Iqaluit group home workers point fingers after sudden closure
Department of Family Services ended contract with Nova Scotia-based company and moved youth ‘to access appropriate care,’ minister says
While some employees of Nunavut’s only group home for girls say they were left in the dark after its sudden closure, others say the company that ran the home was dysfunctional.
The Department of Family Services shut down its Ilagiittugut girls’ group home in Iqaluit’s Happy Valley neighbourhood last month and terminated its contract with the Nova Scotia-based company Shift.
Shift had operated the group home for the past seven years.
Ilagiittugut is an eight-bed home that provided 24/7 residential care for female youth from across Nunavut between the ages of 12 and 19.
It was staffed by a combination of rotational workers and local employees. Rotational workers would fly up and work anywhere from seven to 10 weeks of 12-hour shifts with one day off each week.
For possible reasons for the shutdown, it depends on who you ask.
Nunatsiaq News interviewed three rotational workers about the situation at the group home at the time of its closure. Nunatsiaq News has agreed not to identify them to protect their current employment.
The first worker, who worked at the home until the time it was closed, said Family Services staff visited the home Feb. 2 and told employees it was being shut down.
“Four days later, all the youth were gone. All their communication was cut off from us,” the first worker said.
“I don’t how if there was no open competition for the contract of the group home or how there was no communication with the community. It’s quite disheartening.”
The first worker said there were seven youth living in the home at the time it was shut. Five were placed in foster care, while the two others were sent back to the homes they came from.
“I did find that we were making good progress with the home. It was very difficult for the kids to leave. They didn’t want to,” she said.
The first worker also accused the Department of Family Services of not supporting the staff at the home.
“When we needed help or support, or the kids needed to talk to their social workers, it was a big struggle,” she said.
A second worker, who was employed as a youth care provider at the home until it closed, said the youth were “happy and cared for by our group.”
“Why would the GN decide to end a contract with one of only a few southern companies who come to the children, who did not take these children from their culture, their families and their way of life?” she asked.
“The youth were taken from a home they had, some for months and others for years. It was their safety.”
A third worker, who worked as a child and youth care practitioner at the group home, told a different story.
She called working at the home the most “morally terrible” she’s ever done.
The worker said that when she arrived from the south for her first shift at the home, there was no supervisor on site.
“Essentially, we would get into work and we would just sit on our phones and be bored,” she said.
She said her job was to run programming with the youth, but that didn’t happen.
“I tried really hard to build relationships with the kids. I did go swimming a couple of times with the youth, went tobogganing,” the worker said.
“I tried to have movie nights with them. There were no rules, so they were barely ever home. It was like a body count.”
The third worker also said the home didn’t provide WiFi and the youth were given $5 each for chores they completed, to a maximum of $15 each.
“You know how far $15 goes in Iqaluit,” she said.
The worker called running a group home in Nunavut from Halifax “insane.”
“I was supposed to go back [for another rotation], and there was no way I was going back there. I literally felt like I was doing damage to these kids.”
Family Services Minister Margaret Nakashuk simply said the government ended its contract without cause.
“This specific contract allowed for cancellation without cause, and the department chose to invoke that clause,” she said in a statement to Nunatsiaq News.
Nakashuk said the group home building is currently empty and the Department of Family Services is “re-examining how we provide in-territory programming.”
“There is no new vendor moving into the group home to take over the running of that program. The review that is underway may result in a new request for proposal [to operate] being issued,” Nakashuk said.
She said the department won’t confirm where the youth were moved “due to serious privacy concerns.”
“The youth were moved to access appropriate care,” she said.
Nunatsiaq News could not reach Shift for comment despite multiple phone calls, voicemails and emails.