'This was the place that made me angriest in our entire trip.'

Youth home condition 'scandalous,' union says

By JANE GEORGE

The Saturvik youth home in Kuujjuaq is in a "scandalous" and "shameful" condition, says Silvie Joly, an advisor with Quebec's

largest labour union.Joly, who toured Nunavik with a group of union organizers in March, said in an interview shortly after her return to Montreal that she was deeply disturbed by the dilapidated state of the building, which houses eight residents, from 12 to 18, who are under the care of youth protection services.

"We always say there's a connection between the state of the workplace and the services provided. This was the place that made me the angriest in our entire trip. For the workers it's not easy, but particularly not for the children," Joly said.

The union plans to fight on behalf of its members in Nunavik's health and social services sector to improve conditions.

"When you're angry about something you've seen which revolts you, you're even more convincing," she said.

Her observations came two years after investigators from Quebec's human rights commission, La Commission des droits de la personne et droits de la jeunesse, issued a report that slammed youth protection, social services and youth justice in Nunavik.

The report mentioned the youth group home, saying it needed many urgent improvements.

Overall, investigators found the region's social network failed to give children and youth the protection to which they are legally entitled.

They produced 21 recommendations on how Nunavik, working with the provincial government, should act to correct the situation within a year.

Two years have passed, but has the situation improved?

A team from human rights commission plans to return to Nunavik sometime during the next few months to see whether there has been progress since its 2007 report.

"We made many recommendations. We will make sure there's been a follow-up and that it's been done properly," said Sylvie Godin, vice-president of the commission.

The commission was to return to Nunavik in June 2008, but postponed its trip because the region's youth protection services were still in a state of crisis, Godin said.

She added that a lack of progress now would be unacceptable: "if we're speaking about the rights of children, it's never acceptable. It's zero tolerance in this instance."

During their investigation, the commission probed the entire youth protection system, finding the rights of Inuit children and young people in Nunavik had been infringed under Sections 1, 4 and 39 of the Quebec charter of human rights and freedoms.

Investigators found that in Nunavik "a large number of children are physically, psychologically and sexually mistreated. Some children, despite their young age, are addicted to alcohol, drugs or other substances that cause serious physical or mental disorders."

The commission said it was up to Makivik Corp. and other regional organizations to take the lead in dealing with the neglect and abuse that many Nunavik children and youth endure.

The commission's recommendations called for the creation of an inter-organizational coordination committee under Makivik.

The job of this committee, with members from the medical, municipal, social and justice organizations, would be to take the lead regionally in mobilizing change.

To date, the commission has received a work plan from this committee as well as an update from the regional health and social services board about what it's done.

The commission is now analyzing these documents and asking lots of questions.

"I want to keep the pressure on," Godin said.

As for the late arrival of the documents, which were to be delivered last summer, Godin said meeting deadlines isn't as important as producing results.

And that's what Minnie Grey, who chairs the Makivik committee, said the commission will find when it takes a second look at the situation of children and youth in Nunavik.

Grey said her committee – called the regional partnership committee – wants to be a "catalyst" for change. The committee is also working closely with the regional health board, which has its own committee for youth-related issues, she said.

"There have been positive efforts made. People are much more aware of their responsibilities. There is much more public awareness," Grey said. "There is always unfortunately going to be a child that is sexually abused or neglected. But I think there is more and more focus on being responsible. I hear it."

The committee's concrete plans include pilot projects in three communities, Kuujjuaq, Salluit and Inukjuak, to mobilize residents around improving community wellness.

These projects, like the regional partnership committee, will receive money from Nunavik's Ungaluk program for safer communities, which has $10 million a year to hand out.

Yet another committee is working under Quebec's justice department on a review of traditional adoption in Nunavik.

That's because the commission also wanted to see changes to traditional adoptions, including mandatory family assessments. The commission report found many adopted children end up under youth protection and are sometimes treated as family "whipping boys."

A call for more housing was also among the recommendations attached to the commission report. The commission said the housing shortage makes everything worse, from living conditions for children to a lack of housing for professional staff.

A Nunavik housing forum, where the region can expect to receive commitments for hundreds of new social housing units, is scheduled for June 25.

But more housing hasn't helped ease the chronic lack of specialized staff at the regional health board. Earlier this year many of the houses built in Kuujjuaq to entice health and social workers stood empty due to serious problems with recruitment.

The commission also recommended more alcohol and drug treatment programs, improved social services for children and youth, more training and support for staff and foster families, and a resident judge in Nunavik.

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