Learn about the unique practices of bands and First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities caring for children and youth.
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About customary care
Customary care arrangements are intended to reflect First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples’ unique practices of caring for your children and youth. One of our core goals is for every child and youth to have a safe, loving and stable home, surrounded by their culture and community.
Customary care arrangements often involve children and youth being cared for in their home community or with kin. This allows them to remain closely connected to their families or extended families as well as their heritages, cultures and traditions helping build a sense of belonging, safety and security. This is preferred to placing children in other settings that could be far away from their home, culture and support networks.
Customary care is generally viewed by First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples as an alternative to foster care. In customary care:
- a child or youth is typically not in the care of a children’s aid society
- the band or First Nations, Inuit or Métis community has more direct involvement in caregiver arrangements
In the Child, Youth, and Family Services Act (CYFSA) customary care is defined as the “care and supervision of a First Nations, Inuk or Métis child by a person who is not the child’s parent, according to the custom of the child’s band or First Nations, Inuit or Métis community.”
First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples typically describe customary care as a traditional system of care for children and families, where all community members have a collective responsibility for the well-being of others. Customary care is an approach that prioritizes prevention and community-based support, so that families can live in a good way.
When a child is in need of protection
Child protection services are provided by 50 children’s aid societies, 13 of which are Indigenous societies.
By law, children’s aid societies must make all reasonable efforts to pursue a plan for customary care for First Nations, Inuit or Métis children if the child:
- is in need of protection
- cannot remain with their parents
- is a member of or identifies with a First Nations, Inuit or Métis community
Child and family services are regulated and administered primarily through the Child, Youth and Family Services Act (CYFSA).
You might be eligible for one-time financial assistance of up to $6,000 per child or youth as a customary caregiver preparing to welcome a child or youth into your home.
You can use these funds to help pay for:
- the care and accommodation of a child or youth, such as furniture and/or a mattress
- making changes to your home to meet licensing standards, for example adding safety locks to windows or doors
- shipping costs to transport accommodation or modification goods to your home
Your customary care arrangements may be subsidized by a children’s aid society under the Ontario Permanency Funding Policy Guidelines.
To receive a subsidy from a children’s aid society, your customary care arrangement must meet all of these eligibility criteria:
- a children’s aid society determines that a First Nations, Inuk or Métis child is in need of protection and removal of the child from the parents or caregiver is required
- there is a declaration by the band or First Nations, Inuit or Métis community of either parent declaring that the child will be cared for under customary care according to the custom of the band or First Nations, Inuit or Métis community
- your home must meet foster care licensing regulations and standards
- the child is supervised by a society pursuant to the band or First Nations, Inuit or Métis community declaration
- there is a customary care agreement in place
For more information about financial assistance, please contact your local children’s aid society.
Ongoing financial assistance and other supports
If you’re eligible for the one-time financial assistance, you will receive it in addition to the ongoing subsidy for customary care as well as the same reimbursements, training and support systems as foster parents.
Contact your local children’s aid society for more information on reimbursements, training and support systems for customary caregivers.
Background on financial assistance for customary care
These investments complement broader work under the Ontario Indigenous Children and Youth Strategy (OICYS) and the Child Welfare Redesign Strategy, namely taking a distinct Indigenous approach to expanding access to customary care.
Prevention-focused customary care
Prevention-focused customary care supports children and youth by providing access to prevention-focused alternative caregiving arrangements that support family well-being before protection concerns arise.
All First Nations bands in Ontario, as well as First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities listed under the CYFSA, are eligible to receive funding to subsidize customary care in cases where Indigenous children and youth would benefit from alternative caregiving arrangements but where there are currently no protection concerns. This allows First Nations, Inuit and Métis children and youth to remain closer to your homes, families and communities. Research shows that keeping First Nations, Inuit and Métis children and youth connected to their communities and culture is key to their success.
We provide $5 million annually for prevention-focused customary care. The objectives of this funding are to:
- increase access to prevention-focused customary care arrangements
- reduce the number of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children and youth in the child welfare system
- improve the overall health and wellbeing of Indigenous communities
These investments also complement broader work under the Ontario Indigenous Children and Youth Strategy (OICYS) and the Child Welfare Redesign Strategy, namely taking a distinct Indigenous approach to expanding access to customary care.
The law and customary care
Under the CYFSA, customary care arrangements for children and youth in need of protection may meet the definition of "residential care" as well as "foster care," which is a type of residential care.
Further, the Ontario Permanency Funding Policy Guidelines currently require that customary care arrangements for children and youth in need of protection and subsidized by societies meet foster care licensing requirements. As a result, foster care licensing requirements, which are rooted in promoting the best interests, protection and well-being of children, usually apply to customary care arrangements.
Examples of matters addressed by licensing requirements include:
- caregiver screening, including requirements for police record checks and health assessments
- training (for example, use of physical restraints)
- physical space (for example, designated spaces for living, dining, food preparation and storage and separate rooms for sleeping and bathing)
- sleeping arrangements (depending on age and gender of child)
- emergency plans (fire and emergency procedures, smoke alarms)
- storage requirements (that is, medication and firearms)
Such partners advocate for provincial requirements that better enable the distinct customs of bands and First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities to shape how customary care is practiced.
Expanding access to customary care
Through the Ontario Indigenous Children and Youth Strategy (OICYS) and the distinct Indigenous approach of the Child Welfare Redesign Strategy, we are working to expand access to customary care. The Ontario Legislature recently passed amendments to the CYFSA that received Royal Assent as part of the Fewer Fees, Better Services Act, which will come into force on a day to be proclaimed.
These amendments provide a framework to distinguish customary care from residential care and allow for some customary care arrangements to be exempted from residential licensing requirements when certain conditions are met. These conditions include:
- the child is receiving customary care as defined in the CYFSA
- a customary care agreement meeting the regulatory requirements is in place for the child
- a band or First Nations, Inuit or Métis community of the child or youth has issued a declaration that the child is being cared for under customary care meeting the regulatory requirements
We will engage closely with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis partners, Indigenous and non-Indigenous societies and Indigenous service providers to develop customary care regulations.