September 30th, 2022, an annual report on the progress of our efforts to redesign child welfare services. This report will include, in accordance with the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the number of Aboriginal children in care in the city of Toronto compared to the number of non-aboriginal children, the reasons for apprehension, the total spending on holistic and prevention services compared to spending on child welfare investigation, ongoing services and alternative care, and a report on the effectiveness of interventions to reduce the number of children in care and keep Indigenous children with their extended families and communities when child welfare interventions are unavoidable.
To meet these commitments, we are today announcing that, beginning this October, we will be inviting representatives of Indigenous people in Toronto who have worked with us either as service partners or as recipients of our services to join a Community Advisory Circle to help us examine our practices and identify priorities for child welfare redesign. We will turn to the advice and guidance of those with wisdom and lived experience to help us succeed in our redesign of Indigenous child welfare services in the city of Toronto.
In addition, beginning in October, we will also be launching a bi-monthly Decolonizing Child Welfare Learning Series for community and partners devoted to explaining and examining the Child and Family Wellbeing services that the agency provides to Toronto’s Indigenous community. The Learning Series will begin with an overview of the current state of Indigenous child welfare services in Toronto, including a review of the challenges and opportunities for redesign in the context of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, the enactment of Bill C-92 and the Child Welfare Redesign initiatives in the province of Ontario. Development of the Learning Series modules will require Native Child and Family Services of Toronto to undergo a critical examination of our child and family wellbeing services, including standards, service eligibility criteria, assessment tools and current practices. The purpose of this critical examination will be to identify priorities for redesign to reduce the number of Indigenous children in care and ensure that all Indigenous children in care are placed with extended family or, at minimum, in their communities with strong connections to their families.
We are making these commitments today, this first Day for Truth and Reconciliation, to honour those children who never made it home, the survivors of Canada’s residential schools and their families. We acknowledge the Truth that Indigenous children continue to be overrepresented in child welfare systems and continue to suffer separation from their families, communities and culture. Native Child and Family Services of Toronto has now served a generation of Indigenous children in the City of Toronto and continues to mitigate the harms of colonial child welfare services by evolving strong, culturally grounded, Indigenous Child and Family Well Being services that keep children connected to family, community and culture. But there is more to do. Every September 30th we will gather with community and report back on our progress in our journey to decolonize child welfare services and to do our part to ensure that the tragedy and trauma of the Indian Residential School System and the Sixties Scoop will never happen again.
An Elder once asked, if it takes three days to walk into the bush, how many days will it take to walk back out again? The answer, of course, is three days. Canada’s colonial legacy runs deep, and we know it will take many years to address it. We must walk together at a brisk pace not only for all the children we have lost walking into the bush, but for all of those who have and will be born as we walk out again.
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