Child welfare

Learn how the Government of Canada is responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action 1 to 5.

Based on data provided August 2021.

1. We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to commit to reducing the number of Aboriginal children in care by:

  1. Monitoring and assessing neglect investigations.
  2. Providing adequate resources to enable Aboriginal communities and child-welfare organizations to keep Aboriginal families together where it is safe to do so, and to keep children in culturally appropriate environments, regardless of where they reside.
  3. Ensuring that social workers and others who conduct child-welfare investigations are properly educated and trained about the history and impacts of residential schools.
  4. Ensuring that social workers and others who conduct child-welfare investigations are properly educated and trained about the potential for Aboriginal communities and families to provide more appropriate solutions to family healing.
  5. Requiring that all child-welfare decision makers consider the impact of the residential school experience on children and their caregivers.

What's happening?

The Government of Canada is committed to reducing the number of Indigenous children and youth in care through major ongoing reforms in child and family services.

First, the reform agenda for the First Nations Child and Family Services (FNCFS) program has shifted the program from a protection focus to one of prevention and early intervention services to support the well-being of First Nations children.

These prevention investments support First Nations' development and implementation of services that address the distinct child and family services needs of their community members in culturally appropriate ways, to keep families together.

Support of these distinct prevention and early intervention services seeks to address children and families' underlying causes of contact with the child welfare protection system.

The Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families (the act) was co-developed with Indigenous partners with an expected result of reducing the number of Indigenous children in care and reforming child and family services. The act:

  • came into force on January 1, 2020
  • affirms the rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services
  • establishes national principles, such as the best interests of the child, cultural continuity and substantive equality

Under the act, the order of priority for the placement of an Indigenous child prioritizes the family and community and aims to shift the programming focus to prevention and early intervention to help Indigenous children stay with their families and communities.

The principles and minimum standards established under the act are designed to benefit all Indigenous children and families regardless of whether Indigenous communities or groups decide to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services under the act.

The act sets out unique, holistic, community-driven process for Section 35 rights-holders and Indigenous governing bodies to develop their visions and models by, among other measures, committing to fiscal arrangements that are sustainable, needs-based and consistent with the principle of substantive equality, thereby ensuring resources to enable communities to keep families together where it is safe to do so, and to keep children in culturally appropriate environments, regardless of where they reside.

Finally, the act provides an opportunity for open and transparent dialogue that offers an entire process based on cooperation and collaboration for successful outcomes that will break the cycles of intergenerational trauma and restore support well-being to children and families.

As well, in support of this call to action, the Public Health Agency of Canada has collaborated to develop:

  • the Pan-Northern Data Project, a minimum data set that includes information about children in care and the reasons for apprehension
  • the Canadian Child Welfare Information System that will provide information about children and families involved with child welfare systems across Canada

Both surveillance systems use administrative data to make evidence-informed decisions to support interventions aimed at reducing inequalities related to Indigenous identity and race. Using this data, the Government of Canada will be able to report on the number of Indigenous children (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) in care.

Specifically pertaining to the number of children in care, Indigenous Services Canada counts eligible placement expenses for First Nations children on reserve or ordinarily resident on a reserve who are receiving services funded by the FNCFS program.

When counting children in care, the count is based on a point in time on the last day of the fiscal year.

As of March 31, 2019, 9,317 First Nations children on-reserve are in care received services funded by the FNCFS program. This is an increase of the number of First Nations on-reserve children that received services funded by the FNCFS program in 2016. As of March 31, 2016, 8,544 First Nations children on reserve in care received services funded by the FNCFS program.

Indigenous Services Canada currently does not have completed information for placement expenses for First Nations children on reserve or ordinarily resident on a reserve who are receiving services funded by the FNCFS program for the 2019 to 2020 or 2020 to 2021 fiscal year. These delays in reporting are due to agencies prioritizing activities for the COVID-19 pandemic and other natural disasters, such as fires and floods that have evacuated communities.

The government recognizes the importance of Indigenous data sovereignty as a key principle of the proposed partnership approach and in supporting Indigenous self-determination. Indigenous data sovereignty is about ensuring Indigenous peoples have the opportunity to design and manage the data needed to tell their stories and to ensure that high quality, culturally relevant, distinctions-based data are available to support reporting.

Recent budget investments

The FNCFS program's reform responds to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal orders and Budget 2016 and 2018, by which Indigenous Services Canada is providing support to child and family services agencies, based on their actual needs and with an emphasis on prevention. ISC has nearly doubled the First Nations Child and Family Services budget since 2016 from $676 million to $1.2 billion annually.

As part of the July 2020 Economic and Fiscal Snapshot, the Government of Canada committed more than $542 million over 5 years, starting in 2020 to 2021 to support the implementation of the act through:

  • distinctions-based governance mechanisms
  • capacity building activities
  • coordination agreement discussions
  • internal resources

The Economic and Fiscal Snapshot 2020 allocated funding to manage the implementation of Canadian Human Rights Tribunal orders to support the ongoing delivery of child and family services for First Nations and to support reform.

Budget 2021 is providing $1 billion over 5 years, starting in 2021 to 2022, with $118.7 million ongoing to increase funding for the FNCFS program to support the well-being of Indigenous children and families.

The funding will:

  • provide increased support to First Nations communities not served by a delegated First Nations agency
  • support First Nations communities in providing prevention and early intervention programming, including keeping children and families together
  • continue the implementation of the orders of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal
  • permanently ensure that First Nations youth who reach the age of majority continue to receive the supports that they need, for up to 2 additional years, to successfully transition to independence

Over 75% of this funding ($795 million over the next 5 years) will be exclusively available to enhance First Nations community prevention related activities that support keeping families together.

The Federal Pathway to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People, the Government of Canada's contribution to the 2021 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People National Action Plan: Ending Violence Against Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People to end violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+, will continue to build on the increased support provided by the FNCFS program as the implementation process begins.

Total recent or planned Public Health Agency of Canada expenditures for the Pan-Northern and the Canadian Child Welfare Information System are approximately $180,000 for each project.

Recent progress

Indigenous Services Canada has worked with the parties to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal complaint to fund studies that provide options and recommendations on the FNCFS program reform, such as:

  • those conducted by the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy
  • another study that examined the impact of remoteness on the funding

These studies will inform the development of a new approach for delivering FNCFS program funding to First Nations agencies and communities.

As of May 2021, under the act, over 100 Indigenous communities have started to develop and implement policies and Indigenous laws based on their particular histories, cultures and circumstances with regards to child and family services.

Progress has also been made towards having these Indigenous laws receive force of law as federal law through a tripartite coordination agreement under the act, with 17 coordination agreement discussions currently ongoing and an estimated 20 expected to begin annually over the next few years.

The first coordination agreement between the Cowessess First Nation (Treaty 4 territory) and the province of Saskatchewan under the act was announced and signed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme on July 6, 2021.

Far too often in this country, Indigenous children are separated from their families, communities, languages and cultures. We know the system needs to be reformed. The act emphasizes the need for the system to shift from apprehension to prevention. Under the act, priority can be given to services like prenatal care and support to parents.

The principles and minimum standards established under the act are designed to benefit all Indigenous children and families regardless of whether Indigenous communities or groups decide to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services under the act.

The Public Health Agency of Canada's reporting is underway from the Northwest Territories for the Pan-Northern Project. Contracts and memoranda of agreement are currently in place to facilitate the Canadian Child Welfare Information System's technical work in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. Discussions with other jurisdictions are ongoing.

Next steps

The act was designed to support Indigenous groups and communities to transition toward exercising partial or full jurisdiction over child and family services at a pace that they choose. As a next step, Indigenous Services Canada will continue to work towards co-development of a new system, rooted in a community-based approach and the implementation of Indigenous laws.

The Federal Pathway to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People, the Government of Canada's contribution to the 2021 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People National Action Plan: Ending Violence Against Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People, affirms measures will be taken to support Indigenous-led education and awareness activities for Indigenous children, youth and families to improve and expand support and services to Indigenous children, families and communities based on their particular histories, cultures and circumstances to keep them mentally, spiritually and physically well.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is participating in discussions on how to develop the Canadian Child Welfare Information System to meet the needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis with representatives of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council and the Assembly of First Nations.

2. We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with the provinces and territories, to prepare and publish annual reports on the number of Aboriginal children (First Nations, Inuit, and Métis) who are in care, compared with non-Aboriginal children, as well as the reasons for apprehension, the total spending on preventive and care services by child-welfare agencies, and the effectiveness of various interventions.

What's happening?

Indigenous Services Canada continues to advance progress on the 6 points of action to address the over-representation of Indigenous children and youth in care. One of these points includes developing a data and reporting strategy with provinces, territories and Indigenous partners.

Recent progress

The co-development of increased inter-jurisdictional data collection, sharing and reporting strategies and approaches started in early 2021 through distinctions-based working groups of representatives from Indigenous, provincial and territorial partners.

Other data and policy experts from civil society with experience working on Indigenous and child and family service issues may be approached to help inform the co-development.

As part of the co-development, the department is working with partners to explore the inclusion of information related to Indigenous children in the Canadian Child Welfare Information System if it is the desire of Indigenous partners.

Next steps

It is recognized in the Federal Pathway to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People that Canada currently lacks the detailed statistical data that governments, public institutions, academics and advocates need to:

  • make fully informed, evidence-based policy decisions
  • effectively address racial and social inequities

The Government of Canada is committed to implement a disaggregated data action plan to fill data and knowledge gaps, such as through Indigenous-led data strategies for First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

The Government of Canada is committed to a partnership approach to data development that respects co-development and addresses the need for national standards to ensure the information collected is relevant and meets the needs and priorities of Indigenous peoples.

The government recognizes the importance of Indigenous data sovereignty as a key principle of the proposed partnership approach and in supporting Indigenous self-determination. Indigenous data sovereignty is about ensuring Indigenous peoples have the opportunity to design and manage the data needed to tell their stories and to ensure that high quality, culturally relevant, distinctions-based data are available to support reporting on the 2021 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People National Action Plan: Ending Violence Against Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People.

The department will seek ways to meet the need to develop new indicators and systems to support the distinctions-based requirements for prevention and child and family services emerging from communities, agencies and organizations across the country.

3. We call upon all levels of government to fully implement Jordan's Principle.

What's happening?

Between July 1, 2016 and March 31, 2021, more than 911,000 requests were approved under Jordan's Principle. Approved products and services by fiscal year:

  • 2016 to 2017: 4,940
  • 2017 to 2018: 76,891 (1,456% increase from previous fiscal year)
  • 2018 to 19: 140,332 (83% increase from previous fiscal year)
  • 2019 to 2020: 350,078 (149% increase from previous fiscal year)
  • 2020 to 2021: 339,066

Additional information and the most up-to-date numbers can be found at Jordan's Principle.

Recent budget investments

Budget 2019 invested $1.2 billion over 3 years to ensure that First Nations children continue to have access to the services they need through Jordan's Principle. Given that this initiative is demand-driven, further funding was allocated for a total of $2.36 billion committed to Jordan's Principle since 2016.

The Government of Canada is committed to addressing the immediate needs of Inuit children and to continue working with Inuit partners to improve local capacity to deliver services with an investment of $220 million over 5 years.

Recent progress

Indigenous Services Canada is developing an arms-length appeal process composed of external health, social and education professionals to increase the role of licensed professionals in decision making. This model will be implemented in phases, starting in 2021.

In the decisions issued by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in July and November 2020, Jordan's Principle eligibility was extended to children who are not eligible to be registered but have a parent who is under the Indian Act. The Government of Canada is fully implementing the expanded eligibility as outlined by the Canadian Human Right Tribunal as it seeks clarification of the definition of a First Nations child for the purposes of Jordan's Principle eligibility through judicial review.

The Choose Life Initiative is a needs-based application process specific to the 49 Nishnawbe Aski Nation communities and tribal councils in Ontario. Launched in 2017 and supported by Jordan's Principle, the initiative aims to provide immediate funding relief for First Nations developed community based supports for youth at risk of death by suicide. Indigenous Services Canada provided $76 million in 2019 to 2020 and $70 million in 2020 to 2021 in Choose Life funding to First Nations communities in Ontario.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, First Nations children living in Canada continued to receive help accessing the products, services and supports that they need through Jordan's Principle. Between March 2020 and May 2021, more than 3,500 requests for products, services and supports related to COVID-19 were approved under Jordan's Principle for First Nations children for a total of $9.5 million. Requests included laptops, tablets or other e-learning tools if they meet an identified health, education or social need.

The Government of Canada initiated a Jordan's Principle advertising campaign in March 2021 to raise awareness about Jordan's Principle among parents and guardians of First Nations children and youth, as well as health, social and educational professionals and non-Indigenous youth allies. The intended outcome was for more families to be aware of and accessing products and services for First Nations children as needed under Jordan's Principle.

Next steps

Continue to uphold and honour Jordan's Principle while also working with First Nations partners, provinces and territories to develop long-term approaches to help better address the unique health, social and education needs of First Nations children. This includes continued engagement with parties and First Nations partners through the Jordan's Principle Operations Committee and the Jordan's Principle Action Table.

4. We call upon the federal government to enact Aboriginal child-welfare legislation that establishes national standards for Aboriginal child apprehension and custody cases and includes principles that:

  1. Affirm the right of Aboriginal governments to establish and maintain their own child-welfare agencies.
  2. Require all child-welfare agencies and courts to take the residential school legacy into account in their decision making.
  3. Establish, as an important priority, a requirement that placements of Aboriginal children into temporary and permanent care be culturally appropriate.

What's happening?

As part of its commitment to reform child and family services, the Government of Canada hosted an emergency meeting in January 2018 on First Nations, Inuit and Métis child and family services with Indigenous partners, provinces and territories, child and family services experts, advocates, youth and other key partners.

At the emergency meeting, the Government of Canada committed to Progress on six points of action to address the over-representation of Indigenous children and youth in care in Canada.

One of the points of action was a commitment to work with partners to support communities to exercise jurisdiction in the area of child and family services, including exploring co-developed federal legislation.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2018, Indigenous Services Canada held engagements to co-develop options for child and family services federal legislation. As part of that engagement, officials held over 65 engagement sessions across the country and met with nearly 2,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis participants including leaders and experts. Additional engagements took place with Indigenous, provincial and territorial partners in January 2019 to gather feedback on the content of the draft legislation.

On June 21, 2019, the Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families (the act) received Royal Assent and on January 1, 2020, its provisions came into force.

The act:

  • affirms the rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services
  • establishes national principles such as the best interests of the child, cultural continuity and substantive equality
  • contributes to the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • provides an opportunity for Indigenous peoples to choose their own solutions for their children and families

The proposed pathway, leading to the exercise of jurisdiction included in the act, recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to Indigenous child and family services.

Indigenous communities and groups can exercise jurisdiction to develop their own child and family services models, systems and laws based on Indigenous values, worldviews, languages and cultures. The act was designed to enable Indigenous groups and communities to transition towards exercising jurisdiction over child and family services at a pace that they choose.

As of May 2021, over 100 Indigenous communities across Canada have started to develop and implement policies and laws to exercise jurisdiction over Indigenous child and family services. One Indigenous governing body has begun exercising jurisdiction and 17 coordination agreement discussion tables are underway for Indigenous governing bodies to exercise jurisdiction.

As part of the July 2020 Economic and Fiscal Snapshot, the Government of Canada committed over $542 million over 5 years, starting in 2020 to 2021, broken down as follows:

  • nearly $10 million over 2 years to support First Nations, Inuit and Métis engagement to advance the co-development of the implementation process, including the establishment of and participation in distinction-based governance engagement mechanisms
  • $425 million over 5 years to support capacity-building activities that would enable First Nations, Inuit and Métis groups to work within and across their communities to build strong foundations for a successful transition toward the exercise of jurisdiction
  • nearly $73 million over 5 years to support Indigenous governing bodies for, and participation in, coordination agreement discussions
  • over $35 million for internal services at Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada and Indigenous Services Canada in the national capital region and in the regions to support the above 3 activities

During 2020 to 2021, the department provided almost $16 million in capacity-building, through 2 waves of funding to Indigenous groups to support the implementation of the act.

Budget 2021 is providing $73.6 million to invest in operating funds over 4 years, 2021 to 2022 to 2024 to 2025. With this additional investment, Indigenous Services Canada would be in a better position to fully support First Nations, Inuit and Métis in exercising their inherent right over child and family services, which includes concluding tripartite coordination agreements.

The Federal Pathway to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People, announced in June 2021, affirms measures will be taken to support Indigenous-led education and awareness activities for Indigenous children, youth and families, and to improve and expand support and services to Indigenous children, families and communities based on their particular histories, cultures and circumstances to keep them mentally, spiritually and physically well.

The government will also continue to support First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities in developing their own child and family services models that reflect their values and traditions under the Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families.

In 2020 to 2021, 17 coordination agreement discussions began with Indigenous governing bodies seeking to create and implement their own laws for their communities. An additional 20 coordination discussion tables are expected to start within fiscal year 2021 to 2022 and every year thereafter.

The first coordination agreement between the Cowessess First Nation (Treaty 4 territory) and the province of Saskatchewan under the act was signed on July 6, 2021.

The new national principles and minimum standards are designed to benefit all Indigenous children and families, regardless of whether an Indigenous group, community or people is exercising jurisdiction under the act.

Engagement on the implementation of the act is ongoing, and the government will be working directly with Indigenous partners at the community, regional and national levels to ensure a wide range of Indigenous voices provide direction on the implementation of the act. Most recently, a ministerial-level federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous leaders meeting was held on May 6, 2021 to discuss the implementation of the act.

5. We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to develop culturally appropriate parenting programs for Aboriginal families.

What's happening?

The First Nations Child and Family Services program began offering the Community Well-Being and Jurisdiction Initiatives in 2018, which is a unique funding stream that is directly accessible by First Nations to:

  • expand the availability of prevention and well-being initiatives that are responsive to community needs
  • support First Nations in developing and implementing jurisdictional models

Eligible activities under this funding stream can include developing and implementing culturally appropriate parenting programming.

The Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Framework introduced in September 2018, provides additional funding for Indigenous-led, enhanced culturally-appropriate Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care programs and services for Indigenous children and families.

For example, the Aboriginal Head Start in Urban and Northern Communities has provided funding to Indigenous community-based organizations to develop and deliver programs that promote the healthy development of Indigenous preschool children and their families. Data from 2017 to 2018 shows that 79% of Aboriginal Head Start in Urban and Northern Communities projects provided activities or meetings for parents.

See Call to Action 12 for more information about how the government is working in partnership with First Nations, Inuit and Métis governments and organizations to advance the early learning and child care goals of the Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Framework.

The Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families (the act):

  • came into force on January 1, 2020
  • affirms the rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services
  • establishes national principles, such as the best interests of the child, cultural continuity and substantive equality

Under the act, the order of priority for the placement of an Indigenous child prioritizes the family and community and aims to shift the programming focus to prevention and early intervention to help Indigenous children stay with their families and communities.

The principles and minimum standards established under the act are designed to benefit all Indigenous children and families regardless of whether Indigenous communities or groups decide to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services under the act.

The Public Health Agency of Canada delivers the Community Action Program for Children and the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program, which provides a total of $80.6 million per year to community organizations who develop and deliver culturally-appropriate, early intervention public heath programming for pregnant individuals, children (0 to 6) and families that face health inequities and other barriers to health, including Indigenous populations who live off of a reserve.

The Public Health Agency of Canada also develops resources and serves a national coordination role for the Nobody's Perfect parenting program, which aims to provide education and support on child health and development, parenting and coping skills to parents of children (0 to 6) who face health inequity barriers, including Indigenous parents.

Recent budget investments

Budget 2021 invested $795 million for community managed prevention and early intervention supports. The Federal Pathway to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People, released in June 2021, also affirms measures will be taken to support Indigenous-led education and awareness activities for Indigenous children, youth and families and to improve and expand support and services to Indigenous children, families and communities based on their unique histories, cultures and circumstances.

Next steps

The First Nations Child and Family Services program will continue to fund prevention and well-being initiatives through the Community Well-Being and Jurisdiction Initiatives, to respond to community needs which could include developing and implementing culturally appropriate parenting programming.

Budget 2021 invested $795 million for community managed prevention and early intervention supports.

The Federal Pathway to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People, released in June 2021, also affirms measures will be taken to support Indigenous-led education and awareness activities for Indigenous children, youth and families, and to improve and expand support and services to Indigenous children, families and communities based on their unique histories, cultures and circumstances.

The Public Health Agency of Canada will continue to support Aboriginal Head Start in Urban and Northern Communities recipients and sites in the Indigenous-led development of parental-related programming and enrichment activities. It will continue to support Indigenous partners' self-determined vision for Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care as part of the new Canada wide child care initiative.

The Federal Pathway, released in June 2021, also commits to continue the progress towards an early learning and child care system that meets the needs of Indigenous families, wherever they live. This includes:

  • establishing before and after-school programming for First Nations children on reserve
  • providing additional funding to expand access to culturally appropriate Aboriginal Head Start day care programs and services
  • repairing and renovating existing Indigenous early learning and child care centres
  • building and maintaining new centres

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