Open Letter - February 18, 2011
February 18, 2011
Honourable Premier Gordon Campbell
PO BOX 9041 STN PROV GOVT
Victoria BC V8W 9E1
Open Letter: Leadership Council Supports Representative For Children And Youth’s Call For Strategy To End Child Poverty And Address Infant Deaths
Dear Premier Campbell,
Vulnerable families, in particular Aboriginal families, in British Columbia continue to face chronic, deep, and grinding poverty and inadequate housing, which desperately requires a concrete plan of effective action with the full participation of our provincial government. Some of the devastating impacts of this poverty include the tragic deaths of 21 infants who died in unsafe sleeping arrangements between June 2007 and May 2009. These heartbreaking deaths and their primary underlying issues are analyzed in the recent report by the Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, titled “Fragile Lives, Fragmented Systems: Strengthening Supports for Vulnerable Infants.”
We wish to express our strong and unconditional support for Ms. Turpel-Lafond’s comprehensive analysis and positive recommendations to address the current gaps in our social welfare system including inadequate housing, and that call for a BC action plan including legislation to end child poverty, with a strong focus on Aboriginal families. Although Aboriginal people comprise approximately 4.6 percent of the total population in BC, the report details that a shocking 71.4 percent of the infants who died in care between June 2007 and May 2009 were Aboriginal. The mortality rate for Status Indian infants in BC is twice that of non-Aboriginal infants. These deaths are not statistics to us; they are the painful and unacceptable reality of our world.
We respectfully draw your attention to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN DRIP), ratified by Canada on November 12, 2010, which sets out clear protection for the rights of Indigenous children to social and economic improvement. Specifically, Article 21 provides that “Indigenous peoples have the right, without discrimination, to the improvement of their economic and social conditions, including, inter alia, in the areas of education, employment, vocational training and retraining, housing, sanitation, health, and social security…Particular attention shall be paid to the rights and special needs of indigenous elders, women, youth, children…”
In moving forward to support vulnerable Aboriginal families, and implement the UN DRIP, we fully support Ms. Turpel-Lafond’s recommendations that in addition to promoting education and information about safe sleeping, the significant underlying conditions of infant vulnerability require attention. Turpel-Lafond’s report notes common challenges in the lives of the infants and their families that are impossible to ignore. 20 of the 21 families had intergenerational trauma in
the parent’s family of origin; 15 of 21 had documented history of abuse or neglect in the mother’s family of origin; 12 of 21 had documented mental health issues including depression, suicidal behaviour and anxiety.
The families in this review also faced significant challenges to obtaining stable and adequate housing, which is independently and jointly connected to negative health outcomes. First Nations communities in BC continually face a shortage of adequate housing on reserve, and waitlists can range from two to ten years; locating off reserve housing is also extremely challenging and can mean dislocation from family and community.
You will recall that on May 21, 2008, a tripartite First Nations Housing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by the FNLC, BC, INAC and CMHC, committing the Parties to collaboratively develop interlinked on and off reserve housing strategies. The MoU also committed the Parties to annual principals’ meetings, but no meeting has been held to date. As Ms. Turpel-Lafond notes in her report, the MoU is a positive step, but action has been slow on tangible improvements. A principals’ meeting must be organized immediately, particularly given what Ms. Turpel-Lafond correctly names a “provincial crisis” in housing, and the associated negative impacts on the health and well-being of infants and children.
In seeking to understand the 21 infant deaths, the report clearly outlines the stark lack of rigorous and integrated planning between the public health, medical and child welfare systems regarding risk assessment and intervention for vulnerable families. We agree that there absolutely must be changes made to ensure seamless coordination between information and systems of support- the status quo of avoidable infant deaths is unacceptable and utterly distressing.
In particular, we are extremely upset with the lack of progress that the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) has made in implementing previous recommendations of the Representative. While each report by the Representative responds to a specific issue, all of the reports to date contain clear recommendations that systemic and significant changes are required with MCFD itself in order to best meet the needs of vulnerable families, and in particular, Aboriginal families. We strongly urge the MCFD to follow the Representative’s specific recommendations in developing clear policy and evidence-based strategy to support vulnerable families, as well as ensure that MCFD staff are trained to “connect all the necessary dots” to adequately respond to children and infants in crisis.
The First Nations Leadership Council and the Representative entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on January 23, 2008, which establishes a joint dialogue and advocacy process regarding First Nations children and youth. We are extremely grateful that driven by the Representative’s mandate, and with continued attention to our First Nations children, Ms. Turpel-Lafond has set out a concrete path for making measurable improvements to the lives of vulnerable families. Some of the specific areas of potential learning from these infant deaths include: challenges of working in isolated communities; effective intervention with drug-addicted parents; impacts of domestic violence; better integration of services and interagency communications; and appropriate discharge planning. The devastating social issues that are consequences of poverty impact us all deeply, and we share the objective of making our peoples’ lives better. Policy and legislation is required that will respond to immediate poverty circumstances as well as more long-term solutions, including stable and adequate housing.
We respectfully call on the provincial government to commit to jointly work with First Nations on a clear, concrete, and effective action plan, including legislation to end child poverty led by the Representative’s office that is cross-ministry and non-partisan, with measurable targets, education outcomes, and that is based on social and economic policy research.
We invite you to meet with the First Nations Leadership Council regarding poverty reduction planning (including housing strategies and full implementation of the 2008 MoU), the integration of services, and discussion of systemic changes required to the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
We look forward to your early response to this letter.
FIRST NATIONS LEADERSHIP COUNCIL
On behalf of the FIRST NATIONS SUMMIT:
Grand Chief Edward John Chief Douglas White III Kwulasultun Dan Smith
On behalf of the UNION OF BC INDIAN CHIEFS
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip Chief Bob Chamberlin Chief Marilyn Baptiste
On behalf of the BC ASSEMBLY OF FIRST NATIONS:
Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Representative for Children and Youth, BC
Honourable Mary Polak, Minister of Children and Family Development
Honourable Barry Penner, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation
Honourable Colin Hansen, Minister of Health Services
Honourable Rich Coleman, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General
Honourable Stephanie Cadieux, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development
Honourable Margaret MacDiarmid, Minister of Education
Honourable Ida Chong, Minister of Regional Economics and Skills Development
Honourable Kevin Krueger, Minister of Social Development
Official Opposition, NDP
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