Community programming key to keeping kids out of CFS: report

A local and Indigenous-led program is preventing kids from becoming involved with the Child and Family Services (CFS) system and it is also working to reunite children with their families, according to a report released Monday.

The Winnipeg-based Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre report shows a 98% success rate which it says shows the program is working and that the answer to keeping Indigenous kids out of CFS care is community programming.

The Centre currently runs The Family Group Conference (FGC) program, an “Indigenous-led evidence-based model that assists families involved with CFS-mandated agencies to become the decision-makers in reunifying their families.”

According to the organization, the program sees all members of a family meet to discuss what is needed to ensure their child or children will be cared for and safe and it looks to give power back to families who are looking to reunite with their children or keep them in the home.

“FGC acknowledges that families have the capacity and expertise to address family concerns and develop their own care plans with success and accountability, provided they have adequate resources and relevant information to guide and support their decisions,” the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre said on their website.

The organization’s report shows just how successful the FGC program has been, as it shows it had an approximately 98% success rate over a three-year period between 2017 and 2020 in returning kids to their homes or preventing them from being removed.

The study also noted that those numbers don’t paint the whole picture as some families hadn’t completed the program when the statistics were gathered, but that overall FGC has an approximately 98% success rate in both reuniting families and keeping kids out of CFS care.

The report shows that 655 children took part in the FGC process during that period and 263 of those children are living with their families, while another 139 children were in the process of returning home. As well the report shows the program diverted 141 children from becoming involved in CFS and taken from their homes and their families.

According to the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, more Indigenous families will have the skills and abilities to keep children in their homes, if there are resources like the FGC program available, and statistics show that more needs to be done in this province to keep Indigenous kids out of CFS care as Indigenous children in Manitoba are believed to make up about 90% of the approximately 12,000 youth currently in care.

“FGC has consistently high prevention and reunification rates, through access to Indigenous teachings and ceremony, and by using resources effectively,” the organization wrote on their website.

“FGC is a highly successful way to maintain and reunify Indigenous families and strengthen Indigenous communities through relationships, support, guidance, challenge and advocacy.”

The Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre believes that the success of the program can also be attributed to FGC being Indigenous-led, and sensitive to the needs and the traditions of Indigenous people, families, and communities.

“The FGC model protects cultural integrity and Indigenous knowledge to empower family reconciliation and restore the sacred bond within families,” the organization said.

“It is common practice in Indigenous communities for extended families and/or community members to share in the care and protection of children when their birth parents cannot, or need support to do so.

“FGC families are respected, honoured and cared for through Indigenous values, ceremonies, programming and approaches that support individual and family empowerment, healing and wellness.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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