Child Welfare Programs on First Nations Reserves Underfunded

23/02/2012 – Human rights complaint cites underfunding; studies show 22 percent less than off reserve funding.

A federal judge is set to rule on the future of child welfare programs on Canada‘s reserves is in the hands of a federal judge after complaints over the underfunding of child welfare programs on reserves was brought forward by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.

The complaint alleges that child welfare programs on First Nations reserves have been found to receive 22 percent less funding than off reserve funding. The complaint was brought to the Canadian Human Commission in 2007, with allegations that racial discrimination has played a role in the chronic underfunding.The society claims that repeated studies showed federal funding for child welfare on reserves was 22 per cent less than what provinces provide for child welfare programs off reserve, and that this was claimed as evidence of systematic underfunding.

The case has come before a judge due to the fact that the Human Rights Commission in 2008 agreed the case had merit and sent it to the Human Rights Tribunal for an inquiry.

The federal government tried twice unsuccessfully in Federal Court to have the case quashed. Its request to the tribunal itself to abandon the case was successful. Tribunal chairwoman Shirish Chotalia dismissed the claim in March 2011. This week’s court hearing was an appeal by the caring society against that decision.

The Federal Government has argued that while the government funds the child welfare services, it doesn’t actually provide them. The child welfare programs on many reserves are provided by agencies overseen by different provincial child welfare authorities.

The federal government has claimed that it has been working to improve its funding of child welfare, signing new funding agreements with six provinces to target funds to preventing abuse and neglect and helping families before kids are taken into care.

Child welfare advocates claim that those new funding agreements are a good start but are still not enough to solve the serious deficits facing child welfare programs on reserves.

The only time Canada spends as much money on child welfare for an on-reserve child is if that child is taken into care by a provincial agency. Critics of the system argue that is partly why so many aboriginal kids are taken away from their families.

Children on native reserves across Canada are eight times more likely to wind up in under-funded, poorly tracked foster care that appears to be failing them.

A report by the Canadian auditor general claims that just over half of all children in care in the province of British Columbia are aboriginal yet they comprise just eight per cent of the provincial population. Poverty, poor housing and addiction lead more often to neglect in aboriginal cases, though rates of abuse are no higher than in non-native homes, says the report.

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