Half of Canada’s Inuit foster kids live in non-Inuit homes: Part III in a series

Complex needs, unsafe homes, send Nunavut’s foster kids elsewhere


There are currently 40 foster children and youth from Nunavut living in Ontario, most of them in Ottawa, in group homes and foster homes. (PHOTO BY LISA GREGOIRE)

There are currently 40 foster children and youth from Nunavut living in Ontario, most of them in Ottawa, in group homes and foster homes. (PHOTO BY LISA GREGOIRE)

The Ottawa Children's Aid Society is often called up on to monitor wards of Nunavut when they are in town for temporary care and protection. (PHOTO BY LISA GREGOIRE)

The Ottawa Children’s Aid Society is often called up on to monitor wards of Nunavut when they are in town for temporary care and protection. (PHOTO BY LISA GREGOIRE)

OTTAWA — Sending high needs Inuit kids to live with strangers outside the territory, far from their language, culture and extended family, happens far too often, says Nunavut’s director of children and family services.

But the territory doesn’t have the necessary specialized foster care, or supports for kids with complex physical, mental and behavioural challenges, so sometimes it can’t be helped, said Jo-Anne Henderson.

If communities had that kind of special care, and professional support, fewer Nunavut kids would have to be transferred elsewhere, Henderson said.

“We need people who can do a good, solid assessment of a child’s needs. We need people who can do really solid work with families to help bridge the gap with families where mental health and social needs are concerned. And we need to have specialized foster homes where people can deal with these kinds issues,” she said.

It’s unclear where the money would come from to fund such programs and staff.

When asked, she said the federal government, with its fiduciary responsibility toward Inuit, should support the Nunavut government and help to bolster those local services.

“If anything can come out of this, it would be to really implore the health care system to act as a support to us, to really focus on augmenting services for children especially between the ages of zero and 19.”

On May 20, we told you about a couple of Inuit youth who were raised by foster and adoptive families in Ottawa. Their stories shine a bleak light on what can happen to kids when they enter the child welfare system. They can get lost.

On May 24, we explained why that can happen and what the Ottawa Children’s Aid Society and others are doing to try to change that.

As of February 2016, 209 Nunavut children were living in various levels of government care — 61 of them, or nearly one third, outside of Nunavut. Those 61 children and youth in the South were residing in four provinces:

• 40 in Ontario;

• 10 in Manitoba;

• six in Saskatchewan; and,

• five in Alberta

While some of those children are in southern Canada because of special needs, others are there because their parents have challenges and as a result, their children are not safe in the home.

Nunavut’s family services department is still struggling to improve how it provides protection services to children, following a critical report from the Auditor General of Canada in 2011 and a subsequent follow-up report in 2014 that said progress toward improvement had been “unsatisfactory.”

That was mainly due to a lack of properly trained social workers in Nunavut communities, a chronic problem cited often by Nunavummiut struggling with problems of addiction, childhood trauma, family violence and suicide.

And when parents are unstable, children sometimes have to be removed to a safer, more stable environment.

Henderson said those social ills are common the world over in Indigenous communities where people are poor and suffering from the impact of rapid social change.

“It’s an international issue. It’s family violence, it’s addictions, it’s mental health, it’s poverty, lack of adequate housing, lack of employment prospects, lack of recreation, lack of parenting programs. I could be here for days,” she said.

Henderson said the GN, wherever possible, always tries to keep children who are apprehended inside the territory by identifying and reaching out to extended family members, friends in the community and, then, Nunavut foster families.

There are currently 250 foster families registered in Nunavut, as well as two group homes for youth, one in Cambridge Bay and another in Iqaluit.

The Nunavut government spends about $3.65 million annually on foster families and child protection in Nunavut. That does not include the cost of those children who are placed outside the territory, a cost that is lumped in with all residential care outside of Nunavut, for both children and adults.

In an attempt to better track and manage those foster children and youth in the South, the GN is hiring two child welfare liaison officers to be located in Ottawa and Edmonton.

Those positions used to be on contract, but the GN recently decided to turn these into permanent jobs.

A Statistics Canada report on living arrangements of Aboriginal children aged 14 and under, released in April 2016, provided an interesting overview of the kinds of homes Inuit children live in.

The StatsCan survey noted a total of 20,200 Inuit children in Canada in that age range in 2011. Their living conditions were as follows:

• 12,400 or 61.6 per cent lived with both parents;

• 5,200 or 25.8 per cent lived with a single parent;

• 1,300 or 6.3 per cent were stepchildren;

• 600 or 2.8 per cent were foster children;

• 500 or 2.3 per cent lived with a grandparent or grandparents; and,

• 200 or 1.1 per cent lived with other relatives.

In comparison, 76 per cent of non-Aboriginal children that year lived with both parents, 17 per cent lived with a single parent, and 0.3 per cent lived in foster homes.

StatsCan noted that in 2011, there were 14,200 Aboriginal children aged 14 and under in foster care — accounting for a whopping 48 per cent of all children that age in care, even though they only accounted for seven per cent of the overall population in Canada.

The majority of those kids were First Nations (82 per cent). Thirteen per cent were Métis and four per cent were Inuit.

Nearly all foster children in the three territories were Aboriginal but, the report says, that reflects the overall population in the territories.

Of the 600 Inuit foster children in Canada in 2011, 51 per cent were living with non-Aboriginal foster parents, StatsCan said.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report, released last June, linked the history of residential schools to those high numbers of Aboriginal kids in government care and called on all levels of government to take action to reduce those numbers.

The TRC also recommended that wherever possible, Aboriginal foster kids should be placed in Aboriginal foster homes, and that “adequate resources be made available to Aboriginal communities and child-welfare organizations to keep Aboriginal families together when safe to do so, and to keep children in culturally appropriate environments,” StatsCan said.

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