Notes from the MLA: Taking action to protect our children

Danielle Larivee
MLA for Lesser Slave Lake

Six out of every 10 children. That’s how many of the children receiving child intervention services are Indigenous.

It’s unacceptable. Every child in Alberta deserves to thrive, no matter where they’re born. That’s why I recently unveiled a plan – called A Stronger, Safer Tomorrow – to help our most vulnerable kids thrive.

When I became Minister of Children’s Services 18 months ago, I committed to making life better for children, youth and families across Alberta, particularly in First Nations and Metis Settlements. As the MLA for Lesser Slave Lake, I knew how important this is to my constituents.

Our public action plan involves decisive steps to improve safety, increase accountability and strengthen supports for children and youth. It includes actions to transform how we work with Indigenous families and communities.

This work is desperately needed to reduce the number of Indigenous children in care, to help end generations of disparities, and to forge a better future for all children in Alberta.

Past Alberta governments allowed recommendations to gather dust on shelves, content to leave it as someone else’s problem, but that’s not what our government is about. A Stronger, Safer Tomorrow outlines 39 actions, 16 of which will be in place by next April.

These 16 immediate steps – including better assessments, funding for suicide prevention and changes to legislation – will lay the foundation for the next steps for 2020, with more to follow by 2022. Our 39 actions build on consensus recommendations we received this March from an all-party ministerial panel.

Many of the actions are in lockstep with recommendations from Del Graff, Alberta’s independent Child and Youth Advocate.

We didn’t get to this point alone. Our action plan has been more than a year in the making.

It came after panel meetings and engagement sessions, meetings with Indigenous leaders, submissions from stakeholders across Alberta. We held public sessions at First Nations across Alberta, including Bigstone Cree Nation.

We talked to young people, families, frontline workers, leadership, all those affected by or working within the child intervention system.

We listened to Cindy Blackstock, a national advocate and moral voice for ending federal under-funding of child welfare on reserves. When I showed Blackstock our plan, she was incredibly hopeful. She has since called other provinces to follow Alberta’s lead, to ensure every child receives services when they need them.

We won’t move ahead alone either. For every step forward in the months to come, we will work collaboratively with Indigenous communities and partners to implement actions, improve services, and make sure practices meet local community needs. With First Nations beside us, we will hold the federal government accountable to end the service gap on-reserve.

Indigenous children, youth, and families deserve the same access to services and supports as anyone else in Alberta. These are supports that everyone in Alberta deserves.

This work includes new Indigenous-led early intervention and prevention services as a way of solving problems before they become a crisis.

It will involve a new tool to assess and support kinship caregivers so that children remain safe and happy in communities, surrounded by cultural supports.

It includes funding for youth suicide prevention and expanded access to post-secondary education for former children in care.

This fall, we will also update legislation to increase safety and accountability while acknowledging the importance of cultural and family connections.

And that is just the start.

Every day, I think about the children and youth across Alberta who are supported by Children’s Services. I think about the First Nations and Metis Settlements in Lesser Slave Lake. And I think about those six Indigenous children out of every 10.

Every child in Alberta deserves the same support to thrive, no matter where they’re born.

The fact that this has not been the case for generations is a tragedy. That is what our action plan is about. We will not let this continue. We will step up and change it.

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