Bill C-92, or “The Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Metis children, youth and families” (The Act), applies to Indigenous groups, communities or peoples, regardless of status or residence within Canada, who bear existing and inherent Aboriginal rights as per section 35 of the Canadian Constitution.
The Act became an official law on June 21, 2019, and on January 1, 2020, its provisions came into force. It is designed to affirm the rights and jurisdiction of Indigenous Peoples in relation to child and family services, and to set out principles applicable, on a national level, to the provision of child and family services in relation to Indigenous children. The Act creates a set of National Standards that must apply when working with Indigenous children, youth and families, and provides for changes to jurisdiction when making decisions about Indigenous lives.
The Act contributes to the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and provides an opportunity for Indigenous peoples to choose their own solutions for their children and families. Our children, our way.
The Act’s National Standards
The “National Standards”’ reflect a shift from apprehension to a focus on early intervention and prevention. They require the maintenance and promotion of familial, community and cultural relationships for Indigenous children and youth involved with child and family services, and consistent efforts toward reunification with parents or extended family. The “best interests of the child” must now be understood within the context of how relationships, cultural continuity and equity of services impact the wellness of Indigenous children, youth and families.
As of January 1 2020, all existing service providers continue to provide services to Indigenous children and families, but they must adhere to the minimum standards laid out in The Act which requires a greater amount of accountability to the families and communities they serve (Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge, no date).
While the requirement for cultural connection for Indigenous children and youth in care has been a requirement for some time, there has been little consistency in its application. The Act requires that child and family service workers document their genuine efforts to make connections, respect and promote Indigenous cultures, and respect the rights of Indigenous family and community. Community Cultural plans are not optional, and it is no longer acceptable for apprehension to be a family’s first experience with child and family services. Connections to programs and services aimed at prevention must be offered, and child and family service workers must work to address a family’s poverty through support and opportunities, not the removal of their children. If housing is a problem, then it is housing that must be addressed before any discussion of moving a child into care. If it is deemed necessary to bring a child into care, a child’s nation, parents and caregivers must be informed and consulted on any major decision about the child or youth, and strict guidelines about caregiver placement must be followed.
Child and family service workers must prove their accountability to the National Standards through documentation (Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge, no date). However, while The Act refers to the application of the National Standards as mandatory, there is no information presented about how accountability will be regulated or monitored, which could lead to an inconsistent application of them.