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This article was published 6/4/2015 (2361 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Grand Rapids will turn parents – not children – out of troubled homes under a new child welfare policy to be adopted on the northern Cree First Nation.
By making the change, Misipawistik First Nation, a northern community of about 1,100 located 430 kilometres north of Winnipeg, becomes the second First Nation in Manitoba using a similar system to turn the tide on child apprehensions.
Nisichawaysihk Cree Nation in Nelson House rolled out a policy of removing parents, not kids, from homes in 2002, resulting in a drop in child apprehensions.
In Grand Rapids, the new policy officially took effect the day chief and council passed a bylaw, called a band council resolution, on March 17 and it applies only within Grand Rapid’s reserve boundaries. It has yet to be acted on; procedures are still being developed to put it into practice.
"Each decision has to be decided on a case-by-case basis," Grand Rapids Councillor Heidi Cook said in a phone interview. "But it is our intention that it will be all interventions. This is our preferred approach."
Has worked in voluntary situations
Workers with the local child and family services agency now have the authority to show the parents the door and keep the kids in place under circumstances where they would ordinarily apprehend the children and place them in foster homes under provincial child welfare laws.
"Our next step is to work on the support systems. This is not to blame parents. We’re living with the intergenerational impacts of residential schools and Manitoba Hydro (developments), Cook said, noting that support services for parents are critical to making the new approach work.
Community officials say they have reason to believe the approach will work.
"This idea has been around for a long time and it has worked in a couple of instances where we’ve tried it before on a voluntary basis," Cook said. "This (concept) is coming from the people on the front lines, the people working with child and family."
Policy possible because First Nation owns homes
Up to now, Grand Rapids workers with the Cree Nation Child and Family Caring Agency, the child welfare agency with the Cree Nation Tribal Council, have removed children from troubled homes and placed them in foster care for their own safety.
But that approach backfired and ended up victimizing kids, the chief and council said.
"The disruption and trauma felt by children who may be removed from their homes, separated from their siblings or removed from the community altogether is not an acceptable practice, when the child has done nothing wrong," the band council resolution stated.
"The chief and council endorse a policy of parent removal in family interventions..." it stated.
"Misipawistik Cree Nation... will not be responsible for finding accommodations or parents or guardians who are removed from their homes. Parents and guardians can only return home following an intervention once all the (child welfare agency’s) conditions are met."
The policy is possible because the First Nation owns the majority of the homes, giving its local government the authority to decide who lives in them.
Posted shortly afterward on Facebook, the policy had been shared over 1,000 times by the Easter weekend with scores of comments.
Manitoba’s crisis of kids in care has grown into a national cause for concern in the wake of reports of children falling through the cracks. At the beginning of 2015, there were nearly 11,000 kids in care in the province, the majority indigenous.
Grand Rapids' policy change garnered some positive reaction among those concerned about the province's child-welfare system.
"It will help break the inter-generational chain of trauma that most of our families are suffering from and it will help empower extended families and their responsibilities to our young ones," Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs leader Derek Nepinak said by email Monday.
"Incidental to this is the renewal of community parenting and putting the right of children and families first," the Manitoba Grand Chief said.
Last week, following a brutal attack on a teenage girl in the care of the child-welfare system, AMC accounced it intends to hire its own child advocate to work exclusively with First Nations starting May 1.
"The key (for Grand Rapids) will be to ensure they have services in the community," said Felix Walker, CEO of the Family Community Wellness Centre of Nelson House in a phone interview.
'Positive first step'
Nisichawaysihk Cree Nation in Nelson House, a community of about 1,100 located 650 kilometres north of Winnipeg, rolled out a similar policy several years ago and paired it with comprehensive community services and health care to help restore families.
"We’re one of the few communities where our numbers are going down, while everybody else’s are going up. We provide services to keep children at home while working on services for parents outside the home," Walker said.
Liberal MLA and former party leader Jon Gerrard called the Grand Rapids measure a "positive first step," and said that while Manitobans may not know about Nelson House, their work is important.
The numbers of children removed from family homes in Nelson House dropped off 20 per cent between 2013 and 2014 alone, Gerrard said citing provincial statistics.
"Imagine if the rest of the province had reduced the number of children in care by 20 per cent," Gerrard said. "Imagine what that would do to reduce pressure on foster homes and on kids in hotels."