Family Group Conference program diverts children from CFS, saves taxpayer dollars

A new report from the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre holds promising results for a program that, if widely implemented, would change how Child and Family Services operates.

The Family Group Conference pilot program is an Indigenous-led method that takes into account the thoughts and opinions of the family when deciding the fate of a child involved with CFS agencies.

“What it does essentially is it takes the decision-making power away from the child welfare system to the families,” said Diane Redsky, executive director for the Ma Mawi Chi Itata Centre.

Read more: Manitoba government takes initial steps to transform Indigenous Child Welfare System

Under the program, CFS agencies work in co-operation with organizations like the centre to support families in making decisions related to the care and protection of their children.

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The size of the program was tripled in 2017 with a $2.5-million investment and has since been under heavy evaluation by the province.

Of the 655 kids who participated, 263 were reunited with their families, while just under a quarter were diverted from CFS agency involvement.

It’s estimated that by reuniting those 263 kids with their families, roughly $5 million in taxpayer dollars was saved in the process.

Read more: Court rules Manitoba’s move on federal child welfare allowance violated charter

“This report validates what we have always known, what our ancestors have protected for generations on how we protect our own and how we protect our children,” said Redsky.

The report notes that a key component of the program’s success rate is the incorporation of Indigenous cultural values and practices, specifically those that honour the sacred bond between parent and child.

“This is the way forward. We have proven the value. We have proven that this is reducing the trauma within families and there’s a lot of hope for the future in child welfare. This is promising news for everybody.”

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