Proposed updates to child welfare legislation would require preservation of Indigenous identity

The province is proposing strengthening language in the welfare act to enhance family, community and cultural connections for children and youth.  (NadyaEugene/Shutterstock - image credit)
The province is proposing strengthening language in the welfare act to enhance family, community and cultural connections for children and youth. (NadyaEugene/Shutterstock - image credit)

The government of Saskatchewan has proposed amendments to child welfare legislation it says will improve services for children, youth and families in the province.

"Renewing our province's child welfare legislation will strengthen and better recognize the importance of family, cultural and community connections for children and youth in care," Gene Makowsky, minister of social services, said Monday.

"I am proud to say that, in addition to sector partners, several youth with lived experience engaged with us on the proposed amendments."

The Child and Family Services Amendment Act, 2022 includes proposed amendments in three main areas, the province says in a news release:

  • Raising the age to receive protective services to 18 from 16.

  • Increasing "the flexibility of information-sharing, disclosure and confidentiality" in the best interests of the child or former child-in-care who is now an adult.

  • "Strengthening" the language in the welfare act to enhance family, community and cultural connections for children and youth. According to the province, this will expand the scope of disclosure to children or former children-in-care to include family name information, reasons for removal, time in care and relevant court matters. It will also expand information disclosure regarding deceased individuals.

CBC
CBC

The ministry of social services says the best interests of the child are embedded throughout all the proposed amendments. If amended, the act would recognize the unique cultural aspects of Indigenous children, and require preservation of the child's Indigenous identity, experience and connections in case planning.

The proposed legislation broadens information-sharing to Indigenous governing bodies and expands notice to First Nations child and family services agencies.

"Expanding information-sharing and disclosure will ensure the child's right to know their identity and familial background, and will allow the child or former child-in-care to identify and establish familial and community connections if they wish," Makowsky said.

"The ministry recognizes the importance of this information to support family and personal healing."

Makowsky told press at the legislature in Regina on Monday that multiple Indigenous peoples and groups were consulted over the course of multiple months.

NDP say they wanted to collaborate on bill

Meara Conway, opposition critic for social services, says she has been aware of issues with the existing child and family services for some time now.

"I will say that there have been gaping issues with this act that have been flagged by me to the minister as recently as this month around the their failure to release records of residential school survivors and family members of residential school survivors," Conway said.

CBC
CBC

However, Conway says she's disappointed that she wasn't consulted during the bill creation. She says he Opposition no longer receives technical briefing when legislation is being amended.

"There are several issues with the existing legislation. I wish I was in a better position to tell you today whether many of those issues are addressed, but I will be working very closely with stakeholders to scrutinize this bill because it's so important and we've seen so many children and care fall through the cracks in this province," Conway said.

"I would have liked to see a more collaborative approach for something so impactful as child welfare legislation."

CBC reached out to the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations for its opinion on how  the Indigenous consultation was conducted and whether it's satisfied with the proposed amendments. This article will be updated accordingly.