A new report from B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth sharply criticizes federal funding models for Indigenous youth services in the province, saying they make Indigenous children more likely to end up in foster care.
The report examined the funding of delegated Aboriginal agencies (DAAs): organizations that provide youth and child services to Indigenous communities around the province.
It concluded that chronic under-funding and under-staffing may cause children to be separated from their families.
"Instead of promoting prevention or least disruptive measures, federal funding rules actually make it more likely that Indigenous children will be removed from their families, which undoubtedly contributes to the gross over-representation of Indigenous children in care," the report reads.
According to the report, an Indigenous child is almost 17 times more likely to be in care than a non-Indigenous child.
Bernard Richard, the representative for children and youth and the lead author of the report, said that although Indigenous children are less than 10 per cent of the population, they account for 62 per cent of children in government care.
"There's so many ways that these agencies have to serve the most vulnerable children in our province," Richard said. "[But the current funding model] has been described as an incentive for putting Indigenous children into care."
Report not current, minister responds
Mary Teegee, co-chair of the Delegated Aboriginal Agencies Provincial Forum, threw her organization's support behind the report.
"It's what we've been saying all along," she said.
Stephanie Cadieux, B.C.'s minister of children and family development, said in a statement that, while she agrees that DAAs require additional funding, the report does not take into account the progress her ministry has made in addressing concerns raised in Grand Chief Ed John's 2016 report on Indigenous child welfare.
"While the RCY's report includes valuable feedback from delegated Aboriginal agencies in B.C., it does not reflect many of the recent improvements and commitments the province has made to help ensure better outcomes for Indigenous children, youth and families," Cadieux's statement said.
Lack of funding, communication and trust
There are 23 DAAs in B.C.. providing services to Indigenous communities on behalf of the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD), with federal funding from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).
The report found that, in addition to funding and staffing issues, a lack of communication and trust between these organizations adversely affects the delivery of programs to Indigenous families.
The report's claim that federal funding models are discriminatory stems from a similar finding by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in January 2016. The tribunal found that INAC's funding model, which is based on the number of children in care, incentivizes the removal of children from their families in order to secure more funding.
"If your ultimate goal is to keep children out of care, it's a backwards setup," the report quotes an unnamed DAA executive director as saying.
Teegee said keeping children with their families needs to be a top priority.
"We can't just look at the child by himself," she said. "That child is part of a family, part of a clan, part of a broader nation. We have to look at it in that context."
The report calls on INAC to change its funding models to encourage different outcomes.
It also calls for a comprehensive re-think of how the province delivers services to youth and children in Indigenous communities that takes into account the unique needs of their communities and the lingering effects of colonialism.
The report can be read in full on the Representative for Children and Youth's website.
With files from BC Almanac.