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Bill 18–The Child and Family Services Amendment Act (Taking Care of Our Children)

Bill 18 provides the legislative framework for providing customary care to Indigenous children in Manitoba through agreements and living arrangements.  Customary care is care which recognizes, reflects and respects the unique customs, culture and heritage of the child's community and which respects the role of the community in raising a child.  I spoke at third reading on this bill on May 24th.  My comments, from Hansard, are below: 

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Children are our future. They are one of the primary reasons why many of us are here as elected  members of the Legislature. The child and family services system in Manitoba has been problematic  for quite a number of years. As chief–Grand Chief Jerry Daniels with the Southern Chiefs' Organization said at committee on May the 9th, "the current child‑welfare system is failing First Nations children and their families. We have a system that incentivizes the apprehension of children, which translates to increased funding dollars. The high rate of children in care is also symptomatic of years of failed provincial and federal child welfare policies. This has caused harm–lasting harm and trauma to our families and to our communities."
      Liberals recognize that this legislation does not do everything that needs to be done. We recognize that it contains within it some of its own problems. But at the same time, we also see it is a step forward from where we are right now, and we hope that when it is passed and implemented it will  be a significant step forward to help children throughout Manitoba.
      But we're going to be watching very carefully what the outcomes are. We want to see if the number of children in care actually decreases. We want to see if there are more children who can be raised safely by their own parents and their own families. As the MLA for Kewatinook said at second reading, "we need our children home." We hope that this is a step toward achieving that, and we will be watching very carefully and monitoring the results.
      Clearly, as part of this effort, the bill cannot stand alone. It needs to have much better support for families. We need, as an example, to recognize and incorporate models like that at the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, where better supports are being provided for families, and far fewer children are being apprehended and taken into care. The NCN model, in fact, provides under one roof, one executive director, one budget, support for child and family services, for public health, for counselling, for healthy child initiative, for early learning and child care, for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, et cetera. And quite a number of other activites. And so that, when a child or family is drawn to their attention, then they have a whole variety of supports that can be provided so that apprehension is used only as a very last resort in the most egregious of circumstances, when family members cannot be supported.
      We need to have better ways to address issues of poverty, which are one of the basic reasons for many of the children being put into care. We had a discussion earlier this legislative session, and in that discussion it came out that perhaps as many as 87 per cent of the children in care would not need to be there if we could address fundamental issues like poverty so that families would have the supports they need to raise their children well. We need to ensure there's adequate supports for education from primary and secondary through post-secondary for First Nations children, as part of this effort.
      There is clearly much to be done, and we cannot sit back and say just because this bill was passed, we have achieved what's needed. That is certainly not what the case is. I will quote concerns raised by Cora Morgan, the First Nations family advocate with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. And she raises some considerable concerns. But I'm going to start by quoting this piece, which says the following about the relationship of children and family: "First Nations understandings of the best interests of the child do not separate the best interests of children from the best interests of the family. The child can only be understood within the context of the child's family, First Nation lands, languages and identity."
      "The Province's limited interpretation of the best interests of the child that focuses solely on the child is self-evident with the ever-increasing numbers of First Nations children who are coming into the care of the CFS and placed away from their families and communities. The focus on the child does not consider the rights and needs of the family. We need to consider that the family is the home for the child and that the best interests of the child need us to consider the family as well as the child."
      Cora Morgan raises a variety of other concerns, and we hope that these will be addressed in due course. But certainly for the moment, this, I believe, is a step forward from where we are now.
      And, in her remarks, the MLA for Kewatinook, when she stood up and talked at second reading on this bill, made a number of important points which are very relevant to how we consider this bill and how we need to move forward. She has covered in her remarks a variety of areas which are very relevant and need to be considered. I stand here today talking on behalf of the Liberal Party to make sure that our views are known and include as part of  our views the words that have already been expressed by the MLA for Kewatinook.
      I believe that the committee presentations also highlighted in a number of them the lack of the ability of the current government to work with,  co‑operate and partner with and allow the empowerment of and the leadership of the First Nations and Metis community, the Inuit community, so that these communities can flourish and that we are able to build in Manitoba a society which has far fewer children in care, a society in which families are much, much better supported, particularly those families which don't have as many resources within the family.
      But certainly there is a lot that needs to be done. One of the things that I will mention is this. I believe it was Kevin Campbell who visited not long ago in Opaskwayak Cree Nation and talked with people in the child-welfare system there. And one of the things that Kevin has been at the forefront of is helping to find family members who can be involved and can be part of the raising of children. And this approach, Family Finding, I think is a very important part of what needs to be happening as we move forward. Traditionally, some child-welfare agencies have said, oh, it takes too long to find family members who can be involved and can be helpful as part of the larger family in raising the children. And what he [Kevin Campbell] was able to show and demonstrate, as he has in many other communities, in other jurisdictions, is that it doesn't take a huge effort or take a lot of time to be able to find other family members if you go about this systematically. And when I talked with him, he had made the point that within half an hour, an hour or at most two hours, in each case, in families for children where it has been hard to find families, they were able to find not just one, not just two but 20 or 30 or 40 extended family members who would be there and ready to be involved.
      So there are aspects here of supporting families, finding families, which we need to be able to make sure that we are doing as a society much better than we are at the moment, and we need to be helping those in the First Nations community to be empowered to be successful. We need to be helping and working throughout our society to address the issues that were raised in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, many of which dealt with child welfare and which we have only started in Manitoba to really address.
      This is one step along that journey. We hope that it will be a positive step. We will be watching very closely and making sure that there is ongoing discussion and feedback to the minister and to others in government so that if there needs to be changes in addition, which, I'm sure, there will be, these can be proceeded with and we can move on to a situation which is far better than what we have had in recent years.
      Thank you, Mr. Speaker, miigwech.

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