The NWT’s Department of Health and Social Services is asking for the public’s feedback on proposed changes to child and family services laws in the territory.
Work is under way to update the NWT’s Child and Family Services Act to better align with the federal act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families.
Under that federal act, which came into force in 2020, Indigenous communities and groups are able to develop their own child and family policies and laws. The federal government hopes the consequence will be a reduced number of Indigenous children in care and more children connected to their families, communities and culture.
Nineteen proposed changes to child and family services laws in the NWT are outlined in a new discussion paper.
Proposals include using gender-neutral pronouns, separating support services from protection services to reduce stigma, increasing the age for extended support services from 23 to 29, and differentiating between systemic neglect and parental neglect to help identify services a family needs.
Indigenous governments, people with lived experience, and all residents can provide feedback by email or mail until April 30.
A legislative standing committee of regular MLAs separately released a report last month outlining 19 recommendations to improve child and family services in the NWT.
Those recommendations included staffing doula and midwife services in regional centres, establishing addictions treatment and recovery supports for youth, creating a territorial youth homeless plan, and piloting mentorship projects to share child-rearing practices and Indigenous knowledge.
The report calls for a whole-of-government response in partnership with Indigenous governments to respond to the “territorial crisis” of the over-representation of Indigenous youth in care. (In the NWT’s legislature last week, a debate about declaring such a crisis turned into a debate on systemic racism after Premier Caroline Cochrane interrupted one MLA’s speculation about what would be happening if the vast majority of children in care were white.)
According to director of child and family services’ 2020-21 annual report, of the 1,044 children who received prevention or protection services in the NWT, 98 percent were Indigenous. Comparatively, 57 percent of the territory’s total child and youth population is Indigenous.
Since the federal act came into effect, the NWT government said it has expanded prevention services to expectant parents; introduced a family preservation worker in each region; and increased the number of extended family members providing care to children in out-of-home placements to maintain familial, community and cultural relationships.
In December 2020, the territorial child and family services division implemented a new policy to notify Indigenous governments before a “significant measure” is taken regarding an Indigenous child.
The Canadian government said it has committed more than $540 million over five years to support implementation of the bill and launched a call for proposals in March 2021.
The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation became the first Indigenous organization in the NWT to enact its own child and family services legislation in November 2021.
The corporation said at the time it plans to gradually take over all services and functions related to Inuvialuit child welfare through the creation of facilities, community staffing, and a new organization.