Aboriginal Child Welfare in the Northwest Territories
An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Metis Children, Youth and Families (Bill C-92) received royal assent on June 21, 2019, but how has it been implemented in the Northwest Territories? In the 2019-2020 annual report from the Director of Child and Family Services, it was recorded that of the 1,239 children and youth who received prevention or protection services in the NWT - therefore handled by Child and Family Services - 98 percent were Indigenous. With such a high number of Indigenous children in the child welfare system, surely an immediate and direct approach should be implemented, right?
In the Northwest Territories, child and family services are governed by the Child and Family Services Act, SNWT 1997, c 13; but there have been no version updates or amendments since November 2016, and no reference made directly to Bill C-92. Further, only one case referenced Bill C-92 in the Northwest Territories, which even then only dealt with it concerning apprehension and care agreements and the duties of the Director of Child and Family Services.
But with a little more digging, we found a lot going on that is quite admirable. The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) is engaged in an honest attempt to implement Bill C-92 to further the “best interests of the child.” The GNWT has implemented guiding principles in the pursuit of the best interests of the Indigenous child, stating:
“This standard has three purposes:
To provide guidance to GNWT child and family service providers around engagement with Indigenous governing bodies;
To promote collaboration with Indigenous governing bodies on matters related to child and family services ; and
To outline how An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families (‘Federal Act’) modifies the powers of the Director of Child and Family Services (‘Director’) under the NWT’s Child and Family Services Act (‘CFS Act’).”
Further, in a pleasantly surprising way, the GNWT document also references tools and resources to help workers in this department and the general public gain a better understanding of how to work with Bill C-92, by referencing the Bill C-92 Compliance Guide for Social Workers and Service Providers by Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge, which was created by the Lodge situated at the University of Alberta. Referencing additional helpful information from a different jurisdiction speaks to an attempt to garner multi-jurisdictional perspectives to create programs and governmental cooperation in the most effective and goal-driven way.
The GNWT issued an additional document on notice given to affected parties when it comes to child apprehension to provide GNWT child and family services providers and employees guidance when it comes to the new notification requirements in relation to Bill C-92 and the NWT Child and Family Services Act. The document states:
“This standard has two purposes:
To provide guidance to GNWT child and family services providers on the new notification requirements under the federal government’s Act respecting First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children, youth, and families (‘Federal Act’) in relation to significant measures; and
To provide guidance to GNWT child and family services providers in distinguishing the notification requirements under the Federal Act from the NWT’s Child and Family Services Act (‘CFS Act’).
Indigenous organizations can, either independently or in cooperation with an applicable government body, work on laws and communication agreements with respect to child welfare. Many communities in the Northwest Territories have partnered with the GNWT to be considered Applicable Aboriginal Organizations, where the chief, president, or senior official is contacted “...provided notice prior to court proceedings, such as apprehension hearing, child protection hearing, or youth protection hearing.”
Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green said the GNWT reached out to Indigenous governments across the territory to cooperate on Bill C-92’s coming into force and effect. Green also stated that “Indigenous governments are now notified before a ‘significant measure; is taken regarding an Indigenous child.” Also, the Health and Social Services of the GNWT has an online “Quality Improvement Progress Tracker”s that can be viewed here, allowing the public to keep up to speed on what is currently being managed and what objectives are being completed.
While there is still a long way to go as Indigenous groups and self-governing groups implement laws and exercise their child and family services jurisdiction, it is pleasant to at least see targeted and attempted cooperation from the GNWT. Their continued efforts and support are what will be best for the future generations of Indigenous youth in the Northwest Territories.
Until next time,
Team ReconciliAction YEG
 Emily Blake, “How is the NWT developing child and family services?” (March 2, 2021), online: <www.cabinradio.ca> https://cabinradio.ca/57177/news/health/how-is-the-nwt-devolving-child-and-family-services/.
 Child and Family Services Act, SNWT 1997, c 13, <https://canlii.ca/t/52vm3.
 X. (Re), 2021 NWTTC 8 (CanLII), <https://canlii.ca/t/jfjbj>
 Northwest Territories, Government of Northwest Territories, Commitment to Indigenous children, youth and families, Section 10 - Administration / Standard 10.15 (CFS Standards and Procedural Manual, 2020) at 1.
 Ibid at 9.
 Northwest Territories, Government of Northwest Territories, Requirement to provide notice before taking a significant measure in relation to an Indigenous child or youth, Section 1 - Administration / Standard 10.16 (CFS Standards and Procedural Manual, 2020) at 1.
 Northwest Territories, Government of Northwest Territories, Applicable Aboriginal Organizations (‘AAO’) under the NWT’s Child and Family Services Regulations, (2021) at 1, online (pdf), <https://www.hss.gov.nt.ca/sites/hss/files/resources/applicable-aboriginal-organizations.pdf>.
 Blake, supra note 1.