The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) is calling on the provincial and federal governments to take “immediate action” to implement funding for Bill C92, which would see Indigenous communities take jurisdiction over child welfare.
In a press release issued late Thursday, the FSIN cited information recently released by the province’s Child and Youth Advocate showing an increase in deaths of children in the care of or receiving services from the Ministry of Social Services.
There were 25 child welfare deaths before September, outlets reported widely this week. As of Aug. 31, six children and 19 youth who were in care died. Of those 25 children and youth, 23 were Indigenous.
In a prepared statement, the ministry said it conducts a “thorough review” when a child in its care, in receipt of services or receiving services either from the ministry or a First Nations Child and Family Services agency, dies or is critically injured. The internal reviews are then shared with the Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth and the Saskatchewan Coroners Service, it said.
“We work with very vulnerable children and youth, and this includes those who are medically fragile, and who may experience complex health challenges,” the statement noted.
Last year, 23 children or youth died in care, compared to a five-year average of 21.
The province’s advocate for youth and children, Lisa Broda, said that with a few months left in the year, Saskatchewan may surpass the 2019 number of deaths and that she has learned of at least four more cases since Aug 31.
“It’s alarming for us to see the deaths increase,” she said.
The process of analyzing the cases will begin in the fall; her office has to wait for confirmation from the coroner’s service about the manner and cause of death. Year-over-year, she said, her office does see certain themes emerge, such as issues with safe sleeping or young people dying of suicide.
Broda’s office has spoken out before about the overrepresentation of Indigenous children and youth in care and receiving services. The majority of deaths were of children who were receiving services but were not in care.
“How many more First Nations children must die in provincial care before the ministry says ‘we are failing and returns our children to us?” asked FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron in a press release.
“Our children belong in the care of their communities where they will remain committed to our languages, cultures and traditions and in a loving place that will reinforce their First Nations identity. We don’t need any more studies. We must bring our children home.”
Bill C-92 received royal assent last year. It affirmed and recognized the jurisdiction of Indigenous peoples across Canada over child and family services.
The legislation was co-developed with Indigenous, provincial and territorial partners with the goal of keeping iNdigenous children and youth connected to their families, communities and culture.
While Indigenous groups have welcomed the legislation, they say funding is needed to help complete the transition from government to Indigenous care.
“One death is too many and we will not stop until every First Nation child is in the care of their own community and people,” said FSIN vice chief David Pratt.
“We must see immediate and meaningful funding delivered to these communities so that there are no more deaths in care of the mInistry. One death is too many and this year, the numbers are exceeding the deaths of the last. These are children and they deserve to be protected and loved by their home communities and families.”
- With files from the Saskatoon StarPhoenix