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This article was published 10/10/2017 (738 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Indigenous child welfare services got a major boost Tuesday with a pair of funding announcements in Winnipeg aimed at reversing the province's high rates of indigenous children and newborn babies who are taken into care.
Both announcements focus on reuniting broken families by restoring family units in safe, healthy environments.
"The issue of children and their families is of the utmost importance," said federal Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott who made twin appearances for the separate but related funding announcements.
One agreement was a tripartite partnership with Ottawa, Manitoba and the Winnipeg Foundation helping vulnerable children stay with their families.
The province and the foundation will each provide $1 million over a three-year period to help Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre Inc. expand its Family Group Conferencing services for indigenous families in Winnipeg. Ottawa will provide $500,000 over three years for a total commitment of $2.5 million.
The second announcement will see Ottawa provide $800,000 to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs for its First Nations Family Advocate Office, which does similar work for First Nation families on reserves.
"Canada's support for the Advocate's Office is a positive step in a series of many required to realize true First Nation Child and Family Services reform," AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said in a statement.
Both funding announcements are expected to expand the scope of advocacy to reverse the staggering numbers of Indigenous children taken into child and family services, a total critics have compared to Canada's dark chapter with residential schools.
Philpott drew attention to Manitoba's child welfare epidemic in an interview Wednesday.
"Manitoba in particular has one of the highest rates of children not living with their family, being in care. Upwards of 11,000 children, and 90 per cent are indigenous children.
"There's a lot of work to be done to bring Indigenous families back together," Philpott said.
Manitoba Family Services Minister Scott Fielding said the province's $1 million portion to the tripartite partnership with Ma Mawi in Winnipeg is part of a planned series of reforms the Pallister government expects to roll out for the child welfare system.
"In our throne speech we talked about a comprehensive reform plan in child and family services and we'll be announcing that in the coming days.
"We believe that reuniting children with their parents, when safe, is an appropriate step and we obviously want to do as much as we can to reunite children with their families," Fielding said.
Rick Frost, CEO of the Winnipeg Foundation, said the foundation's contribution was made possible through the Moffat Family Fund, a donor-advised fund it administers. He praised the months of effort it took Ma Mawi to steer the tripartite partnership to a successful completion and linked it to Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action.
"This is only the second such deal the Foundation has negotiated with both levels of government," Frost said. "To get all three partners to come together is a really unusual thing."
"Reconciliation is the top of our agenda," Frost added. "We don't always know exactly where that will take us and it's like walking in a fog but steps like these are taking us in the right direction."
The Ma Mawi Centre is the oldest Indigenous social services agency in Winnipeg, created in 1984 by Indigenous people in Winnipeg who sought to support and rebuild their families.
Ma Mawi brings together people affected by social issues and in Winnipeg that typically involves the child welfare system. Parents meet with child welfare officials to come up with a solution, working with Ma Mawi, to mediate the settlements. The agency then follows up with each family to ensure homes where children are returned remain safe.
The family group conferences have worked with 15 new families a year, managing to set a record of success with seven out of every 10 families safely reunited, every year for the last 15 years.
The province's Families Minister said the agency's proven track record is the reason Manitoba backed the initiative.
"This is a model where they're showing evidence, upwards of 70 per cent, of children who have been able to be reunited with their parents," Fielding said. He predicted the new funding will expand the program to cover more families and save the province millions of dollars in child welfare costs.
Ma Mawi agency representative Sharon Redsky said the new funding broadens and deepens the core of a program that the Maori indigenous people of New Zealand entrusted the agency to adapt in Winnipeg.
The new funding will allow 105 new families to sign up for the conferencing, potentially helping 1,200 children in the process, Redsky said
"This will mean children will spend less time in care and they will be able to return to their families. This is such an incredible program and it will be a great demonstration for other programs that will follow," Redsky said.
Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.