Ending healthcare inequalities faced by First Nations people is part of the reconciliation process, and a Manitoba-based organization within Canada’s Catholic Health community is showing success with fitting together broken pieces of the puzzle.
Since the fall of 2017, St.Amant clinicians have been travelling to Manitoba First Nations communities to serve the complex needs of children with disabilities and their families.
To date, St.Amant has provided support in more than 40 of 63 communities throughout Manitoba, employing the services of close to 30 dedicated staff funded through the federal program. St.Amant is one of many healthcare organizations providing Jordan’s Principle supports in Manitoba.
Last month, Norm Martin, a clinical educator at St.Amant, and Ben Adaman, St.Amant’s senior manager of clinical services shared the organization’s progress within the Jordan’s Principle: Child First Initiative in a presentation they delivered to the federal government’s Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs in Ottawa.
“We’ve been involved with number of children who were either able to return to their homes after being in the care of Child and Family Services, or, with support from our clinicians, remain at home with their families, when they may have otherwise been placed with CFS,” said Adaman.
The program is named for Jordan Anderson, a five-year-old Norway House Cree Nation boy who was born with a complex developmental disorder that required specialized medical care.
Tragically, Jordan never made it home from Winnipeg where he was receiving treatment because services were not available in Norway House. He died in hospital in 2005 while the federal and provincial governments argued back and forth over who would pay for his home care.
A decade later, the long-fought-for program was ordered by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The tribunal mandated that the Government of Canada must end healthcare inequalities faced by First Nations children, once and for all.
A recent survey of families and community partners involved in the program indicated that the Jordan’s Principle services being provided were culturally appropriate and are meeting the needs of families and communities.
“Before, there were very few resources for Indigenous children with disabilities,” said Martin.
“Many families were advised to leave their children with Child and Family Services. Thanks to Jordan’s Principle, families have access to comprehensive resources,” he said.
While in Ottawa, Adaman and Martin also met with representatives of other stakeholder organizations, including the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba.
“They talked about expanding the diversity of the workforce to include more doctors, medical students and healthcare professionals from First Nations. I saw a nice complementarity with what we’re doing in terms of supporting professional development for front line workers in communities,” said Adaman.
St.Amant provided 120 workshops attended by more than 1500 people in the past 12-months, Adaman said.
St.Amant’s approach to providing services through the program is child-and person-centred, to meet individual needs. There is no one-size-fit-all approach and St.Amant provides a wide range of health, social and educational needs through workshops on subjects such as confidentiality, a family-centered approach to care, managing challenging behaviour and stress reduction techniques.
The organization’s president and CEO believes that equal access to health care for First Nations people is a basic human right. Systemic prioritization of community living over institutionalization must continue to be the direction taken when providing care for children with disabilities who will need a lifetime of services, John Leggat said.
“We’re educating staff on a wide range of subjects with a First Nations perspective. Children no longer need to come and live at St. Amant, because they have the services they need in their own communities. For us, reconciliation means changing the way we operate. We don’t want to place a child in an institution before exhausting every other possibility,” said Leggat.
“When we created these services, we also set up an advisory board with which we consult regularly,” said Leggat.
The program is also addressing daily accessibility issues that put children with disabilities at a daily disadvantage; negatively affecting their quality of life and ability to reach their potential.
“In certain communities, some children couldn’t go out because of their disability. Jordan’s Principle allowed them to receive the care they need in order to be more fully integrated into the life of their community,” he said.
The transition of the program is being carefully planned and does not have a fixed end date. St.Amant will eventually transfer its management of Jordan’s Principle services over to the First Nations communities. The communities will then determine how to best serve their own children and families.
“The communities will decide for themselves when they feel ready to manage these services independently,” Leggat said.
The story of Jordan Anderson will continue to anchor everything the program seeks to accomplish in bringing about great equality for First Nations people.
And today, instead of federal and provincial governments squabbling over funding health services for a First Nations child, the government of first contact must cover the costs.