Historic child-welfare deal inked
Kenora-Rainy River Child and Family Services and Weechi-it-te-win Family Services signed an agreement and transfer of jurisdiction here Friday to allow WFS to provide child-welfare services to all band members living off-reserve within the Rainy River and Kenora districts.
“It’s long overdue,” said KRRDCFS executive director Bill Leonard.
“We’re happy to say we’re a mainstream agency that works in a geographic area populated by a huge native population,” added Leonard.
“We’re probably the only agency that has voluntarily divulged First Nations’ services to First Nations’ agencies without the government,” he remarked.
Leonard said the chiefs of the Rainy River Tribal Area created Weechi-it-te-win Family Services about 30 years ago, and at that time the hope was that they could provide child-welfare services to all of their band members living both within and outside their communities.
“Unfortunately, to provide services to band members living off communities, the government needed to change the legal jurisdiction, which for various reasons they have failed to do despite repeated requests,” he noted.
“We’ve asked for many years,” echoed WFS executive director Laurie Rose, citing the two founding fathers of the agency—Moses Tom and Joseph Big George—wanted to put a stop to Children’s Aid taking aboriginal children out of their communities.
“They said, ‘We are quite capable of looking after our own and it starts now,’” she said, noting the aboriginal communities lost a lot of children.
“If you take a look at the 1960s’ scoop, over 16,000 children were taken away from their families and I think that’s a conservative number,” said Rose, adding more children were taken during what they are calling the “Millennium scoop.”
“There was an over-representation of native children in care,” Rose stressed. “The aboriginal population is two percent in the province of Ontario and, yet, over 20 percent of the children in care were native.”
Despite the government not changing the legal jurisdiction, but not wanting to lose any more children, the two agencies embarked on creating their own service agreement.
“That is what is so significant about today,” Rose explained. “Bill and his board agreed that this is an inherent right of First Nations to be able to provide services to their own.
“And the significance is because the ministry has been doing nothing, we’re doing it for them,” she added.
“We’re saying that we’re looking after our own people.”
A cultural ceremony was held at La Place Rendez-Vous to mark the official signing of the document, which was signed by both Leonard and Rose, as well as their respective board chairs, Bob McGreevy and Garry Windigo.
“So as of today [Friday], any child welfare referrals that come in that involve band members of any of the 10 First Nations’ communities in the Rainy River District, the referrals will go to Weechi-it-te-win, as opposed to Kenora-Rainy River, and they will make the decision as to the progress of those cases and the welfare of the children,” Leonard said.
“We’re feeling great about it because it was the intent originality of Weechi-it-te-win,” noted Rose, adding the services it provides are more geared to community values, traditions, and customs.
“Because we have a unique model of service, each First Nation has a complete complement of staff—a supervisor, a child-care worker, an alternative care worker, a family worker, a family counsellor—and some of them have cultural counsellors,” she explained.
“The whole point is that we can provide culturally-appropriate services.”
Leonard said that when Kenora-Rainy River Child and Family Services was created in 2011, the board began this process with Weechi-it-te-win.
“Part X of the Child and Family Service Act speaks to the principle that all First Nations’ children and families should, whenever possible, be able to receive services from an aboriginal agency,” he noted.
And since Weechi-it-te-win is a designated Children’s Aid Society, Leonard said there is no justifiable reason why it shouldn’t be able to provide services to its band members regardless of where they live.
“The government has not moved to make that possible so we just have to do it ourselves,” he remarked.