Alberta acts on Jordan’s Principle

Above photo: Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, by Premier of Alberta

It has been 10 years since the child-first policy called Jordan’s Principle was passed unanimously in the House of Commons. Two years since it was adopted as the third call to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was only this summer Alberta announced that it will be adhering to the decade-old principle.

In July, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman announced the province would act to ensure funding for Indigenous children in care occurred at the first point of service need, rather than sorting out jurisdictional responsibility and then finding funding. It’s one of the only provinces to do so, but the details on how it will be implemented, where the funding will come from and if the federal government will step up are yet to be revealed.

The Caring Society is hopeful that the Alberta government will implement the funding commitment they have made to First Nations children and that other governments will follow suit,” says Marc St. Denis, reconciliation and research coordinator with the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society in a statement. The Caring Society and its executive director Cindy Blackstock have been involved in the decade long battle to have Jordan’s Principle fully implemented.

St. Denis says Hoffman’s announcement is in the spirit of Jordan’s Principle. He points out that the federal government has continually failed to step up, despite repeated orders by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. In January 2016, the tribunal ruled that the failure to implement the Principle is discriminatory against Indigenous children. It repeated the order to fully implement in May 2017. 

So far the federal government has promised $120 million over five years to agencies in Alberta, but it has failed to fully implement the Principle. Jordan’s Principle was created after five-year-old Jordan River Anderson died when his complex medical needs were not taken care of due to a jurisdictional dispute over payment between the Manitoba and federal governments. Full implementation requires the government a child in care has first contact with to pay for required services. And it calls to address the funding gap where child welfare services on reserve receive 22 – 39 per cent less funding than agencies run by the province.

There is perhaps greater political pressure in Alberta right now to provide for Indigenous children who make up 70 per cent of those in government care. While the stats are well known, several controversial cases and an outspoken child and youth advocate may be increasing the pressure for change.

Hoffman’s announcement came the same week as child and youth advocate Del Graff’s report on the death of three children in care, two of whom had been in the care of federally-funded agencies on reserve. The report adds political pressure to the province’s handling of the Serenity case earlier this year. The four-year-old girl died in care two years ago.

Graff has repeatedly stated the provincial government is not moving fast enough to implement recommendations he has made in reports on child death. Graff’s 2016 report Voices for Change called on the government to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care. In this July’s statement he repeated that the government has been too slow to address the issue. The government says it has met nearly one-third of the 87 recommendations and is working on the rest.

Now, with Hoffman’s statement, the provincial government is committed to the funding-first approach. But the details are not clear on where the funding will come from or how it will be implemented. The issue is being referred to the Child Intervention Panel. 

“The Panel has been tasked with a wide-ranging review of Alberta’s child intervention system,” the Ministry of Children’s Services states. The ministry also repeated the call to action by Minister Hoffman: 

It’s time for Albertans to step up and ensure that we live up to our values of fairness and equality of opportunity, and we look forward to seeing the Ministerial Panel on Child Intervention’s recommendation on this issue.”

The Child Intervention Panel is the 13 member all party committee that was set up after the controversial report on the death of Serenity. The panel’s mandate already defines its responsibility to investigate the root causes of overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care and the current funding and resource levels. Phase 1 of the panel’s examinations focused on the review process investigating child deaths.

The panel is expected to meet again in September as the second phase of its deliberations is underway. There’s no timeline for a full report and recommendations from the panel, however, which means when and how Alberta will implement Jordan’s Principle remains unclear.

Journalist Samantha Power is a prolific writer, editor and researcher who has worked in Albertan independent media for over 10 years. She is particularly adept and experienced at working in the political realm. With an eye to issues of social and environmental justice, her research into the inner-workings of the Government of Alberta is extremely well suited to Heather MacKenzie Consulting clients.