Newfoundland and Labrador’s Child and Youth Advocate has announced that her office will undertake a “comprehensive, independent review of the treatment, experiences and outcomes of Inuit children and youth” in the province’s child protection system.
“I am extremely troubled about the poor outcomes for Indigenous children in the child protection system,” Jackie Lake Kavanagh said in a press release Wednesday. “This is a historical issue with its roots in colonial practices reflected in residential schools, generations of families with histories of trauma, and social inequality. The status quo is not acceptable and cannot continue for Inuit children and youth.”
The announcement comes almost 10 months after the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced a provincial inquiry into Innu children in state care.
Days prior to that announcement Innu leaders from Labrador confronted former Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett at a Canada Day barbecue in her Toronto riding and demanded federal intervention in what many have described as a suicide and child welfare crisis.
Michelle Kinney, Nunatsiavut Government’s Director of Social Development and Deputy Minister of Health and Social Development told APTN Wednesday’s announcement is the result of collaboration between the provincial government and the self-governing political body that represents the Inuit communities of Northern Labrador.
“We wanted a process where we could review the systemic issues, involve people in our communities so that they were part of the process, and come up with solutions and ways of implementing them,” she said.
“We thought that if we can get this process right that it would be a good model for reconciliation for the province, for the feds, for the future projects that we might work on.”
Kinney said approximately 145 of the roughly 1,000 children in state care in Newfoundland and Labrador are Inuit. Many of them have been taken away from their extended families, communities, and even placed in foster homes outside of Labrador.
She said Nunatsiavut’s 2005 land claims agreement gives Inuit the ability to “take down or devolve any provincial program when they are ready and have the capacity to do so, and can meet or exceed provincial standards.”
In the meantime Kinney said the Inuit have been gradually identifying and implementing some of their own solutions, but that a successful and all-encompassing process requires the kind of review being undertaken by the Child and Youth Advocate’s office.
“If we’re looking at a devolution process we really need to have good documentation, good evidence, look at what hasn’t worked in the past, and have a really good model and plan for moving forward. So we’re hoping this review will give us some of that,” she explained.
“The biggest issue we see is that the child welfare system has become reactive, Kinney continued. “We would like to see resources put into preventing children from coming into care.
“We all know the systemic issues. We all know why some parents are not doing well: residential schools, relocation, colonization. All of those things haven’t been favourable to Indigenous people.”
She said the “majority of our children are coming into care for neglect, poverty, parents’ issues with alcohol, and witnessing family violence,” and that “very few children are actually coming into care because of maltreatment or physical or sexual abuse.”
The terms of reference mandate directs Kavanagh to “review child protection services provided to Inuit children” in the province “with a view to identifying deficiencies, exploring promising and best practices, and making recommendations for improved outcomes within an appropriate cultural framework.”
The review is scheduled to conclude by March 31, 2019 and a public report with the review’s findings will be released thereafter.
APTN requested comment from Children, Seniors and Social Development Minister Lisa Dempster but did not receive a response by the time of publication.