Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016. An outspoken child advocate is taking the federal government to task over its approach to a policy designed to ensure all First Nations children access necessary services, noting the issue will be the subject of public hearings this spring. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press) "You know better, so do better."
That was the message Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, had for the government ahead of next week’s emergency meeting on Indigenous child welfare.
The high proportion of Indigenous children in foster care is a crisis that has defied solution.
In 2016, First Nations, Métis and Inuit children under 14 represented more than half of children in foster care, according to Statistics Canada
It has become such a puzzle, that Jane Philpott, the minister of Indigenous Services, organized an emergency meeting set to take place late next week.
One potential problem is that many ministers and premiers with stakes in the file won’t be attending — and that concerns Blackstock.
"The premiers should be involved, because this is a systemic issue that requires a broad-based approach," she told The House .
Despite the obvious empty chairs, Blackstock said the meeting still presents a chance for real change.
If four legal orders to address the issue couldn’t spark action, perhaps the meeting can.
"I would expect to see an announcement of a real investment that makes a change at the level of children," she said.
"Meetings don’t achieve very much on their own, unless there is that political commitment."
Rates trend high across Canada, but they surge when you encounter foster children in the prairies.
In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, almost 90 per cent of children in care are Indigenous, provincial reports from last year show.
"The child welfare system across the country truly has failed indigenous families," Scott Fielding, Manitoba’s minister of families, told The House . Manitoba Minister of Families Scott Fielding said the federal government is the one lagging behind when it comes to finding a solution for Indigenous children in foster care. (Jaison Empson/CBC) He agrees with Blackstock: partnerships, cohesive plans and financial supports need to be put in place now.
Manitoba, he added, has already started its reforms and in reality, it’s the federal government that needs to catch up.
"We think we all need to work together and if we can align our priorities together we think we can make a difference," Fielding said. "If everyone is going in a different direction with things we’re not going to be successful."The current action is encouraging, said Blackstock, but any stall to fixing the issue puts more children at risk."The fortunate thing is the federal government has an opportunity to… make sure we don’t raise another generation of First Nations kids who have to recover from their childhoods."
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