THUNDER BAY, ON, May 20, 2015 /CNW/ - Approximately 100 First Nations youth from Ontario added their voices in calling for changes to the province's child welfare system. The youth gathered in Thunder Bay to attend the "Feathers of Hope: Child Welfare Youth Forum" – which is held on May 19-23 and hosted by the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.
Recent media stories have highlighted the challenges facing Ontario (and other provinces) in providing safe, equitable and supportive care to children and youth under the protection of the government. Despite representing less than 3 per cent of Canada's total child population, Aboriginal children make up approximately 15 per cent of all children in care. In some provinces, they represent as many as 65 per cent of all children in the child welfare system. Further, experts believe that there are currently more children in care than at the height of the Indian Residential School period (nineteenth and twentieth centuries).
"The most important decision that a government can make is whether or not to remove a child from their guardians. Such a decision should not be treated lightly. We need to hear the wisdom of First Nations youth gained from their lived experiences with the child welfare system and their ideas. Only then, can we make the necessary changes that will end the current cycle of hopelessness and despair facing these young people and their communities," said Irwin Elman, Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.
"Under the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child, every First Nations child is entitled to the same level of rights afforded to non-First Nations children. Yet we continue to hear stories about so many First Nations children who have left traumatic experiences only to find themselves struggling while in care," Savanna Boucher, youth amplifier and a member of Lac Des Mille Lacs First Nation. "Through Feathers of Hope, we are raising our voices in this important discussion and delivering a strong message to decision-makers that we must work together in search of real solutions."
The youth attendees (ages 12-27) came from 50 remote and fly-in communities from across northern Ontario. The forum drew a cross-section of representatives from all three levels of government; First Nations leadership; children's aid societies and others.
On the final day of the forum, youth delegates will present their stories and recommendations to a listening table represented by decision-makers. A final report capturing the voices of youth will be released in the near future.
"Feathers of Hope continues to be a landmark initiative to empower Ontario's First Nations youth in the north. It is distinguished both by its innovative approach and by its grounding in the experiences of those youth. Our government is pleased to continue the conversation with First Nations youth at forums such as this one and are grateful for the dedication of the Feathers of Hope youth amplifiers and participants. Together we can work to build a future of prosperity and well-being for all Aboriginal youth," said Ontario's Minister of Children and Youth Services Tracy MacCharles.
Since its launch in 2013, Feathers of Hope has grown into a powerful youth movement mobilizing more than 1,000 First Nations youth from across Ontario and Canada. A forum dedicated to the issue of child welfare was a key recommendation made by youth in the Feathers of Hope: A First Nations Youth Action Plan in 2014.
About the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
The Office of the Provincial Advocate reports directly to the Legislature and provides an independent voice for children and youth, including children with special needs and First Nations children. The advocates receive and respond to concerns from children, youth and families who are seeking or receiving services under the Child and Family Services Act and the Education Act (Provincial and Demonstration Schools). The Provincial Advocate may identify systemic problems involving children, conduct reviews and provide education and advice on the issue of advocacy and the rights of children. The Office is guided by the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and has a strong commitment to youth involvement.
"On behalf of First Nations in Ontario, I extend my best wishes for a positive and productive forum. I commend Ontario's Advocate for Children and Youth and the Youth Amplifiers on their excellent work in organizing another important event and following through on a previous recommendation to engage youth on Ontario's crisis in child welfare. To the youth attending who have experience in the child welfare system—you continue to have our love and respect. Your strength, resilience and knowledge gained through experience will carry you forward in a good way as your generation becomes the voice of the New People in the Seven Fires Prophecy of the Anishinabe."
-Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy
"The incredible efforts of these First Nations youth help deepen our understanding of the challenges faced by young people. The experiences shared and solutions offered by these young people are profound and powerful. We thank them for sharing their perspectives and offering real solutions towards meaningful change."
–Ontario's Minister of Aboriginal Affairs David Zimmer
"This forum presents a wonderful opportunity for you to share your stories, ideas and unique experiences. Your input will help inform the path forward and ensure lasting change for First Nations children and youth. What an important way for your voices to be heard and to make a difference in your communities."
–the Honourable Tom Mulcair, Leader of the Official Opposition for the New Democratic Party of Canada
"I look forward to the opportunity that the Feathers of Hope gathering provides to listen to, and learn from, First Nations youth. I am confident that their insight and leadership will help to shape a vision of child welfare services that Canada can be proud of, and that helps to protect and support our most valuable resource – youth."
–Deputy Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission David Langtry
"I wish to commend and congratulate all the young advocates who are participating in the Feathers of Hope: Child Welfare youth-forum this week. You should be proud of your hard work and your dedication to making our country and our world a better place for you and for those who follow."
-Carol Hughes, MP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing and NDP Deputy Critic for Aboriginal Health
"May you walk in peace, power and righteousness" – Karen Hill, Director of Aboriginal Services, Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies
Backgrounder: First Nations and Child Welfare
- As of 2010, approximately 27,000 Aboriginal children were in care in Canada. (1)
- Despite representing less than 3 per cent of Canada's total child population, Aboriginal children represent approximately 15 per cent of all children in care. In some provinces, they represent as much as 65 per cent of all children welfare cases. (2)
- In Ontario, Aboriginal children make up 3 per cent of the child population, yet they represent approximately 20 percent of children in care. (3)
- Today, there are more Aboriginal children in care compared with any point during the residential school period. (4)
- First Nations children who live on-reserve are 5 times more likely to be placed in child welfare care compared with children living off-reserve. (5)
- Aboriginal children face a greater likelihood to be taken into care compared with non-Aboriginals. (6)
- Key factors driving children into care: neglect, poverty, poor housing conditions and high incidences of substance abuse. (7)
- Fact Sheet on Child Welfare, October 2013. Assembly of First Nations. Fact Sheet
- Report of the Auditor General of Canada, May 2008, pg. 5
- Fact Sheet on Child Welfare, October 2013.
- Fact Sheet on Child Welfare, October 2013.
- Special Advisor's Report on the Status of Aboriginal Child Welfare in Ontario, 2010. www.children.gov.on.ca
- CBC interview with C. Blackstock, First Nations and Family Caring Society. 2015. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/first-nations-child-advocate-wins-1st-battle-with-ottawa-on-services-1.1149966
SOURCE Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
For further information: Media Contact: Eva Lannon & Associates, 416.300.9721 or [email protected]