Aboriginal children in Canada at serious risk, child advocates say
“They are the responsibility of all Canadians”
Aboriginal children in Canada are disproportionately represented in the youth justice and child welfare systems, suffer from poorer health, they lag significantly behind in educational outcomes, and are too often the victims of sexual exploitation and violence.
Their rates of death and injury are also disproportionately high, says the Canadian Council of Provincial Child and Youth Advocates.
A national plan is urgently needed to improve outcomes for aboriginal children and youth, say the council’s members, who represent nine provinces and one territory.
The group issued the call at a a June 23 news conference in Ottawa to call attention to the plight of young Inuit, First Nations and Métis.
“Now is the time for Canadians and their leaders to focus energy and resources on this pressing issue,” the council members said at the news, scheduled the day before the June 24 start-up of G8 Summit, where Canada wanted world leaders to focus on the health of children and women in the poorest countries in the world.
To change a situation that they say is increasingly acceptable to too many Canadians, the council members recommend:
• Creation of a National Children’s Commissioner, independent from Parliament, who would place “particular emphasis on aboriginal children and youth;”
• A national plan to measure and report on child welfare, education and health outcomes for aboriginal children and youth;
• A national aboriginal children and youth participation plan and implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; and
• A special conference of federal, provincial, territorial first ministers, with aboriginal leaders, and child and youth delegates, who would receive a report on outcomes for aboriginal children and youth: “a national plan to improve outcomes for Aboriginal children and youth would be a desired outcome of this process,” the council says.
The council — which includes Quebec’s human rights and youth commission— found:
• Aboriginal children and youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system;
• Incidence of “severe economic hardship is dramatically higher for aboriginal children and their families;”
• Aboriginal youth are “grossly over-represented” in the youth criminal justice system beginning at age 12 years;
• Many aboriginal children and youth live with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and substance abuse is a factor in many young lives; and,
• A high number of deaths and critical injuries report and deaths of children receiving government services:
The council members say reviews of services for aboriginal children and youth always point to gaps in these services, like those uncovered in Nunavik by Quebec’s commission for human rights and the rights of children.
The council members also appear to be wary about the transfer and delivery of child welfare and social services as aboriginal communities move towards self-government.
“An effective response requires that the focus be kept on the children. These children cannot be seen as the exclusive responsibility of one government or one organization. They are the responsibility of all Canadians, and they need our support,” the council says.