Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories has made a commitment in its Mandate to continue implementing the Building Stronger Families Action Plan to transform child and family services, including work around the Child and Family Services Act.
The main purpose of the Child and Family Services Act is to protect children in situations where they may have been harmed, or where there is a risk of harm. The Act serves the best interests of children by protecting them from exposure to abuse and neglect.
The performance audit of Child and Family Services conducted by the Auditor General of Canada in 2014 revealed long-standing systemic issues and deficiencies.
The Auditor General’s Report, coupled with recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Social Programs, led to the creation of the five-year Building Stronger Families Action Plan, which is intended to transform the nature of child and family services.
The reality is, we still have far too many children who come into care under our legislation, either taken from their families and put in foster placements, or else remaining with their families but requiring support from our system.
We never want to take a child away from their family if it’s not necessary, but at the same time, we have a legal responsibility under the Child and Family Services Act to protect children and youth from harm, including abuse or neglect.
Building Stronger Families is intended, fundamentally, to make child and family services more family-oriented and less adversarial than it has been in the past.
To achieve that goal, I am pleased to announce that as of April 1st, amendments to the Child and Family Services Act have been implemented.
Several changes have been put in place to ensure families are supported.
The Director of Child and Family Services is now required to advise children, youth and parents of their right to be represented by legal counsel throughout the child protection process.
Transition plans are now included in the Act. These plans are part of a case management tool intended to identify educational, life skills, supportive relationships and financial planning goals for youth in permanent custody of the Director.
Other changes include, the requirement for the Director to provide notice to applicable Aboriginal organizations for apprehension hearings, permanent custody applications, and youth protection applications. The Aboriginal organization is entitled to be present and can contribute and participate in the proceeding.
In order to ensure that all options have been explored before children are taken into care, Child Protection Workers must also state the alternatives that had been considered prior to apprehension with time limits established for temporary custody, depending upon the child’s age. The removal of a child from their permanent home is always the last resort.
Voluntary support agreements and foster care services will be extended to youth 16-18 years old. There will now be a provision for the protection of youth through an application for a Youth Protection Order with temporary and permanent custody conditions.
As well, Mr. Speaker, a provision is now made to extend services to the age of 23 for permanent custody youth to support independent living.
Finally, there is an expanded criteria for when a child or youth requires protection. This now includes prostitution and the removal of a child after repeated exposure to physical, sexual and emotional abuse, as well as neglect.
These amendments will address the gap in services to youth and will encourage the least-intrusive measures possible. They will further the purpose of the Act, which is to establish the legal framework to support the rights of children.
Also, Mr. Speaker, a legislative review of the Child and Family Services Act will be required every five years.
With these new amendments now in force, we can look towards providing a better life for our most vulnerable young people in care.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.