The Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Social Development is calling on the GNWT to declare the over-representation of Indigenous children and youth in the territory’s social services system a “crisis.”

During a sitting of the Assembly on March 29, committee chair Caitlin Cleveland presented highlights from the committee’s report on the state of child and family services. This report is part of the committee’s mandate to review the Child and Family Services Act every five years.

The report found that 98 per cent of children and youth in the social services system are Indigenous, compared to just 57 per cent of children and youth in the territory. “The extent of destruction and trauma on Indigenous peoples, families and communities due to colonization, residential school and the Sixties Scoop, and the resulting over-representation of Indigenous children and youth in care in the child welfare system is a territorial crisis that requires an all of territory response,” the report reads.

In general, the report recommends shifting the responsibility for children in unsafe family environments to extended families and communities: “Committee heard the voices of children and youth and children and youth want to be with their families,” the report reads. “Committee recognizes that to raise healthy and well children and youth, supports and resources must be made available throughout their entire lives through parents, caregivers, family and even the broader community. The intention is to support the family and community so children and youth can remain with their families and within their communities.”

Included in the report are 19 recommendations for improving the family and social services system in the territory: These include establishing a family mentorship program that would pair vulnerable parents with grandparent or Elder mentors; A recruitment strategy for Indigenous foster families that would allow Indigenous children in the foster system to be raised within their own culture; and various measures to improve addiction and homelessness services across the territory.

The report was informed by testimonies from more than 50 participants between April 2021 and January 2022, including representatives of local and territorial governments and NGOs.

“All stakeholders described the harmful impacts of these legacies and the ongoing trauma of those familial and community experiences, including the death of family members, addictions, abuse, family breakdowns, loss of cultural knowledge, poverty and displacement within their communities,” the report reads.

The report also includes a recommendation that the GNWT respond to the report within 120 days.

‘There are still children being apprehended because their parents live in poverty’

Also at Tuesday’s sitting, Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson called on the GNWT to adopt a policy to not remove children from their families solely because of socioeconomic circumstance.

“I am well aware that many cases, by the time child and family services intervene, are due to severe neglect or abuse, and the time for intervention was long before child and family services got involved,” he said.

“However, it is clear that there are still children being apprehended because their parents live in poverty.”

He said that in a case where a child was at risk of being apprehended by child welfare services, the GNWT should endeavor to provide every other possible resource to address the family’s financial circumstances first, and that plan-of-care agreements should provide basic necessities to children.

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