Historic changes to B.C. child-welfare laws will remove barriers for Indigenous people

WATCH: The B.C. government says it's introducing unprecedented amendments to provincial legislation that will give First Nations jurisdiction over child and youth care. Emad Agahi reports.

The B.C. government announced Wednesday it plans to make some historic changes to the province’s child-welfare laws by laying a path to upholding Indigenous jurisdiction.

The changes will remove barriers for Indigenous people exercising jurisdiction over child and family services, the province explained.

B.C. is the first province in Canada to expressly recognize this inherent right within provincial legislation.

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“This is a pivotal shift toward real and meaningful change that respects Indigenous rights and improves services and supports for Indigenous children, youth and families,” Premier John Horgan said in a release.

The changes will pave the way for Indigenous communities to provide their own child and family services and to keep Indigenous children safely connected to their cultures and communities.

“The colonial era of the province controlling child welfare must come to an end and this legislation cannot be passed soon enough,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of BC Indian Chiefs said in a release.

“This legislation holds the promise of finally affirming the inherent rights of First Nations to ensure our children are with their families, communities and people. It brings me incredible joy to think about this change in my lifetime, and for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. As Indigenous Peoples, we have the right to exercise self-determination over our children and we are glad this is finally being recognized through law.”

In April, the Simpcw First Nation in Barrière signed a historic new agreement with the provincial government that infuses its customs, laws, language and decision-makers into the services provided to its families.

As of Sept. 30, there were 5,015 children/youth in care; 3,403 are Indigenous and 1,612 are non-Indigenous, according to the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

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The province provides child and family services to most residents, while 118 First Nations, urban Indigenous and Métis communities have access to a delegated Indigenous child and family services agency instead.

There are 24 such agencies in B.C., three of which provide voluntary services and approve foster homes, and seven of which also provide guardianship services. Two have adoption authority and 14 deliver full child protection, investigate reports and, if necessary, remove children.

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The B.C. government said these changes will also help to further address and reduce the number of Indigenous children currently in provincial care.

This new legislation will help support Indigenous Peoples to re-establish, develop and exercise child-welfare laws for their community members and to recreate their own models for child and family service delivery, including family support, child protection and adoption services.

The amended legislation also includes a provision for a new Indigenous Child Welfare Director position in the province, which will be created to support the goal of immediately reducing the number of Indigenous children in care and preventing Indigenous children from coming into care.

The proposed amendments will:

  • recognize that the Child, Family and Community Service Act (CFCSA) must be administered and interpreted in accordance with Indigenous communities͛ inherent right of self-government with respect to child and family services;
  • enable Indigenous Governing Bodies (IGBs) to assume jurisdiction over child-welfare services provided to an Indigenous child in accordance with Indigenous laws;
  • strengthen collaboration and enable consent-based decision-making with Indigenous communities on adoption placements for Indigenous children;
  • ensure that both Treaty First Nations and non-Treaty First Nations have opportunities to exercise jurisdiction in these areas;
  • enable information sharing between the Province and IGBs to help IGBs plan for and exercise jurisdiction;
  • establish a new Indigenous child-welfare director position in the Ministry of Children and Family Development to provide guidance and advice to CFCSA directors and their delegates in navigating a multi-jurisdictional child and family services model; and
  • enable joint and consent-based agreements to be made in accordance with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act for relevant powers under the Adoption Act and the CFCSA.

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