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First Nations children still face delays in accessing health care: report

02/10/2015 12:40 EST | Updated 04/12/2015 05:59 EDT
First Nations children in Canada still face obstacles in accessing health and social services as quickly as other children due to continuing "bureaucratic confusion" and red tape on the part of governments, according to a new report.

The report, released on Tuesday by Canadian and U.S. researchers along with the Canadian Pediatric Society, the Assembly of First Nations and Unicef Canada, says the federal government has fallen short on Jordan's Principle, its 2007 pledge to ensure First Nations children who are tied up in jurisdictional disputes between the federal, provincial and band governments are not denied access to public health and social services.

Under Jordan's Principle, which was endorsed by the House of Commons in 2007, First Nations children are entitled to receive the public assistance they need, regardless of jurisdictional fights between levels of government over who should pay.

However, the report's authors say, First Nations children needing health and social services must still contend with what it calls an "ongoing inequity," as they cannot access the care and support they need as quickly as other children in Canada.

"There is growing recognition that the governmental response to Jordan’s Principle does not reflect the vision advanced by First Nations and endorsed by the House of Commons," the report states in part.

The report was prepared by researchers from McGill University, the University of Manitoba and the University of Michigan, in collaboration with representatives from the three organizations.

Agreement named after Manitoba boy

Jordan's Principle got its name from Jordan River Anderson, a young boy from the Norway House Cree Nation in northern Manitoba who was born with a complex genetic disorder and needed specialized care.

When he died in 2005 at the age of four, Jordan was in a Winnipeg hospital, hundreds of kilometres from his family's community, as the provincial and federal governments argued over who would foot the bill for his care.

"Responsibility for services to First Nations children is often shared by federal, provincial/
territorial and First Nations governments; in contrast, funding and delivery of these same services to most other children in Canada falls solely under provincial/territorial jurisdiction," the report says.

"Accordingly, First Nations children face unique challenges in accessing services, and Jordan’s Principle is an essential mechanism for ensuring their human, constitutional, and treaty rights."

After Jordan's Principle was endorsed by the House of Commons, the federal government helped develop federal, provincial and territorial policies and procedures for identifying similar cases and dealing with jurisdictional disputes.

Range of cases narrowed

But the new report says the current federal, provincial and territorial governments' response has narrowed the range of cases to which the principle would apply, and delayed payment for services tied up in jurisdictional disputes.

The governments have also excluded First Nations from the implementation of Jordan's Principle, and they lack mechanisms for ensuring transparency and accountability, according to the report.

Unicef Canada, the Canadian Pediatric Society and the Assembly of First Nations are calling on the governments to work with First Nations to "develop and implement a response for First Nations children that truly reflects the vision of Jordan's Principle."

The groups also want the governments to "systematically identify and address the jurisdictional ambiguities and underfunding that give rise to each Jordan’s Principle case."

Ontario's provincial advocate for children and youth, Irwin Elman, says he supports the new report and wants governments to take action.

"I am urging the provincial and federal governments to uphold their commitment to First Nations children and begin the hard work needed to transform existing programs and services for First Nations children and implement Jordan's Principle," Elman said in a news release.

Read the full report

Below you can read the full report, Without Denial, Delay or Disruption: Ensuring First Nations children's access to equitable services through Jordan's Principle.

- ON MOBILE? Read the report here.

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