First Nations Child Welfare in Alberta (2011)

Author(s): 
Anna Kozlowski, Vandna Sinha & Randy McHugh

This information sheet presents an overview of the current structure of First Nations child welfare in Alberta as it was in 2011. It builds on work done for the First Nations component of the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (FNCIS-2008), a collaboration between university researchers and representatives of major Aboriginal child welfare organizations, to analyze, contextualize and disseminate research investigations involving First Nations children included in the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and neglect (Sinha, et al., 2011). Basic information about the structure of First Nations child welfare was compiled in order to contextualize FNCIS-2008 findings. FNCIS-2008 advisory committee members completed 2-page information sheets consisting of closed and open-ended questions about the historical trajectories, umbrella/support organizations, legislative/policy frameworks, funding models, and scope of First Nations child welfare agencies in their jurisdictions. Research team members followed up by collecting and reviewing government documents, child welfare legislation, court documents and research reports in order to verify, refine, and provide formal references for the information provided by committee members.


In 2006, there were 97,275 First Nations people in Alberta; they represented 14% of the total First Nations population in Canada and 3% of the population in Alberta (Statistics Canada, 2006). First Nations children (aged zero to nineteen) constituted 5% of the child population in Alberta; an additional 4% of the child population was non-First Nations Aboriginal (Statistics Canada, 2006 Census).1 Aboriginal children made up about 9% of the child population in Alberta yet comprised 62% of all children in care (Alberta Children and Youth Services, 2009).

First Nations communities in Alberta have long worked to re-gain control over child welfare practices related to their children. The results of their efforts are demonstrated by the existence of eighteen First Nations child welfare agencies. The development of these agencies followed the 1973 signing of the Blackfoot (Siksika) child welfare agreement, the first child welfare agreement with a First Nations community in Alberta (Alberta Child and Youth Services, 2007). In addition to the growing scope of First Nations agencies, the legislative and child welfare standards governing Alberta’s provincially run child welfare agencies contain special considerations for Aboriginal children, including the requirement that an applicant for private guardianship or adoption of an Aboriginal child provide a cultural connection plan outlining the ways in which that child’s culture, heritage, spirituality and traditions will be fostered (Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, 2000).

The History of the First Nations Child Welfare System in Alberta

Alberta shares a common national history with other provinces in regards to the development of First Nations child welfare. Residential schools served as the primary mechanism of First Nations child welfare in Canada between 1879 and 1946 (Milloy, 1999). During this period, the Canadian government’s policy was to attempt to assimilate Aboriginal peoples into Anglo-European culture by separating Aboriginal children from their families and placing them in residential schools. Residential schools were also the institutions which provided state care for First Nations children who were found to be abused or neglected in their homes (Milloy, 1999).

In 1920 an amendment to the Indian Act made attendance at designated state sponsored (day, residential, institutional) schools mandatory for all children “between the ages of seven and fifteen years” who were physically able to attend (An Act to amend the Indian Act, 1920, A10). It also allowed truant officers to enforce attendance, giving them the right to, “enter any place where he has reason to believe there are Indian children” of school age and to arrest and convey to school truant children. (An Act to amend the Indian Act, 1920, A10). In Alberta there were twenty-nine residential schools operating between 1862 and 1975 (Assembly of First Nations, 2010).

In 1951, the introduction of Section 88 to the Indian Act made “all laws of general application from time to time in force in any province applicable to and in respect of Indians in the province” (Indian Act, s. 88, c. 9, s. 151, 1985). Section 88 made it possible to enforce provincial child welfare legislation on-reserve. For the first time provincial child welfare authorities began to apprehend Aboriginal children living on-reserve; this resulted in a sharp increase of First Nations children placed in care (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996). In Alberta by 1979 51% of all children temporarily in out-of-home care and 44% of children permanently in out-of-home care were Aboriginal (Johnston, 1983).

Starting in the early 1970s First Nations communities began to formally develop child welfare agencies on-reserve. In 1973, the Canadian and Alberta governments signed the Blackfoot (Siksika) child welfare agreement giving the Blackfoot Nations the right to conduct child welfare investigations under the terms of the Child, Youth, and Family Enhancement Act (Child Youth and Family Enhancement Act, 2000; Alberta Child and Youth Services, 2007). Subsequently, other First Nations communities signed similar agreements to form delegated First Nations child welfare agencies (Alberta Child and Youth Services, 2007).

In 1991, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC)2 signed the Arrangement for the Funding and Administration of Social Services agreement with the Alberta government, creating a funding formula for on-reserve First Nations child welfare services provided by the provincial government (INAC, 2005). The terms of the agreement were that INAC monetarily reimburse the Alberta Ministry of Children and Youth Services monthly for services provided to First Nations communities on-reserve according to estimated administrative costs and actual costs for First Nations children placed in care (INAC, 2005). During this time, due to a rise in the number of First Nations child welfare agencies and a perceived lack of funding for such services, INAC in 1991 implemented a national First Nations child welfare program (Auditor General of Canada, 2008). The program comprised of a funding formula, Directive 20-1, and standards, documented in the First Nations Child and Family Services National Program Manual, which required First Nations child welfare agencies to conduct child welfare services based on provincial standards (Auditor General of Canada, 2008). The program placed greater constraints on First Nations child welfare agencies, binding them to provincial standards of practice and standardizing funding of services (Auditor General of Canada, 2008).

The Current Structure of First Nations Child Welfare in Alberta (2011)

In Alberta, there are currently eighteen First Nations child welfare agencies that serve on-reserve children and families (Alberta Child and Youth Services, 2007). Non-delegated agencies provide child welfare services but do not have the authority to conduct child welfare investigations enforcing the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act (Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, 2000); delegated agencies have signed agreements with the provincial government that give them such authority. There are also 10 regional child welfare authorities that are responsible for providing intervention services to First Nations children and families living off reserve (Alberta Child Intervention Review Panel, 2010). All First Nations child welfare agencies in Alberta are tied to the same legislative and policy framework as provincial agencies.

In 2000, an amendment to the Alberta Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act included special considerations and acknowledgement of First Nations children’s unique position within the child welfare system including Aboriginal band member involvement in placement decisions related to children from the same band and the requirement that when an out-of-home placement involves an Aboriginal child the applicant guardian present a cultural connection plan outlining the ways in which that child’s Aboriginal identity will be perserved (Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, 2000)

First Nations child welfare agencies in Alberta have been funded by INAC under the “Enhanced Prevention-Focused funding” formula since 2007. The funding formula was introduced in response to criticism of Directive 20-1, the funding formula that was in place before 2007. The “Enhanced Prevention-Focused” formula consists of maintenance, operational, and prevention funds. Maintenance funds are meant to cover costs of each child in care, operational funds are intended to cover administrative costs and prevention funding is for child maltreatment prevention programs (Government of Canada 2009, Johnston 2009). The “enhanced prevention focused funding” model addresses some key criticisms of directive 20-1: it provides increased funding (Auditor General of Canada 2008, INAC 2010a), specifically targets funds for prevention, and allows agencies increased flexibility in using funds (Government of Canada 2009, Johnston 2009). Indeed, INAC reports that Alberta agencies received $18.5 million additional dollars through the enhanced prevention model in 2008-09 and that they will receive $98.1 million over the five year period following introduction of the new formula. In addition, INAC asserts that initial reports suggest a decrease in caseloads and a rise in permanent placements of children in the years since the shift to the new funding formula (INAC, 2010a).

Still, as the Auditor General of Canada (2008) has noted, some of the flaws identified in directive 20-1 (McDonald & Ladd 2000) are reproduced in the new funding model. Operations costs continue to be partially based on an assumed average rate of out of home placements rather than actual agency expenses (House Standing Committee on Public Accounts 2010, Auditor General of Canada 2008) and there does not appear to be a formal mechanism for linking INAC funding levels to the shifting responsibilities mandated by provinces/territories (Government of Canada 2009, Johnston 2010). In addition, in contrast to directive 20-1, which covered actual maintenance expenses for children in out of home care, the new model designates a block of maintenance funds based on agency maintenance costs during the previous year (Government of Canada 2009). This block funding mechanism does not include a formal mechanism for covering costs associated with the maintenance of children with particularly complex special needs, or the other factors which INAC identifies as driving a doubling of maintenance costs over the last decade (INAC 2010a). Thus, the full impact of the shift in funding models for First Nations agencies in Alberta is yet to be assessed and understood.

In September 2010, AANDC published an evaluation report of the Enhance Prevention Focused funding approach in Alberta. Four criteria: relevance, design and delivery, performance/success effectiveness and efficiency/economic effectiveness, were used to evaluate the benefits of Enhance Prevention Focused funding in Alberta for the fiscals years of 2007/08 and 2009/10 (INAC, 2010b). Data sources included a literature review, business plans, agency reports, payment transfers and budgets, as well as key informant interviews and focus groups with frontline child welfare staff, agency directors and Alberta AANDC representatives. The evaluation presented evidence for the use of a prevention focused approach in child welfare, but due to unavailable and unreliable data the benefit of the Enhance Prevention Focused approach in Alberta, using the above mentioned criteria, was found as inconclusive.

Table 1: Fully Delegated First Nations Child Welfare Agencies in Alberta (2011)

Agency First Nations Served
Akamkispatnaw Ohpikihawasowin (AKO) Child & Family Services Louis Bull, Montana
Athabasca Tribal Council Fort McMurray, Fort McKay, Janvier, Fort Chipewyan, Mikisew, Athabasca Chipewyan, Chipewyan Prairie
Bigstone Cree Social Services Society (Bigstone Indian) Bigstone Cree
Blood Tribe Child Protection Services Corporation Blood Tribe
Kasohkowew Child Wellness Society Sanson Cree
Kee Tas Kee (KTC) Child & Family Services Woodland Cree, Whitefish Lake, Loon River
Lesser Slave Indian Regional Council Child Welfare Dunca, Drift Pile, Swan River, Kapown, Sturgeon Lake, Horse Lake, Sucker Creek, Kapawe'no, Sawridge
Little Red River Cree Nation Child & Family Service Society Fox Lake, Garden River, Jean D'or Prairie
North Peace Tribal Council Child & Family Services Dene Thai, Tallcree, Beaver
Piikani Child & Family Services Piikani (formerly known as Peigan)
Siksika Family Services Corporation Siksika
Stoney Child & Family Services Bearspaw, Chiniki, Wesley
Saddle Lake Wah-KohTo-Win Child & Family Services Saddle Lake
Tribal Chiefs Child & Family Services East Keheewin Cree, Frog Lake
Tribal Chiefs Child & Family Services West Beaver Lake, Heart Lake, Goodfish Lake
Tsuu Tsina Nation Child & Family Services Sarcee Independent, Tsuu T'ina
Western Cree Tribal Council Horse Lake, Sturgeon Lake, Duncan
Yellowhead Tribal Services Alexis, Enoch, Sunchild, Ochiese
 
 

References

An Act to Amend the Indian Act. (1920). Retrieved from http://epe.lacbac.gc.ca/100/205/301/ic/cdc/aboriginaldocs/stat/html/1920....

Alberta Child Intervention Review Panel. (June 30, 2010). Closing the Gap Between: Vision and Reality. AB: Ministry of Children and Youth.

Alberta Child and Youth Services. (2007). Delegated First Nations Agencies. Retrieved from http://www.child.alberta.ca/home/506.cfm

Alberta Children and Youth Services. ( November 2009). Kinship Care Review Report. Retrieved from http://www.child.alberta.ca/home/documents/fostercare/Final_Report.pdf.

Assembly of First Nations.(2010). History of Indian Residential Schools. Retrieved from http://www.afn.ca/index.php/en/policy-areas/indian-residential-schools-unit.

Auditor General of Canada. (2008). First Nations Child and Family Services Program –Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. In Auditor General of Canada, Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons. Retrieved from http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca

Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act. R.S.A (2000) Retrieved from http://www.qp.alberta.ca/574.cfm?page=c12.cfm&leg_type=Acts&isbncln=9780...

Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11.

Government of Canada. (2009).Government of Canada Response to the Report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts on Chapter 4, First Nations Child and Family Services Program – Indian and Northern Affairs Canada of the May 2008 report of the Auditor General. Retrieved from http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mod e=1&Parl=40&Ses=2&DocId=4017684&File=0

House Standing Committee on Public Accounts. (2010). Chapter 4, First Nations Child and Family Services Program – Indian and Northern Affairs Canada of the May 2008 Report of the Auditor General. Ottawa: Government of Canada.

Indian Act R.S.c.I-5 C.F.R. (1985).

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. (May 2005). First Nations Child and Family Services National Program Manual. Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. (2010a). Better Outcomes for First Nations Children: INAC’s Role as a Funder in First Nations Child and Family Services Updated: July 2010. Retrieved from http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/hb/sp/fncf/cfsd-eng.asp

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. (2010b). Implementation Evaluation of the Enhanced Prevention Focused Approach in Alberta for the First Nations Child and Family Services Program. Ottawa: Evaluation Performance Measurement and Review Branch. Auditor and Evaluation Sector. Indian and Northern Affairs

Johnston, Odette. (December 20, 2009). Affidavit. First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and Assembly of First Nations   v. The Attorney General of Canada representing the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs., City of Ottawa. Retrieved from http://www.fncaringsociety.com/fnwitness/tribunal-timeline.

Johnston, O. (February 26, 2010). Cross Examination by Mr.Champ: First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and Assembly of First Nations v. The Attorney General of Canada representing the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs., City of Ottawa. Retrieved from http://www.fncaringsociety.com/fnwitness/tribunal-timeline.

Johnston, P. (1983). Native Children and the Child Welfare System. Toronto: Canadian Council on Social Development.

McDonald, N., & Ladd, P. (June 2000). First Nations Child and Family Services Joint National Policy Review: Draft final report. Prepared for the Assembly of First Nations with First Nations Child and Family Service Agency Representatives in Partnership with the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Ottawa: AFN and DIAND.

Milloy, J. (1999). A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System 1879-1986. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. (1996). The Report on the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Ottawa, Ont.: Libraxus Inc.

Statistics Canada. (2006). Aboriginal Peoples in Canada in 2006: Inuit, Metis and First Nations, 2006 Census Retrieved from http://www12.statcan.ca/census-recensement/2006/dp-pd/hlt/97-558/index.c....

  • 1. There are three groups of Aboriginal peoples in Canada recognized by the Constitution Act (1982): First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.
  • 2. As of May 2011, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), changed its name to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC).
About the Authors: 

Anna Kozlowski is a Ph.D student in the school of social work at McGill University.

Vandna Sinha is an assistant professor at the Centre for Research on Children and Families.

Randy McHugh works with the Siksika Family Services Corporation in Alberta and is an advisory committee member of the First Nations Component of the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect 2008 (FNCIS-2008).

Suggested Citation: 

CWRP Information Sheet #99E. (2012). Montreal, QC: McGill University, Centre for Research on Children and Families.