Recently passed amendments to Newfoundland and Labrador's adoptions legislation seek to put the welfare and well-being of Indigenous children at the centre of the process, says the minister of children, seniors and social development.
Bill 39, passed Nov. 4 and now part of the Adoption Act, introduces the development of a "cultural connection plan" for Indigenous children through the adoption process, Abbott told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning. That includes agreements with the child's extended family members to continue those relationships post-adoption, according to a judge's discretion, he said.
"What we know through adoptions, and through our foster process and through our child protection process, is that if we can keep a child or children in their homes with their families, then they will have … a better opportunity to thrive and survive," he said.
"The reality is that we will not be, and should not be, doing any adoptions of Indigenous children unless the Indigenous governments and organizations are involved."
Indigenous governments and organizations were involved in the amendments, he said. Provincial law requires the act to be re-examined every five years, and when that came due, so did consultations with those groups, he said, particularly in Labrador.
"We were very happy that we got the level of involvement we did, because it certainly enabled us to strengthen the legislation," Abbott said.
The new rules also place importance on sibling relationships, he said.
"It is vital for really the health and well-being of all our children … that they to stay as close to their families as they can," Abbott said.
When an Indigenous child is identified for adoption, he said, an Indigenous government representative will be notified and involved throughout the process.
The Innu Round Table Secretariat told CBC News it is reviewing the new information before commenting.
Indigenous children in the province's foster-care system have been under intense scrutiny for years. In 2019, the province's child and youth advocate, Jackie Lake Kavanagh, released a scathing report on protective services for Inuit children; in June, she said none of her 33 recommendations had been acted upon.
'I want to see children back home with their families'
While these amendments are a step in the right direction, there is still work that needs to be done, according to Krista Mogridge, an Indigenous representative with the Nunatsiavut government's Department of Health and Social Development.
"The next thing is getting this message trickled down to the people on the ground who are doing the work, who are working with families, working with Indigenous children who are in care custody or having a permanency plan of an adoption," said Mogridge.
In some of her work, Mogridge said, people are not always familiar with cultural connection planning, mistaking cultural educational resources for cultural connections.
"They will get books or download the Inuttitut app. All of those things are great, and I'm really happy that we have those resources and those educational tools and that they're available for children and youth, but those things are not cultural connections. Cultural connections would be the child knows their family, their siblings, and equally, these people know the child. They're connected to one another," said Mogridge.
Mogridge says the key people in maintaining those connections are the foster parents and the caregivers, who need support to help with travel back to home communities so children in care can visit their families and communities.
"I want to see children back home with their families, within their communities, within their culture. I don't want to see children who have to leave and be so disconnected that, when they turn 18, they don't know who they are or they don't know their siblings," said Mogridge.
"There's a lot of other resources that are likely needed to be addressed to support our children coming home, such as housing and food insecurity and things like that. But it's all things that I am hopeful people will continue to work on so that more and more children can come home and be reunified with their family, community and culture."