Reports slam youth protection services for Inuit children in Montreal
“Their cultural security cannot be guaranteed”
Two recent reports on the services received by the roughly 60 Nunavik children under youth protection in Montreal say that they live largely in isolation from their families, language and culture.
One report, called “The cultural security of Nunavik’s youth placed in readaptation settings” on Montreal’s West Island, looks at the services provided by Batshaw Youth and Family Services, which covers child protection in the western half of Montreal and for Nunavik children sent south.
The report has not been publicly released but was obtained by Nunatsiaq News.
Last March, 39 children from Nunavik were living in Batshaw foster homes and another 19 were housed in its adaptation units and an annex for girls, the report said.
These children remain at risk even while under youth protection, the report states.
“For any Inuk placed in the South, not by their own choice, their cultural security cannot be guaranteed. The practices and ‘ways of being’ differ immensely between the North and South,” wrote Leigh Johnston, an independent consultant who worked previously as director of readaptive services for Batshaw.
Johnston conducted interviews last March for the report.
Batshaw staff cited in the 20-page report said Nunavik youth suffer from “incredible homesickness” and sadness “in being so far away from home, and everything familiar to them.”
Staff said that the youth had been sent south “and then forgotten.”
And the youth are at risk of losing their ability to function in the North, the report said.
They’re also out of touch with their families, rarely seeing them or speaking to them.
Batshaw staff said the home visits were used by youth protection workers “as a means to reward or punish a youth for behaviours.”
“It is difficult for youth to return from a home visit as they often don’t know when the next visit will be, sometimes leading youth to run away at the end of a visit, rather than return to the unit as was planned,” the report said.
And, while in the south, the youth may fall behind academically: only two of the teenagers living at Batshaw were attending school.
The others received tutoring from the Kativik Ilisarniliriniq school board.
That’s because of Quebec’s language restrictions, which mean “southern school boards who offer instruction in English are not permitted, by law, and under pain of financial penalties, to admit students who do not have English eligibility certificates.”
So they receive tutoring.
“What this means is these youth are missing out on their academic education, on the opportunity to learn appropriate school behaviours, and on the social elements of going to school,” Johnston said in the report.
One teenager told her that “part of the reason I am in placement is that I wasn’t attending school. So they send me here, and I am not allowed to go to school.”
While there is no “interdiction on the use of Inuktitut,” English is dominant at Batshaw.
“When asked if she had ever been told not to speak in Inuktitut, one youth responded sadly, ‘They don’t have to tell me not to speak Inuktitut—I have no one here to speak my language to,'” the report said.
The report also describes a huge communication gap between northern and southern youth protection workers and with the children placed into youth protection: only one of the youth interviewed by Johnston knew why she was even placed at Batshaw rather than in Nunavik.
In Nunavik, for children under a youth protection order, there is one open unit for boys, one open unit for girls, two group homes for preteens and a secure unit for boys.
“The demand for placement in those settings outpaces the resources available,” the report noted.
The teens at Batshaw said they didn’t know what the goal of their placement was: only one of those interviewed knew why she was placed at Batshaw instead of in Nunavik.
The report also pointed to a lack of structured involvement between southern Inuit and the Inuit youth at Bashaw, who said they wanted more contact with Inuit adults, sewing and beading programs, and outings to Inuit events.
The report suggested more than 20 ways to improve services at Batshaw.
In a call to Batshaw about what progress had been made on the report’s recommendations, a media spokesperson said the unreleased report by Johnston was still a work in progress.
An emailed statement from social services for the West Island of Montreal, which looks after Batshaw, said that “the report you are referring to was requested by two partner organizations. As such, we cannot respond without our partner.
“Both partners will be publishing the report conjointly.”
A second report, “One step forward, two steps back,” prepared by Concordia University with Indigenous authors, called for decolonizing Montreal’s “colonial child welfare system.”
The report, released last month, outlines many injustices.
This report mentioned how social workers in Nunavik communities become foster families and take one child in a family, but then the rest of the children are sent south to Montreal and separated from their parents, siblings and community.
There are also few Indigenous foster families in the city, the report noted.
Workers also told the researchers that, in many cases, there is a lack of information about the identity of Indigenous families, including their specific cultural backgrounds, nations or home communities, as well as the identities of the children.
The report’s authors made many recommendations. They referenced the recent calls of the Viens Commission on improving youth protection services for Inuit, Métis and First Nations living in Quebec, and mentioned the Laurent Commission on the Rights of the Child and Youth Protection, which is now underway.
They also asked for a progress report by next December.
Last March, Nunavik health officials said they were working with their counterparts in Montreal’s West Island to do a joint review of youth protection services for Inuit youth.