The Ontario Indigenous Children and Youth Strategy (OICYS) is a bilateral strategy between Indigenous peoples and the Ontario government through the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS). It is designed to improve outcomes and opportunities for First Nations youth by changing how services are designed and delivered. More specifically, it outlines key principles that enable First Nations to control programming that is developed holistically rather than imposed externally.
The road to the OICYS began with a 2011 report by John Beaucage, Aboriginal Advisor to the Minister of Children and Youth Services. After studying Children’s Aid Societies (CASs) in Ontario for a year and consulting with communities, Beaucage concluded, “The child protection system in Ontario is broken for Aboriginal children and youth and it must be fixed.” This report stated the need for culturally grounded, community driven children’s services for Indigenous communities. Responding to that report, MCYS worked with Indigenous partners for two years (2013-2015) to develop the current OICYS.
In September 2015, the AOCYS received Cabinet and Treasury Board approval to move forward with implementation. This is a visionary document. In other words, the strategy is implemented in the regular activities of the Ontario government, and is fleshed out in a number of other policies and strategies. This makes it incredibly important as a strategic document but also difficult to track at the program level.
The OICYS as a strategy has five key pillars: 1) First Nations Jurisdiction and Control, 2) Prevention, culture, and opportunities, 3) coordinated and responsive circle of care, 4) monitoring, evaluation, and shared accountability, and 5) transformed relationships and collaborative, holistic action. These elements will guide the provinces engagement with First Nations and its development of programs for children and youth. In addition, the OICYS is supported by Ontario’s Strategy to End Violence Against Indigenous Women, the First Nations Health Action Plan, and The Journey Together.
The Ontario government is working towards implementing the OICYS through a multi-phase approach. Currently, the OICYS is nearing the end of phase 1 which will lay the groundwork for substantive movement toward the strategy’s pillars.
The first stage included several steps that will make it possible to substantively improve a budgetary mapping project which identified the funding available to Indigenous children and youth, and how that funding was spent. The Ministry of Children and Youth Services worked internally to find how their funding was allocated, and then worked with communities to identify spending patterns on the ground in order to identify where and how to more efficiently use available money.
In addition, the OICYS included a legislative review of the Child and Family Services Act. While the initial intent was legislative amendments to the existing act, engagement with PTOs and Indigenous organizations showed that this was insufficient. Instead, entirely new legislation was passed (Bill 89: Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act) which more effectively included Indigenous peoples in policy and program development, and recognized Jordan’s Principle.
The province worked with Indigenous partners to identify data performance measures for a transformed relationship and improved outcomes. These agreed upon outcomes focus on measurable objectives for children and youth, communities and organizations, and programs and services. In order to counter the pervasive and lasting effects of the residential schools, Ontario acknowledges that meaningful changes to the justice system are necessary. These changes require the closing of service gaps for Indigenous victims and accused through the provision of culturally relevant and appropriate services. In addition, actions must be taken that clearly recognize the value and legitimacy of Indigenous legal principles, legal systems, autonomy and cultures These agreed upon outcomes, which will likely be ratified soon, will then inform strategies and programs from the government. The working group will then use the data maps to inform strategic investment planning in such a way that would protect First Nation jurisdiction of children and youth services.
Finally, the government has issued $80 million in funding for an Indigenous family well-being program, which is noted in the one year update to The Journey Together. This funding went to assist communities in designing culturally appropriate programs that suit the local needs of the community, and funded one support worker per community (First Nation, Friendship Centre, Metis Community, etc.).
Once all these projects are completed, phase two of the OICYS will begin, which will work more substantively towards the shared goals established in phase one. This will include First Nation jurisdiction over programs, and First Nation control of children and youth services.
Chiefs of Ontario holds a participant status in the Technical Roundtable discussions and efforts with the implementation of OICYS, as per Resolution 08/16 at the All Ontario Chiefs Conference. Its role is to coordinate communications, advocacy efforts, and implementation activities under the direction of the PTOs, IFN, and unaffiliated First Nations.