For First Nations, a child’s birth must be registered before parents can apply for a birth certificate, which in turn is needed for access to many government programs. In Ontario, Sam Erry, Assistant Deputy Minister, Central Services Division, ServiceOntario, is responsible for vital events registration and services. Erry led the development of the Aboriginal Birth Registration Initiative, a community-based approach to service delivery that leverages cross-jurisdictional platforms to enhance service bundling.
What is the Aboriginal Birth Registration Initiative and how did it come to be?
In the spring of 2009, Stan Beardy, Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (a provincial territorial organization that represents 49 remote First Nations) approached key provincial and federal deputy ministers. He was concerned about the difficulties that children and adults in isolated communities face when births are not registered, and he shared with us some of the barriers to registering births in these communities. Ontario’s Aboriginal Birth Registration Initiative (ARI) grew out of this discussion.
What are the consequences of not registering a birth?
Registering the birth of a child is the first step in obtaining all the child’s identity documents. A child’s birth must be registered before parents can apply for a birth certificate – and parents need a birth certificate to apply for many government programs for the child. These include applying for Indian Status from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Non-Insured Health Benefits from Health Canada, a Social Insurance Number from Service Canada, Child Tax Benefits from Canada Revenue Agency and even renewing Ontario Health Insurance Coverage from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
As you can imagine, missing a child’s birth registration can have far-reaching repercussions. Not having identity documents also creates problems beyond childhood. It causes barriers to entering the labour market or, even further down the road, in applying for Old Age Security benefits.
Once this issue was brought to the government’s attention, what were the next steps in devising an initiative to address it?
One of our first steps was research. We looked at some of the service delivery challenges and opportunities that exist in isolated communities to gain a better understanding of the relationship between clients and government in Aboriginal communities. Our research helped us to identify key areas to develop solutions and provide assistance to make the birth registration process in these communities easier. Then we worked with partners to develop a solid and sustainable multi-faceted action plan to make this possible.
While ServiceOntario took the lead, we created a partnership to make it easier for residents of remote Ontario communities to register the births of their children. The partnership included Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Service Canada, Health Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, and Ontario’s Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Ministry of Community and Social Services, as well as the Ontario Diversity Office.
How has ServiceOntario engaged the First Nations communities?
We learned early on in working with First Nations communities that every First Nation is unique. So we had to develop a flexible and customized approach. Engaging the leadership of the community as a collaborative partner was important from the very beginning of the project – having the membership of the First Nation involved and driving the project has been vital at every step. In fact, this was a driving factor behind setting up an Ambassador Network in 15 communities across Ontario. The ambassadors are local champions of the project – they promote and move it forward within their own communities, rather than us at ServiceOntario driving the initiative from the outside.
How are the ambassadors and ServiceOntario letting the First Nations communities know about the initiative?
Given the remote locations of these communities, ServiceOntario has taken a multi-faceted approach to notifying community members about the ABI. We have contacted community leaders and worked through our existing service delivery partners such as Service Canada and Ontario Works. The Ambassador Network has also been key to promoting the initiative and we have developed a toolkit of promotional and marketing materials for the Ambassadors to use in their communities.
How has the project progressed so far?
We are definitely making good progress. To date, we have piloted the Ambassador Network in 15 communities across Ontario. This means we have 22 ambassadors in these communities who are all working to increase awareness of the importance and the process of registering births. Our partner, Service Canada, is also providing assistance with delayed registration of births and birth certificate request forms during outreach visits to isolated communities.
What are your next steps?
We will continue to build relationships with First Nations and to explore new opportunities to collaborate with partners. Our goal is to expand the Aboriginal Birth Registration Initiative to all First Nations communities in Ontario.
How does this initiative tie into other Ontario government priorities?
For many Ontarians, ServiceOntario is the retail face of government. And we are making it easier for Ontarians to access the services they need from government. The ABI is just one way that we are working to deliver services that are accessible and meet the needs of all our diverse clients – whether they are in urban, rural or remote communities.