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Baby steps for Jordan's Principle in sasktchewan.


Out of a child's death comes a sign of hope: Jordan's Principle will be implemented in Saskatchewan.

First Nation families whose children have multiple disabilities can expect to receive the health services they require in a timely fashion, according to a press release issued Sept. 16 by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, the government of Saskatchewan and the federal government.

Jordan's Principle emerged from the tragic story of Jordan River Anderson, born in 1999 in Norway House, Man. He had a rare neuromuscular disorder and was in hospital for the first two years of his life. As his condition stabilized, preparations were made to properly accommodate his needs for his eventual return to Norway House. Doctors approved his release from hospital after his second birthday. However, a dispute broke out between federal and provincial authorities over which jurisdiction should pay for Jordan's continuing home care.

The payment squabble took two years to resolve, during which Jordan had to remain in hospital. Jordan died from his illness at age five never having lived in his family's home.

Out of Jordan's death arose Jordan's Principle, a concept that puts the needs of the child first, and questions of jurisdictional responsibility second. Jordan's Principle was introduced and passed unanimously as a bill in the House of Commons in 2007, though no province or territory has fully implemented it.

But the Sept. 16 announcement means that the Saskatchewan government is taking steps.

"We all agreed on the end result, which is that no First Nations child should fall through the gaps when they need services," said Giselle Marcotte, executive director of Aboriginal policy and operations. Working in the Ministry of First Nations and Metis relations, Marcotte was central to the process of bringing together the ministries of health, social services and education to figure out ways to implement Jordan's Principle within the system.

The agreement on an interim basis means that Saskatchewan and the federal government will provide health services without delay to First Nations children and their families. The difference now is that any disputes that may arise over funding between governments will be handled through internal processes and out of the public eye, Marcotte said.

"If a dispute arises, we know that we can't carry on a dispute without solving the problem first. The service has to be provided and then we can go and right about (who pays) later," Marcotte said.

The provincial and federal government and the FSIN agree that Jordan's Principle needs to happen, and meetings will continue to work out the dispute avoidance processes, Marcotte said.

For the moment, Saskatchewan's implementation of Jordan's Principle applies exclusively in the area of health.

But Jordan's Principle is intended to apply to all services provided by government, including education, child care, recreation, culture and language services. Whether the Saskatchewan government may expand Jordan's Principle to its other service areas, Marcotte would not comment.

Cindy Blackstock said the agreement is a good first step for Jordan's Principle in Saskatchewan, but it must be expanded.

"It only applies to children with multiple disabilities, and it needs to reach into all health and social services and education services that are provided by government and are available to every other child in Saskatchewan," said Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

She points to numerous examples from around the country of First Nations children who suffer from jurisdictional disputes. From high school kids denied off-reserve education funding in Ontario, to a girl in B.C. who needed speech therapy before she lost her hearing, Blackstock wonders how long it will take provincial governments to implement Jordan's Principle.

"I don't see why those kids can't get their needs met right now," Blackstock said.

Two years after the House of Commons bill "all the government of Saskatchewan has done is implement it for children with complex medical needs? How long is it going to take for them to do the right thing for all children?" Blackstock said.

By Michael Bell

Windspeaker Contributor
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Author:Bell, Michael
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Oct 1, 2009
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