BC’s ‘broken’ funding system for Indigenous children in provincial care: report

BC representative for children and youth says funding system for child welfare services for Indigenous children is ‘deeply flawed’ and there is an urgent need to review practices to make data accessible and transparent.

Jennifer Charlesworth says in a report released Monday that data from the Department of Children and Family Development makes it impossible to compare the allocation of funds for First Nations, Métis, Inuit and Aboriginal youth in urban settings with the non-Aboriginal service providers.

Charlesworth says there’s no way to know how much money is being spent on child welfare for Indigenous children to assess whether they and their families are being adequately supported.

She also says the department cannot provide definitive information on how much of the federal funding it receives is actually reaching First Nations.

Charlesworth says different levels of funding are allocated depending on whether a young person lives on or off reserve and whether First Nations work with their own child and family service agencies.

She called it “tax discrimination” and said in her report that while the province is committed to reconciliation, that must change immediately.

“Now is the time for the BC government to deliver on its promises,” she wrote.

human rights issue

Charlesworth’s report makes recommendations for how the department can achieve this, including updating its budget management and reporting practices and improving its race-based data collection.

Funding is allocated differently because children living on reserve are funded by the federal government while the province pays for children in care living off reserve.

In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the federal government was discriminating against First Nations children by underfunding an on-reserve child welfare system that provided little support. pay attention to the consequences of removing First Nations children from their homes.

Now the federal government must pay for on-reserve child welfare services at real costs, based on a needs-based budget that includes culturally grounded preventive services.

Jennifer Charlesworth, British Columbia’s representative for children and youth, says it’s time for the province to step up to the Indigenous children in her care. (Office of the Representative for Children and Youth)

Mary Teegee, British Columbia’s representative on the National Advisory Committee on First Nations Child and Family Services, said funding children differently depending on where they live is “abhorrent.”

“A child is a child,” Teegee said.

She called on the provincial government to come to the table in good faith, saying the situation in British Columbia is dire and tied to the legacy of residential schools.

“I would say the inequity is greater than it was when they weren’t providing fair service on the reserve,” Teegee said.

Overrepresented in the system

In 2022, urban First Nations, Métis, Inuit and Indigenous children outnumbered non-Indigenous children in the care of the BC government by almost three to one, even though they represented only 10% of the total population of children in British Columbia.

Currently, 68% of children in care are First Nations, Métis, Inuit or Urban Indigenous.

Michael Crawford, president of the BC Association of Social Workers, said the association supports the report’s recommendations to increase child welfare funding for Indigenous children and improve the financial accountability of children’s ministry.

“Indigenous child and family service agencies understand the need to engage in large-scale prevention efforts to ensure the health of children, families and communities,” Crawford said. “It is time for the BC government to fully respond to these calls with adequate funding.”

The BC government says it plans to analyze the report’s findings in the coming weeks.

“We need to transform the system,” said Child and Family Development Minister Mitzi Dean.

In a statement, Dean said his ministry works with First Nations each year to develop accountability statements to track provincial funding, and the ministry recently met with Indigenous child and family service agencies. to discuss funding.

“We are committed to continuing the important work we have begun with our partners on a new fiscal framework that will ensure equitable funding for Indigenous children, youth and families in our province,” Dean said.

Charlesworth, at a news conference on Tuesday, said if the province is serious, it needs to act now.