Mr. Speaker, I rise today to explain why I will vote in favour of the motion introduced by the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. The motion calls on all levels of government to place the interests of first nation children above jurisdictional considerations.
This government is determined to continue to make improvements in the lives of first nation children, women and families, and certainly supports a child first principle. The child first approach espoused by Jordan's principle is both noble and laudable.
Children are precious. They represent Canada's most valuable resource and should be cherished. But far too often first nations children have not been and are not now accorded the same respect as other Canadian children. This situation is tragic and we must work to change it.
The child who inspired Jordan's principle became caught in the tangle of regulations and funding mechanisms that underpin first nations child and family services. The quality and availability of these services vary widely across our nation. So do the nature of service agreements and how they are administered.
This government acknowledges that the current first nations child and family services program had been in need of modernization and improvement, and we have worked hard to that end.
Two recent reports have shed new light on the complex issues at the heart of this matter. In 2005, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada commissioned the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada to conduct original research into these issues. The result, known as the Wen:de report, for the first time clearly illustrates the challenges facing first nations child and family services across Canada and provides good direction for change in such a critical area. A second study just completed by the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights and entitled “Children: the Silenced Citizens” was tabled on April 27.
Both reports are useful to us in our work. As they make all too clear, there is no simple solution to the problem of first nations child and family services. Resolving the issue will require a prolonged and concentrated effort. It will require creativity and commitment, and it will require the collaboration of first nations, provinces and territories, and the Government of Canada. It was these essential elements that contributed to a historic partnership announced in Alberta last month.
This partnership between the federal government, the province of Alberta and Alberta first nations is based on a model of child welfare introduced by that province some six years ago. The Alberta response model focuses on prevention and collaboration. In essence, the model gets professionals, administrators and families to work together toward meeting the needs of children at risk. This collaboration has ensured that appropriate services are being delivered before a crisis erupts, and when a crisis does occur that the response is timely, effective and culturally appropriate.
In the six years since the introduction of the enhanced prevention model, child intervention caseloads in communities served by the province of Alberta have dropped by an average of 22%. This includes seven first nation communities where interventions have decreased by 10%. During the same period, the caseloads of first nations child and family service agencies, which are not under the model, increased by 4%.
All of the parties involved, the province, the Government of Canada and Alberta first nations, are determined to achieve similarly positive results for children living on reserve.
It is worth noting that before the province could implement the Alberta response model, it had to amend the provincial legislation that governs child and family services. The old law focused on crisis intervention. Service agencies could intervene in families only once a formal complaint had been lodged. The new law, known as the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, enables provincial agencies to be more proactive, to offer services such as parenting courses or respite care. The enhancement act effectively places greater emphasis on prevention services, while continuing to empower agencies to intervene to protect children.
Under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, agencies are now placing an at risk child with other family members, often grandparents, uncles or aunts who maintain healthy, stable households. In this way, a child's connection with the community and the larger family is not necessarily severed.
During the 1960s, first nations children were often removed from their homes, if they were subjected to neglect or abuse, and placed in non-aboriginal foster homes. While such moves typically protected children from neglect or abuse, they were also disconnected from their cultures. Many of these children struggled in a no man's land of sorts. They had little familiarity with the culture of their forefathers and grew up in a culture that has not always treated aboriginal peoples well.
Now, with the provincial response model in place, at risk first nations children are more likely to be placed in suitable foster homes with family members.
To support the implementation of the new model in Alberta first nations, this government will be contributing an additional $15.3 million in support of this partnership. This government is keen that first nations in other parts of the country also have access to modernized child and family services. In order for us to achieve this goal, we must all show the same type of collaboration and creativity that produced the agreement in Alberta.
I am happy to report that federal and first nations officials are working with their provincial counterparts across the country.
The modernization of child and family service systems is only one part of this government's plan to improve the lives of first nations people. The plan also includes targeted investments and initiatives to enhance the quality of life experienced by first nations peoples and families.
A few weeks ago, for instance, this government invested additional funds, more than $50 million, for improved educational facilities in first nation communities. Furthermore, to support the network of shelters that help first nations women and children escape family violence, we invested $6 million in the family violence prevention program last fall.
On the legislative front, a bill granting first nations in British Columbia greater control over on reserve education gained the unanimous approval of this House late last year. Another bill now before the House proposes to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and better protect the fundamental rights of residents of first nations communities.
This government believes that first nations people should have the same opportunities as other Canadians. They should have access to a quality education, clean drinking water and adequate housing. Their rights should be respected and their children should be afforded the same level of protection available to other Canadian children.
This government recognizes the vital importance of providing for children, for their physical, emotional and educational well-being. There is no more valuable effort we can undertake. That is why we are re-examining the first nations child and family services program to ensure we are delivering the best services possible. That is also why we support Jordan's principle.
A child first principle calls on all levels of government to work together and treat first nations children with greater respect. I am glad to proclaim my support for the motion introduced by the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.