In 1990, Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services Corporation (NALSC) received direction from the Chiefs of Treaty No. 9 to create and promote alternative and community-based justice systems for its members. The Talking Together Program was created in 2002 to address the child welfare needs of 51 First Nation communities in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) territory.

What is Talking Together?

Talking Together is a restorative approach for dealing with child welfare issues. The program is an alternative dispute resolution option created in 2002 to address the child welfare needs of families from the NAN communities.

First Nations people lost many children due to the Indian residential school system and the Sixties Scoop when many children were adopted out into non-native homes. Today, the child and family services system continues to have enormous repercussions.

Amendments to the Child & Family Services Act R.C.O., in 2000, put increased pressure on agencies to remove children from the community. Aboriginal children are now more at risk of being taken from their families. If a child under the age of six years is in care for a period of 12 months (it need not be continuous) the child is in danger of becoming a Crown Ward. This means that all parental rights are lost to the parents and in many cases, the children are lost to the community. In our remote communities where Courts are only held once every three months, it does not take long before the clock runs out. Time is of the essence. We need a better way.

The Talking Together program is about keeping children and families together, and not apart.

Our Clients

The Talking Together Program deals with NAN First Nation families who become involved with a child welfare agency. The program services both on and off reserve Band members.

The Circle Process

Talking Together is a circular process. ‘A Circle’ is a basic Aboriginal symbol. It is also a symbol of Indian Justice. In a Circle, there is no right or left, nor is there a beginning or an end. Every point (person) seated in a circle looks to the same center as the focus. The Circle is the symbol of justice because it is perfect, unbroken, and a simile of unity and oneness. It conveys the image of people gathering together for discussion.

The drawing together of people who know the family, and care about the family, can be a very powerful process. If one considers the solutions that a child welfare organization has available for the family e.g. alcohol treatment, parenting courses, and counselling as a bundle of solutions – in the circle, the bundle has the potential of being much bigger and can be tailor-made to fit the needs of this particular family.

Key to the Talking Together Circle is the importance of confidentiality, the sacredness of the Circle, and the feeling of safety and being heard.

  1. A referral is received. The referral is assessed, and the referent is notified of the outcome of the referral. If approved, the referral is forwarded to the appropriate Talking Together Facilitator (TTF).
  2. Within 5 days from the referral being approved, the TTF contacts all participants to schedule a Talking Together Circle.
  3. Prior to the Circle starting, participants are informed of the confidentiality and sacredness of the Circle. Participants are also required to sign an “Oath of Confidentiality”.
  4. After the Circle takes place, and within 5 working days, the TTF provides a copy of the Circle Report/Agreement to the client(s), the child welfare agency and any other significant participant.
  5. Further follow-up Circles are scheduled and action items are discussed as necessary.
    The Facilitator is responsible for maintaining contact, to ensure that the circle agreement is being followed.
  6. If after 30 days of no contact between the client and TTF or the TTF is unable to locate client, the file is closed.

The Circle Participants

  • Parent(s), guardians and foster parent(s)
  • The child or the children
  • Key persons involved in helping the family, e.g. family members, elders, social workers, and counsellors.

Goal of Talking Together

The Talking Together Program is a process based on traditional circles. Circles were used since time immemorial to restore harmony between family members.

The goal of Talking Together is to bring participants together to discuss family problems in a non-judgmental way. The Circle is composed of family members, front-line workers, agency representatives, community elders and Band Council representatives.

In the Circle, participants look at who has been affected and how they have been affected by the problems that the family is experiencing. Secondly, in the Circle, participants are asked:  What can be done? If and when an agreement is reached, it is used as the basis for the Plan of Care.

The ultimate goal of Talking Together is to keep families together as a healthy and strong unit.