The mother of a mentally disabled teenager in Norman Wells, N.W.T., says she's frustrated by the lack of support available for people with disabilities in the territory's communities.

Jennie Vandermeer and her 18-year-old daughter Caitlin moved from Yellowknife to Norman Wells, a community of about 727, to be closer to family in November 2015.

Vandermeer says her family has been a great support system for them, but they're the only support they have.

"In terms of getting any kind of help with regard to what to do for Caitlin's future, there's little to none," Vandermeer said.

"There's really no support from [the GNWT] for kids her age, let alone people in the communities."

Wants to stay in hometown

Caitlin, who was diagnosed with a moderate mental disability as a child, grew up in the territory's capital.

She and her mother previously accessed programs and supports through the Yellowknife Association for Community Living (YKACL), including meet-ups for children and teens, and information sessions for parents on how to plan for their child's future.


Caitlin Vandermeer was diagnosed with a mild mental disability when she was a child. Her mom says she needs more support living in Norman Wells, N.W.T. (Submitted by Jennie Vandermeer)


When they moved to Norman Wells a year and a half ago, Vandermeer said there were no programs like that for people with disabilities, and no supports to help parents.

It's something that makes her feel alone and scared for her daughter's future.

Fears move back to Yellowknife 

She's concerned that without support as Caitlin gets older, the pair will have to move back to Yellowknife.

"It would change everything," she said. "I might have to get a new job, we'd have to move away from our family, we'd have to get a new place."

"It would be a huge impact and that shouldn't be the only option in the Northwest Territories ... uprooting your whole life and moving to Yellowknife just because you have a child who has some very special needs."

There are very few resources available for people with disabilities and their families, and communities outside of Yellowknife in particular feel the strain, says Denise McKee, the executive director of the N.W.T. Disabilities Council.


Jennie Vandermeer (left) and her daughter Caitlin. She says the NWT government should help people with disabilities stay close to their families. (Submitted by Jennie Vandermeer)

"Certainly within the smaller communities, they become less able [to support people with disabilities] because they have less capacity, less resources," McKee explained.

The disabilities council runs a call-in information, referral and support program to answer questions on disability issues in the territory.

Last year, it received 675 requests for assistance outside of Yellowknife, focused primarily on education, housing and disability-related supports like healthcare and assistant devices.

Vandermeer wants to see more programming on how to care for people with disabilities, and how to include them in the communities with their families where she says they belong.

"There is a part of the population in the Northwest Territories that has disabilities," Vandermeer said. "Just because it is a small percentage of the North doesn't mean that these people should be forgotten."