Some families face multidimensional and often intergenerational challenges. In the case of Yukon First Nations and Indigenous families, many of these challenges stem from decades of racist policies enforced by the federal and territorial governments.
That legacy is hard to break, but the Yukon First Nations and Government of Yukon are working together to break those cycles.
Shadelle Chambers is the Executive Director of the Council of Yukon First Nations
(CYFN) and she leads much of CYFN’s work on child welfare issues.
Shadelle Chambers“There's such an overrepresentation of Yukon First Nations children involved in the child welfare system."
“Yukon First Nations need to have a seat at the table to ensure that those practices and policies are reflective of the needs and histories of our communities," she says.
Updates to the Child and Family Services Act now ensure First Nations are central to the process Changes to this legislation were made collaboratively with Yukon First Nations and now the Act enshrines Yukon First Nations participation and involvement in the system.
Leeann Kayseas is the Director of Family and Children's Services (FCS) with the Yukon government.
“As far as modernizing the Act, I think it will always change. Some elements will
probably be removed as prevention programs become more prevalent and there will be less need for protection services.”
That is what they are working towards – a shift from interventions to protect children, to prevention-based, wrap-around support for families.
Through the Act, the Yukon government is obligated to provide cultural support, but that doesn’t mean they are best placed to provide those services.
The Government of Yukon contracts CYFN to provide some of those culturally
appropriate, wrap-around services and supports.
Shadelle says it's a great partnership and model to consider for other supports and
The CYFN has built a robust suite of services in their Family Preservation Services
department, through funding from the federal and Yukon Government. They deliver cultural programming, prenatal and birth worker supports and Jordan’s Principle, and they help families navigate the child welfare system.
Leeann says she’s seeing the difference in the community. “The families who used to walk through FCS’s door now have other options through the programs of CYFN or their First Nation. The families we see now are those with an intensive need.”
For Leeann that's the goal. “In the future, I see FCS becoming smaller and smaller
because there is such a robust prevention option, that we no longer need protection services.”
Although collaboration with Yukon First Nations is now is legally required from the FCS team, it's more than that.
“It's more than a requirement. It's a responsibility and a humbling honour,” says Leeann. “I can’t imagine not working collaboratively with Yukon First Nations. Without that collaboration, we are not moving forward in a good way.”
One project they are working on together is the Caregivers Strategy. The goal is to
remove barriers and make changes so they can recruit and retain more Yukon First
Nations and Indigenous caregivers for circumstances when Yukon First Nations and Indigenous children need out-of-home care.
“Connection to community and culture are essential to good outcomes for children,” says Shadelle. “The best way to do that is to have our own people raising our children and keeping them in the community.”
The collaboration and increasing support for Yukon First Nations-led programs is
changing child welfare in the territory.
“Even five years ago there weren’t that many options for families,” says Shadelle.
“They’d have to go to Family and Children’s Services if they were struggling with
poverty or addiction issues. Now we are seeing a lot more supports and services
delivered by Yukon First Nations and organizations like CYFN’s Family Preservation
Services department and the Yukon First Nation Education Directorate.”
Rebalancing the child welfare system takes time, but more than anything it takes
relationships of trust and partnership. The Yukon government and Yukon First Nations are working as a team to navigate the complexity and challenges of this systemic change together.