ABOUT SOUTHEAST CHILD AND FAMILY SERVICES
Southeast Child and Family Services was mandated by the Province of Manitoba in 1982 to provide statutory services for on-reserve children and families affiliated with Brokenhead, Berens River, Black River, Hollow Water, Little Grand Rapids, Pauingassi, Poplar River, and Buffalo Point First Nations. Provincial laws apply to the current child welfare system including The Child and Family Services Act, The Adoptions Act, and the Child and Family Services Authorities Act.
In 2004, the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry Child Welfare Initiative (AJI-CWI) expanded the mandate for First Nation agencies including SECFS to provide services to its on- and off-reserve children in care and families.
In 2005, SECFS was forced to increase its staffing to meet the demands of the high number of children in care and family cases transferred in, which were mainly from Winnipeg CFS.
Although, SECFS is mandated to serve Buffalo Point First Nation, Buffalo Point entered into a subsidiary agreement with Animikii Ozoson CFS in April 2006 to receive its child and family services, although the mandate remains with SECFS.
In 2008, Southeast Child and Family Services was placed under a Section 4 of the Child and Family Services Act that saw an Administrator appointed to oversee the Agency until December 2015, when the Order was lifted. The Agency continues to be overseen by a Board of Directors, comprised of one representative from each of the eight First Nations served.
The Agency releases an Annual Report and holds its annual general assemblies in January.
The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision released January 26, 2016, held that funding for First Nations child welfare was discriminatory. Since, the federal government has promised a transformation to the child welfare system and funding model. At the provincial level, there are legislative reforms which will see changes to the child welfare system.
The Agency continues to report a disproportionately high number of children and families involved with SECFS. Steps are underway to return children home, as are the plans to establish a family healing and wellness centre to promote healing for families and children, and see the successful reunification of children who have been in care to their families.
Community presentation on the child welfare system, Agency updates, and a consultation regarding the family healing and wellness centre is set for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
As a means to provide better outcomes for children who are in care with the Agency, we have expanded our cultural programs and services, and will continue to do so. A youth conference is currently being planned for the fall 2018, where we hope to include the youth with the selection of a traditional name for the Agency, one that reflects the vision Mino Pimatiziwin
Opportunities and Challenges
The January 26, 2016, decision of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal held that funding for First Nations child welfare was discriminatory. There is hope and expectation that First Nation child welfare agencies, including SECFS, will see its funding be more reflective of its need. The Agency participated in an agency specific needs assessment with the help of Dr. John Loxley, who is also facilitating the report for the Manitoba First Nation agencies.
The insufficient funding levels coupled with the imposed provincial legislation that governs the child welfare system, continues to challenge the Agency to provide comprehensive services that are needed to make a real difference. As a result, the Agency continues to see a disproportionately high number of children and families involved with SECFS. One positive movement is the leadership and the Agency’s mutual intent to establish a family healing and wellness centre for the eight communities, offer more child placement options in the communities, the creation of family mentoring programs (intensive family support services), and the training to staff to be more reflective of the issues the members are dealing with, and for more community members to be trained to be qualified to fill the employment positions at SECFS and Shawenim Abinoojii Inc.
Southeast Child and Family Services serves eight First Nations that have unique and complex geographical and social issues, and has over 1,300 children and youth in care and almost 500 family cases. The operational and administrative needs are extensive, with an office in each of its First Nations and two offices in Winnipeg. Yet, the current funding for SECFS is severely insufficient for its size and complexities. The number of funded front-line workers cannot meet the needs of the children and youth and families the Agency services, but despite this, the Agency continuously seeks creative ways to develop and implement services and programming to build the skills of parents and members to care for their children, increase local child care providers, seek new placement options that are culturally appropriate and local, all with our intent to keep families intact and keep children and youth connected with their families and communities.
A presentation on the child welfare system and the Agency has been provided in each of the eight communities in the past two years. We had mixed turnouts in the communities but have appreciated those who attended and wanted to learn more about the child welfare system, and were willing to share their own experiences with the Agency, the child welfare system, and with providing recommendations for us to improve our quality of services. The sessions also opened the door for members to privately ask questions about their own particular cases when the presentations were over. The Agency commits to continuing these sessions on an ongoing basis.
The Agency continues to provide our own “Anishinaabe Ombigigiiowsowin – Raising Our Children the Anishinaabe Way”, a traditional caregiver training forum that incorporates a healing theme in its delivery. This training is provided at the community, and is offered in both Anishinaabemowin or the English language.
Southeast Child and Family Services continue to maintain and enhance its partnership with the Southeast Resource Development Council and Shawenim Abinoojii Incorporated. There has been an increased number of new Shawenim Abinoojii Inc. homes built in the Bloodvein, Little Grand Rapids, and Berens River First Nations which has enabled us to facilitate the return of children placed in the city to their home communities.
As SECFS evolves, with its healing approach in its service delivery and attitude changes with how child welfare services are to be delivered, there has been a call for the Agency’s name to be more reflective of this. The Agency held its first strategic planning session in April 2016, with leadership, board of directors, and senior management present, where the vision Mino Pimatiziwin was chosen, and the Agency wants to be assured the name process is done right and the proper protocols are followed.
As our Agency changes internally, we are also mindful of the external changes are occurring. The federal government is looking at providing a less discriminatory funding mechanism, and the provincial government is exploring legislative changes that will have dramatic changes on the child welfare system. With the federal government and Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs recently signing a Memorandum of Understanding to work together to improve child welfare services reform outcomes, this year will be both challenging and exciting to see how the different systems impact how SECFS needs to provide services to the members of the Southeast communities.