Indigenous Children, Youth, and Family Identity

Legislative Changes and Coordination

Indigenous Children, Youth, and Family Identity

Ontario’s child welfare strategy indicates that promoting Indigenous identity prevents Indigenous children and youth from entering government care and the youth justice system. Indigenous identity is a “best interests” consideration for Indigenous children in Canada’s child welfare legislation. Application of this principle prevents permanent loss of Indigenous identity; which is closely tied to cultural roots among First Nations, Inuit and Métis Bands, and communities.

Over half, 52.2% of children under the age of 14 in foster care are Indigenous.1

This egregious overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care stems from the government of Canada’s past “assimilationist policies.” The Law Society of British Columbia educates that: “Whole generations of children were taken away from their communities, and prohibited from speaking their languages, engaging in their cultural practices and spiritual beliefs, and living Indigenous ways of life. Today… there are currently more Indigenous children in foster care in Canada than ever attended residential schools.”2 Residential schools began in 1884 and ended in the 1990s.3 Later, thousands of Indigenous children were adopted into non-Indigenous homes without consent from 1951 to 1991 in the “Sixties Scoop.”4 On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized and stated that assimilation policy was meant to “kill the Indian in the child” and “has no place in our country”; but an apology is not enough.5 Today, the Canadian government must ensure that assimilationist policies are not perpetuated in present-day laws and policies.

The Child, Youth and Family Services Act (“CYFSA”), 2017 regulates child welfare in Ontario.6 A federal statute, An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, was also enacted in 2020.7 Section 9(2) of this Federal Act includes a “cultural continuity” principle in the best interests of Indigenous children. The CYFSA mandates the province must ensure Indigenous childrens’ identities are included in their care.8 Assimilation must not be promoted by provincial child welfare regulation and implementation.9

“Addressing the overrepresentation of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children and youth in care is a core focus of this work.”10 The ministry’s Ontario Indigenous Child and Youth Strategy (“OICYS”) is part of “child welfare redesign.” The OICYS’ pillar states, “First Nations, Métis, Inuit and urban Indigenous communities and organizations have authority to care for their children and youth.” This strategy also links culture and opportunities to prevention.11 The ministry “is applying a distinct Indigenous Approach… [The OICYS] seeks to fundamentally transform the system of services for Indigenous children, youth, and families, and is rooted in holistic, preventative and culture-based programs that are designed and delivered by and for Indigenous peoples.”12

Child and family services legislation in Canada looks promising as it now requires the strengthening of Indigenous identity among children and families... on paper!

  1. Government of Canada, Reducing the number of Indigenous children in care, online (citing Census 2016) |
  2. Law Society of British Columbia, Indigenous Intercultural Course, at Module 3, s 3.3. [LSBC] |
  3. Ibid. |
  4. Ibid. |
  5. Government of Canada, Statement of Apology – to former students of Indian Residential Schools, online. |
  6. S.O. 2017, C. 14, Sched. 1. [CYFSA] |
  7. (S.C. 2019, c.24). [Federal Act] |
  8. CYFSA at s 74(3)(b); and CYFSA’s O.Reg 156/18: General Matters Under the Authority of the Minister at s 3. |
  9. Federal Act. |
  10. Government of Ontario, Ministry of Children, Communities, and Social Services. [Ministry] |
  11. Government of Ontario, Ontario’s Indigenous Child and Youth Strategy, online. [OICYS] |
  12. Supra 10. |

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