MLA for Lesser Slave Lake
For decades, Alberta governments have known they needed to strengthen Alberta’s child intervention system.
Instead of doing the work they knew was needed they let critical recommendations that would have made lives better gather dust on shelves.
When I became Children’s Services Minister, I promised that I would never let the mistakes of the past happen again. I immediately got to work with members of all parties to figure out what we could do differently. I wanted to make sure every child in Alberta had an opportunity to excel, no matter where they were from.
We brought together years of work from the Child and Youth Advocate, from courts, frontline agencies and advocates like Cindy Blackstock. We took their recommendations and created A Stronger, Safer Tomorrow, a plan to change the child intervention system over the next four years.
Two weeks ago, I introduced Bill 22 in the legislature, An Act for Strong Families Building Stronger Communities, which will update the legislation guiding the child intervention system. This legislation was the first thing we promised in our public action plan, and one of 16 actions we are working on and will complete by next spring.
This new bill will make a real difference. It will make sure safety is a key factor in all decisions, requiring every caseworker and court to consider safety whenever a decision is made.
It also solves problems that had real effects on the ground. If a guardian dies or moves away, for instance, children currently lose financial supports the guardian relied on. This is wrong. A child shouldn’t have to pay when a tragedy strikes a family. And we shouldn’t penalize other family members who want to step up and help.
This legislation fixes that problem, ensuring supports stay with the child, paying for things like counselling and transportation to medical appointments. It doesn’t matter who their guardian is.
Wherever I have gone in this province — including the 12 First Nations and three Metis Settlements right here in Lesser Slave Lake — Indigenous communities have told us that we need to ensure that our systems work with families, not against them, and if we fail to include Indigenous people in the development of the changes the system will continue to fail Indigenous people. We agreed and this bill fixes two of the biggest problems they’ve told us about.
Currently, the Family Law Act allows private guardian applications to bypass the laws guiding the child intervention system. While this might not seem like a big deal on the surface, it means that someone can become a child’s guardian without a home study or a plan to keep them connected to their culture and community.
Secondly, First Nations currently have no formal role in court when someone applies to be a guardian of a child from their community. An uncle or aunt, for instance, might not even know that a family member has been adopted outside of their community.
In the lead-up to Alberta’s apology for the Sixties Scoop, I repeatedly heard survivors say how devastating it was to lose their connection to their families and communities, their culture and their language.
That’s why we’re fixing these problems, closing that loophole and ensuring that First Nations are notified about all guardianship applications affecting children from their communities.
We’ve still got a long way to go. But you have my commitment that I’ll keep fighting for changes that better protect children and support families and communities.
Because we will not accept business as usual when it comes to children.