A ‘broken’ social system, next steps to fix it, and calls for swifter change

Newfoundland and Labrador’s premier says the government wants to fix a “broken” social system that has been criticized by Innu leaders for failing youth.

Meanwhile, the minister in charge of child protection says sweeping changes may not happen immediately.

And those comments from the province’s political leaders come as calls continue to grow for swift action to tackle systemic problems.

On Friday, Premier Andrew Furey described the death of Wally Rich as a terrible situation, and pledged to work with Innu leadership.

Rich was an Innu teen from Natuashish who died in the provincial government’s care earlier this year.

“Any time a child takes their own life, or anyone, the social system is broken and that’s part of the role and responsibility of any government, is to ensure that doesn’t happen,” Furey said.

“So this is a systems problem and we’re re-evaluating that. I think one of the helpful things will be the Innu inquiry, and it’s something that we’ve endorsed.”

Furey says the province is anxious to get started on that work — work first promised more than three years ago by the Liberal government he now leads.

That long-awaited inquiry will look at the overall issue of Innu children in care in the province.

No commissioner has been appointed to oversee the inquiry. And there is still no date set for it to begin.

Awaiting recommendations, minister says

Children, Seniors and Social Development Minister Brian Warr says five social workers have been hired in Happy Valley Goose Bay in recent months, to bring the staffing requirement up to a full complement.

But beyond that, it’s status quo for now.

“With regards to the way that we protect children today as compared to the way that we protect the children six months ago, nothing has changed,” Warr said in an interview.

Brian Warr is the minister of children, seniors and social development. (CBC)

He says any potential sweeping changes to the system coming out of the Wally Rich tragedy, will happen down the road. 

“That will come out in the inquiry. We will take the recommendations of the inquiry and we will work with that, work with those recommendations, as we do with the child and youth advocate,” Warr said.

“I mean, we certainly appreciate the recommendations that are made, and we will ensure that those recommendations are carried out.”

Human Rights Commission says action can happen now

But there are calls to move faster.

The executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission says there are things that can be done now — long before the inquiry begins. 

“There’s been reports and commissions and federal human rights tribunal decisions all dealing with child welfare, protection of Indigenous child welfare,” Carey Majid said.

“So we know what the recommendations are, the Innu know what needs to be done. We need to listen to them and their leadership and let them lead us to better outcomes for their children.”

Innu Nation Grand Chief Etienne Rich recently told CBC News that Wally’s death highlights the need for the inquiry into Innu children in care to move forward.

“To have a death in care while we are waiting for the inquiry, it’s awful, but it’s not surprising,” he said.

Opposition Leader Ches Crosbie said Thursday that a dearth of Supreme Court judges in the province is contributing to the failure of efforts so far to find a commissioner to lead the inquiry.

Crosbie called for those positions to be filled.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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