Every year an alarmingly large number of First Nations children are taken from their families and placed with foster parents or in state institutions. The most common reason is what service agencies call “neglect” – the fact that parents are unable to adequately meet basic needs such as housing or supervision. In such cases, the drastic step of removing children from their families is supposed to be the last resort. However the federal government’s long-standing underfunding of services in reserve communities and the Yukon often means that the kinds of supports needed to keep families together are simply not available.
Federal funding for First Nations family services is much less per child than provincial and territorial funding for services in predominantly non-Aboriginal communities. This is despite higher costs associated with providing services in small and remote communities and the often greater need created by the history of mistreatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada, including the lasting effects of the residential school system.
The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has now ruled that the federal government must take immediate action ensure sufficient funding to meet the real needs of First Nations children and families. This includes immediately implementing “the full meaning and scope of Jordan’s Principle”, a Canadian standard which says that jurisdictional differences should not stand in the way of the best interests of the child.