Child and Family Services report highlights income, housing security gaps in NWT

By Amanda Jerome

Law360 Canada (October 19, 2022, 12:54 PM EDT) -- Disparities in “income and housing security are two of the most common reasons” families and youth request assistance from Child and Family Services (CFS) in the Northwest Territories (NWT), an annual report explained, noting that 98 per cent of children receiving services “identify as Indigenous.”

On Oct. 18, Julie Green, the Minister of Health and Social Services for the territory, tabled the 2021-2022 Annual Report of the Director of Child and Family Services in the Legislative Assembly.

According to a government release, the Annual Report provides a “summary of data on the delivery of services under the NWT’s Child and Family Services Act, Adoption Act, Custom Adoption Recognition Act, and the federal government’s Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis Children, Youth and Families.”

The report also “identifies trends, including how the Child and Family Services system can improve and where there has been a positive impact on the people served,” the release explained.

According to the release, “prevention services represented 50 per cent of the services delivered by CFS” in 2021-2022 and the “Family Preservation Program expanded throughout the NWT and provided support to 86 families.”

Seventy-five per cent of children and youth who received services remained “in their home,” the release explained, noting that 17 per cent “remained in their home community.”

“The proportion of regular placement resources (foster homes) is steadily decreasing as the proportion of extended family placement resources increases. This means more extended family members are caring for children or youth when they must be placed outside their home,” the release added.

“The investment in system reform is creating better outcomes for children, youth and families who need the support of Child and Family Services. We will continue to listen to the voices of those we serve; acknowledge their experiences and answer their calls for a culturally safe and anti-racist approach to the delivery of Child and Family Services,” said Green in a statement.

According to the release, the “disparities in income and housing security” speaks to “the complexity involved in addressing the underlying socio-economic factors and intergenerational trauma” and “highlights the need for a holistic approach to supporting families, and the importance of offering a variety of social supports and services.”

In her address to the Legislative Assembly, Green stressed that “Indigenous children continue to be overrepresented for both prevention and protection.”

“Much of the need in this area is driven by poverty and housing insecurity. Access to safe housing, mental wellness supports, recreational opportunities and pre and post-natal care are the building blocks to support families and communities,” she added, noting that the “need for system reform has long been needed to begin addressing the impacts of colonization within Child and Family Services policies and practices.”

Green emphasized that the “department, and the health and social services authorities, recognize that Indigenous voices must guide the process of reconciliation within Child and Family Services.”

“Our goal is to acknowledge their experiences and answer their calls for a more culturally safe and anti-racist approach to the delivery of Child and Family Services,” she said.

Green also flagged as an area of concern youth in permanent care who “age out of the Extended Support Services Agreement stream.”

“In the last fiscal year only 23 percent of youth chose to continue services that would help them transition to adulthood following their 19th birthday,” she noted.

According to the government release, “1,221 children and youth received either prevention or protection services” from the Government of the Northwest Territories between April 1st, 2021 and March 31st, 2022.”

Ninety-eight percent of “the total number of children and youth receiving child and family services identify as Indigenous,” the release explained.

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