The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs opened the First Nations Family Advocate Office (FNFAO) on June 1, 2015. The office opened in ceremony with the office gifted the name “Abinoojiyak Bigiiwewag,” which translates to “Our Children are Coming Home.”
In Manitoba, there are approximately 12,000 children in Child and Family Services (CFS) care and 90 per cent of them are Indigenous. These staggering numbers today are the result of Indian Residential Schools and the 60s Scoop, both of which destroyed individuals, families and communities.
With the number of Indigenous children in CFS care reaching crisis levels, First Nations families and children involved with the CFS system wanted solutions. Through community engagement events held in Winnipeg and Thompson, Manitoba, in May 2014, several hundred community members shared their stories about the CFS system. We heard about the challenges they faced while navigating the CFS system and the failures of the CFS system to operate in a fair and just manner.
From information gathered during the community engagement sessions, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs published the Bringing Our Children Home Report (BOCH). The BOCH Report offered ten recommendations that would immediately address many of the issues and concerns identified during community engagement sessions.
One of those recommendations was the creation of the FNFAO; this office is an added mechanism to implement further BOCH Report recommendations.
Since opening its doors, the FNFAO has completed intake for over 800 families fighting to have their children in CFS care returned to their homes or home communities. More families, parents and grandparents seek the services of the FNFAO each day and demand for services is continually growing.
The FNFAO is unique because our mandate is from Manitoba Chiefs, our advocacy work supports the whole family and we advocate for First Nation-led solutions to address the CFS crisis in Manitoba. We work outside of the current CFS system, understanding that our work cannot empower a provincial system that has clearly failed First Nation children, families and communities.