Tina Fontaine’s story and the report by the Manitoba Children’s Advocate show once again that the systems designed to help children are failing many of them. Will this be another investigative report shelved after a few superficial changes or will federal and provincial governments finally make the fundamental reforms required to treat children as persons with respect? A recent discussion paper by the CCRC shows how implementing children’s rights in Canada would help to close the gaps in child welfare systems that let too many children fall through cracks.
New federal indigenous child welfare legislation, Bill C-92, is a step in the right direction. It puts the best interests of the child at the center; requires agencies to consider the views of the children; and respects the cultural rights of indigenous children. Questions about some details in the legislation will be reviewed during parliamentary debate. To be effective, provinces also have to put children’s rights at the center of their child welfare systems. The CCRC sampled provincial legislation and found that most do not comply with the fundamental principles of children’s rights:
- Best interests of the child should be paramount and determined by considering all aspects of their rights, using the Convention, in a clear process the supports the child
- The views of the child must be considered, at all stages in the process, with reasonable access to avenues of appeal when it is not considered
- Separation from families and communities should be the last resort and for the shortest period of time; supporting children, families and communities should be the primary focu
- Annual public accountability, including response to recommendations from reviews, which are often not implemented.
The CCRC discussion paper is calling for reform of provincial child welfare systems for the benefit of all children. The problem goes beyond indigenous children. It raises questions about the systems themselves, drawing on basic principles in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Basic areas for attention include the following:
- Data and public accountability: Accurate data on children in care is still missing, three years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action #2 and 55 and six years after the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child named Canada’s failure in this regard.
- Legislative Reform: A sampling of provincial child welfare laws shows need for updating to implement basic principles of children’s rights, such as Best Interest of the Child, Views of the Child, Support for the Family, Cultural Connections, and Permanency Planning.
- Prevention: Removal of children from families should be last resort; more attention is needed to support children and families.
Canada is currently undergoing a review of how children’s rights are implemented by both federal and provincial governments. According to the CCRC, taking steps to reform child welfare needs to be part of the review in order for Canada to fulfill its commitments to respect the rights of children. Implementing children’s rights would benefit all children in the system and the country as a whole.