Iqaluit needs more foster families, Nunavut government says
“We very much encourage Inuit families to become foster parents, it is critical that children maintain their cultural roots”
The Government of Nunavut’s Department of Family Services is looking for responsible and committed foster parents to meet the needs of children in care in Iqaluit.
Though there are currently 45 foster homes in the city, there is always a need for more.
“Our mandate is keeping families as whole and as close as possible,” Yvonne Niego, the deputy minister at the Department of Family Services, said in a phone interview on Thursday.
Ideally, the department would like to find more Inuit who can take on these duties.
“We very much encourage Inuit families to become foster parents. It is critical that children maintain their cultural roots,” Niego said.
Although most children in care in Iqaluit are Inuit, the majority of foster parents are non-Inuit, she said.
“It is definitely not proportional.”
In time for Annual Foster Parent Week, which takes place during the third week of October, the Department of Family Services has sent out a public service announcement to let people know there is always an opportunity to apply to become a foster parent.
“It is obviously not an easy role to fulfill in our community. Our children are often a little higher need, so it is a little more difficult than fostering a child in another city,” Niego said.
“It is making a difference in the life of that child and the families in your community when they need that help the most.”
Across the territory, there are more than 400 children within plans of care, Niego said. All these children receive some level of support from social services. About half of these children have been placed in foster families.
As well, there are about 70 Nunavut children who have been sent outside the territory, to receive “higher levels of care,” said Niego.
“Some of those 70 would be in residential care facilities, some may be with foster families who are trained and capable and equipped to look after medically fragile children,” she said.
As for what makes a good foster parent, the Department of Family Services is looking for what is best for the child, Niego says.
Prospective foster parents have to be interested in children, understanding of the needs of children, have effective communication skills, personal warmth and sensitivity, she said.
Potential foster parents need the ability to be patient with children who may have emotional or physical delays, or who have experienced loss or trauma.
“We want the foster parent to act like a parent and the requirements can vary quite widely, depending on the individual needs. Every case is different,” Niego said.
Sometimes parents are dealing with addictions, so having a stable routine at home is important. Single people can apply, but if couples do, they need to prove that the relationship has been stable for at least one year.
When it comes to preschool children and younger, it is preferable that at least one person in the couple should be unemployed or able to take care of the child during the day.
“There is so much change happening in these moments, so it is important to have as much stability as possible,” Niego said.
Social workers will visit the home during the application process to ensure there is a safe sleeping space, emergency exits, and that potential dangerous things like medication and guns are locked away.
In order to keep the children in care connected to their biological family, in cases where that is safe, foster parents need to be able to accept a child’s family and have the goal of helping the child to reconcile with them.
Foster parents also need to be willing and able to represent the child when in contact with education, legal or medical representatives. They also need to be able to work with social workers on their plan of care.
Some children will only need a foster home for two or three days, while others could be months or more.
And while it is a volunteer service in many ways, foster parents do receive between $40 to $50 a day to help offset the cost of providing for the child.
A criminal record check is always done, as well as a home inspection, Niego said.
However, in some cases, having a criminal record may not necessarily mean you are disqualified from being able to become a foster parent.
Those who are interested in taking on the responsibility for fostering children in Iqaluit and think they have what it takes, may contact Family Services for an application form or meet with a social services worker to go through the application process together.
“It is a rewarding experience,” Niego said.
“You know you’ve made a difference in their lives.”