British Columbia Makes Historic Changes to its Child Welfare Laws

Update: On November 24, 2022, Bill 38-2022 received royal assent, bringing the changes described below into effect.

On October 26, 2022, the Honourable Mitzi Dean, Minister of Children and Family Development, introduced Bill 38-2022, the Indigenous Self-Government in Child and Family Services Amendment Act, in the 3rd Session, 42nd Parliament of the Legislative Assembly. This legislation recognizes Indigenous communities’ jurisdiction over their own children and family services.

“We’ve known for far too long that Indigenous children, youth have been over represented in the child welfare system,” Dean told CBC’s On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko. Premier John Horgan adds that this legislation is “a pivotal shift toward real and meaningful change that respects Indigenous rights and improves services and supports for Indigenous children, youth and families.” The Office of the Premier proclaims that “[t]he amendments, the largest in more than 25 years, will respect the inherent rights of Indigenous communities to provide their own child and family services, and to keep Indigenous children safely connected to their cultures and their communities.”

“The colonial era of the Province controlling child welfare must come to an end — and this legislation cannot be passed soon enough,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs explains, “this legislation holds the promise of finally affirming the inherent rights of First Nations to ensure our children are with their families, communities and people. It brings me incredible joy to think about this change in my lifetime, and for my grandchildren and great grandchildren. As Indigenous Peoples, we have the right to exercise self-determination over our children and we are glad this is finally being recognized through law.”

According to the Office of the Premier, the proposed amendments will:

  • recognize that the Child, Family and Community Service Act (CFCSA) must be administered and interpreted in accordance with Indigenous communities’ inherent right of self-government with respect to child and family services;
  • enable IGBs [Indigenous Governing Bodies] to assume jurisdiction over child-welfare services provided to an Indigenous child in accordance with Indigenous laws;
  • strengthen collaboration and enable consent-based decision making with Indigenous communities on adoption placements for Indigenous children;
  • ensure that both Treaty First Nations and non-Treaty First Nations have opportunities to exercise jurisdiction in these areas;
  • enable information sharing between the Province and IGBs to help IGBs plan for and exercise jurisdiction;
  • establish a new Indigenous child-welfare director position in the Ministry of Children and Family Development to provide guidance and advice to CFCSA directors and their delegates in navigating a multi-jurisdictional child and family services model; and
  • enable joint and consent-based agreements to be made in accordance with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act for relevant powers under the Adoption Act and the CFCSA.

If your organization or Nation would like more information or advice on these developments, contact Crystal Reeves.

For further information:

CBC News, B.C. proposes legislative changes to give Indigenous communities power over their own child welfare system

BC Office of the Premier, Historic changes to B.C. child-welfare laws lay path to upholding Indigenous jurisdiction