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Sask. gov’t and STC sign new agreements to improve Indigenous child welfare

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WATCH ABOVE: A new partnership between the provincial government and the Saskatoon Tribal Council aims to improve outcomes for Indigenous children. David Baxter reports – Mar 5, 2019

The Saskatchewan government and the Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) have agreed to work together on better outcomes for Indigenous children, youth and families.

Both parties announced on March 5 an agreement to end legal action dating back to 2016.

READ MORE: Judge rules for Saskatchewan government in dispute with Saskatoon Tribal Council

The two went to court in a struggle over jurisdiction and information sharing on case files held by STC’s child and family services agency.

STC said in June 2016 the government was withdrawing the authority of the agency to operate using the Child and Family Services Act in Saskatchewan courts and terminating the 1996 Bilateral Accord.

The Ministry of Social Services and STC officially signed three new agreements on March 15.

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One was a delegation agreement which re-establishes the STC’s child and family services agency. The agency will provide services on reserve to its member bands.

“The documents we have signed today provide the province and Saskatoon Tribal Council with a vision, principles and actions that will guide our work in the days ahead, based on mutual respect, understanding, collaboration and dialogue,” Social Services Minister Paul Merriman said in a press release.

“This is a significant moment and a tremendous opportunity to do things differently and make real change in the lives of Indigenous children, youth and families.”

READ MORE: Saskatoon Tribal Council preschool approved despite some neighbourhood pushback

A children and families reconciliation partnership agreement was also signed in Saskatoon at the Sheraton Cavalier Hotel.

“(It) signifies a new era in the advancement of the reconciliation process, where we all work together to put children first,” STC Tribal Chief Mark Arcand said in a press release.

“Today begins a journey together toward our shared responsibility to protect the best interests of our children and families, now and for generations to come.”

The partnership agreement identifies a number of priorities, including:

  • reviewing plans for First Nations children and youth in care to ensure they support connections to culture, language, identity and community;
  • exploring options to repurpose Saskatchewan Housing Corporation units to provide emergency and other services for STC children, youth and families;
  • collaborating with the Ministry of Justice on services and resources for parents and children fleeing domestic violence; and
  • working to keep First Nations mothers and their babies together through better prenatal prevention and support, and to reduce birth alerts and the trauma associated with interventions during the prenatal and post-natal period.

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The newly-signed first contact panel protocol formalizes the agreement between Social Services and STC to include families involved in child protection matters in the planning and decision-making process for kids.

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The ministry has agreements with 17 other First Nations’ child and family service agencies, but Merriman said this protocol is unique to the STC agreement.

“We’re hoping to expand it to other areas, but we’re wanting to make sure those other agencies approach us, because we want to make sure it works for them and we’ll have to customize it for them,” Merriman said on March 5.

Merriman added Arcand initiated the new talks shortly after he was elected STC chief, looking to move forward and put the past behind them.

“The impact to change children’s lives, and families, getting the help that they need, so they don’t come inside of a child welfare system or they don’t become inside of a judicial system,” Arcand said on March 5.

“We see today that a lot of First Nations people are taking up the correctional centres or the youth justice system or the federal institutions. We are trying to break that cycles by making a movement about changing people’s lives.”

-With files from David Baxter

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