Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut June 11, 2018 - 8:00 am

Nunavut MLA wants better screening of Inuit custom adoptions

"What if we adopt out an Inuk child and the person adopting is a known sexual predator?"

JANE GEORGE
No one would
No one would "knowingly give that child up to a known predator or child sex offender. Nobody would do that," said Nunavut's acting minister of family services to Rankin North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA Cathy Towtongie, June 7 in the Nunavut legislature. Towtongie wants better screening of adoptive parents in custom adoptions. (FILE PHOTO)
Cathy Towtongie, MLA for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet, says she spoke out in the legislature for better screening of Inuit custom adoptive parents because “by our silence we are enabling the sex predators to adopt.
Cathy Towtongie, MLA for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet, says she spoke out in the legislature for better screening of Inuit custom adoptive parents because “by our silence we are enabling the sex predators to adopt." (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Cathy Towtongie, who represents Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet in the Nunavut legislature, wants better screening of potential custom adoptive parents in the territory, to prevent babies from being handed over to child sex predators.

Towtongie’s questions last Thursday to the acting minister of family services, Joe Savikataaq, about holes in the custom adoption screening process, followed comments made earlier in the legislature by fellow MLA John Main of Arviat North-Whale Cove, who had asked what Nunavut plans to do about the high rate of sexual abuse of children.

But Savikataaq’s responses to Towtongie in the assembly suggest that he has a rosy view of how custom adoption actually works in Nunavut.

“Everyone in this custom adoption is for the betterment of the child,” Savikataaq said June 7 in the legislature. “A lot of this is some young girl has a baby and she’s too young, and the parents and her decided that this child should go to this family because they want one and they would love it. That’s the whole theme around custom adoption. It’s for two different families, one to want to give the child and one to receive it. They both have the best interest of their child in mind.”

But Towtongie said that these days she would not want “to go on assumption that a child is not being given to a child predator.”

“My question is, in Aboriginal custom adoption, why are criminal record checks not used today? It’s an open adoption. I would think criminal record checks in terms of Inuit custom adoption in order to protect the child could be used,” Towtongie said.

“I believe in today’s society that we need some type of a screening process for homes. These elders had a screening process. If Family Services can produce a screening process for homes, it would enable us to know whether a person adopting is a child predator. That’s what we need. What if we adopt out an Inuk child and the person adopting is a known sexual predator?”

But Savikataaq said that with custom adoption, “it’s almost always with the person giving up the child knows the person receiving their child.”

“I would think the extended family would know the situation very well. Anyone who has a baby, they love that baby, they give it up for a reason, but they love the baby. They would not knowingly give that child up to a known predator or child sex offender. Nobody would do that. That just does not make any sense at all.”

But that has happened.

One mother gave up her child through a custom adoption to a household marked by sexual abuse, domestic violence and neglect, with the child ending up in the temporary custody of the office of the director of children and family services.

And a 2013 report prepared for the federal Justice Department, which documented stories of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Nunavut, found custom adoption in Nunavut may also contribute to the vulnerability of Inuit to human trafficking, since these adoptions do not involve the same scrutiny as formal adoption.

“Custom adoption requests remain highly fluid with few checks and balances to verify the safety of the child with any minimal criminal background checks or assessment,” the report said.

In another case that ended up in court, a judgment nulled a botched custom adoption certificate that was issued without the consent of the child’s mother or grandmother.

Savikataaq also told Towtongie that “you cannot do custom adoption, to the best of my knowledge from an Inuit to a non-Inuit family, because that is generally not custom adoption.”

But that also takes place.

A Nunavut woman reached out and found adoptive parents in another province by reaching out on a Facebook swap and sell page.

And some parents on an online adoption forum, who have been successful in adopting newborns from Nunavut, say more and more mothers, who are willing to see their children adopted outside Nunavut, go south for their birth.

That’s because, if the baby is born outside Nunavut, there is less interference, so it’s more like a private adoption, they say.

Between 1999 and 2010, almost 3,000 children were custom-adopted in Nunavut—82 per cent of them newborns, according to the Government of Nunavut in 2014.

The auditor general of Canada and Maligarnit Qimirrujiit, the Nunavut Law Reform Commission, reviewed the custom adoption act in a report issued in 2000, with 28 recommendations to improve the Aboriginal Custom Adoption Recognition Act.

Those recommendations called for legislative reform, standardized policy and increased documentation, saying “there is a strong consensus that something does have to be done before custom adoption is continued in the current haphazard way.”

In 2011, the auditor general of Canada had also touched on custom adoption in its report to Nunavut’s legislature on youth and family services in Nunavut.

That report recommended “that the responsibilities are made clear with respect to the safety and best interests of the child, and ensure that the act continues to meet the need to reflect Aboriginal customary law.”

Savikataaq told Towtongie the custom adoption act was going to be looked at and reviewed in terms of “if there is any way we want to make it work better.”

But he said “we don’t want to hinder the process so that it makes it too hard for a custom adoption to work.”

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(8) Comments:

#1. Posted by Bbf on June 11, 2018

There is a higher number of these children who are not permitted or supported to attend school, they have higher drop out rates and are expected to contribute more to chores at home, get less food and financial support and less love. It’s sometimes visually obvious the difference between adopted and non adopted children.

At times but not always, a modern form of child slavery, we all know this is true we must stop hiding this truth.

Some kids are adopted and also live well- but come on there’s obvious mistreatment out there and it should not continue!

#2. Posted by Sad but true on June 11, 2018

“But Savikataaq said that with custom adoption, “it’s almost always with the person giving up the child knows the person receiving their child.”

Believe me when I say it Joe, that doesn’t always matter. There are people who will willing give their child to an abuser. In their mind and in their world, that is normal.

#3. Posted by JimmyJames on June 11, 2018

Though I’m sure there have been limited cases of abuse in the ‘custom adoption’ area; I have seen numerous cases of abuse in the foster system here in Nunavut. Local people who can barely afford to clothe and feed their own kids but are able to foster several kids. Some of these foster parents are able to take kids into a home when they have have a spouse, or relative that is known as a sexual predator who has access to the kids. In Cam Bay I fostered and went through a rigorous background check, but in Baker Lake we wanted to foster and the the manager there did no background check and just want to drop kids/babies off at a whim. Non of this makes sense?????

#4. Posted by Why on June 11, 2018

Why is Savikataaq acting FSM? Where is Siutiapik?

#5. Posted by Shakes head on June 11, 2018

Children are commodities in Nunavut= welfare and child tax money and higher priority on housing lists for better, larger and newer units.
There is huge neglect of children here —the GN has no means to deal with this. 
I’ve taught here for almost 2 decades and daily see children who are neglected and/or left to fend for themselves.  1 or 2 changes of clothing, no boots, heavy winter coat or mittens.  Filthy clothing with holes.  So many are hungry.  Children who haven’t had baths or showers in days.
#1 is absolutely right—these adopted children are treated differently, and not in a good way.  Kept home to babysit or clean the house while adults there sit around and do nothing.
Sexual predators are many in Nunavut
Known drug and alcohol house is frequent.  Homes of chaos   children up and out 1/2 the night (or on fb) too exhausted to learn).  Screen the adoptive parents, families and homes—have some standards.  Children matter!

#6. Posted by Matt on June 12, 2018

Isn’t there an Inuit org(s) election soon that u will b running for CT??

#7. Posted by Catch 22 on June 12, 2018

The only problem is if you screened properly there would be no more custom adoption.

#8. Posted by Inuk on June 12, 2018

There are great families out there that can adopt from a family member, but there are also troubled family members.

It’s getting worse as there is very little mental health programs and support, each generation there is more and more troubled families.

Instead of working towards improving this and having the services it’s going the other way. We see this today with custom adoption, it’s effectin this now and others things.

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