Montreal

Damning report on Inuit children in Montreal youth protection brings little hope change will come

People who work with Indigenous families say they're not optimistic any real change will come out of an investigation by the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission, which found the youth protection system is failing Inuit children in Montreal.

Health authority promises action, but people who work with Indigenous families doubtful

Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal, said youth protection for Indigenous children is 'a broken system.' (Kate McKenna/CBC)

People who work with Indigenous families say they're not optimistic any real change will come out of an investigation by the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission, which found the youth protection system is failing Inuit children in Montreal.

Children from Nunavik who enter into youth protection are often flown to Montreal to stay in group homes, foster homes or rehabilitation centres because of a lack of resources in the North.

The commission's report, released Wednesday, found that these children were deprived of proper education, sometimes discouraged from speaking their own language and left feeling isolated and homesick.

Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal, advises Batshaw Youth and Family Services (which runs youth protection for anglophones in Montreal's West Island) on how to better help Indigenous children.

She co-authored another 2019 report that outlined numerous failings in the system.

"What bothers me is that we don't need any more reports, right?" she said in an interview.

"We have the Viens Commission, we have the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we have the Laurent commission — all these reports have been ignored."

That feeling was echoed by a person familiar with Batshaw's operations who first told CBC in 2018 about Inuit children in care being told not to speak Inuktitut among themselves.

That revelation is what ultimately led the human rights commission to investigate.

CBC News spoke to that original source again Thursday.

"I've been involved with this agency for 10 years. I've seen very little change in regard to how Indigenous families and Indigenous children are treated," the source said.

CBC agreed not to name the source to allow them to speak freely, without compromising their work.

Batshaw welcomes recommendations

The human rights commission report made several recommendations, including:

  • Reducing paperwork to make it easier for Inuit children in Montreal to access English-language education.
  • Providing more training for staff at group homes and rehabilitation centres.
  • Hiring interpreters so children can continue to speak Inuktitut when talking to staff.
  • Clearly spelling out codes of conduct regarding language use and ensuring those codes of conduct are translated into Inuktitut.
  • Consulting Inuit youth about their cultural needs.
  • Ultimately, setting up a separate youth protection system in Nunavik and ensuring it has proper funding and support.

Katherine Moxness, director of the youth program for the CIUSSS de l'ouest de l'île de montréal, the regional health agency that oversees Batshaw, said Thursday the recommendations were welcome and would all be implemented within six months.

"Cultural security and diversity is something that is entrenched in the history of youth and family services," Moxness said.

"There's many recommendations we've already started to implement."

Source says nothing has changed

But the source CBC spoke to about Batshaw in 2018 said they've seen little evidence of change in the years since.

"Not a lot. Nothing. They've made no efforts to hire interpreters in terms of Indigenous staff," the source said.

Moxness said Batshaw would be hiring more interpreters soon. 

As an example of something that's already been done, she cited "formalizing partnerships with Indigenous groups," which included bringing in elders and traditional foods.

Moxness said other changes — such as translating the rule book for youth into Inuktitut and consulting Inuit children on their cultural needs — are in the works, but haven't happened yet.

She noted that Batshaw has put in place an Indigenous team to work on a cultural plan.

CBC's source said neither the manager nor the workers on the Indigenous team are Indigenous.

'Broken system'

CBC's source said based on the track record so far, the future looks bleak.

"I have very little faith that these recommendations will be implemented, or, if they are implemented, that they will be agency-wide," the source said.

Nakuset agreed, saying that the legacy of the residential school system still lingers.

"Even though the laws have changed, the mentality has not," she said. "We've seen that social workers, not all of them, but there are some social workers that are very condescending toward Indigenous people."

She also noted that there are very few Indigenous people who work in youth protection.

"The system is broken," she said.

Allow Nunavik to run its own system

The human rights commission also recommended that the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services come up with a plan for the territory to set up its own autonomous youth protection service, so children wouldn't have to be flown south.

Nakuset agreed that this would be the best solution.

"The families need to stay in the communities," she said. "They shouldn't have to come to Montreal." Nakuset said that would only work if the province provided more resources to the North.

Moxness said Batshaw fully supported this idea as well. 

In a statement, the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services said it has taken strides in this direction, to avoid uprooting young people from their community to receive services.

"We have been implementing this approach for several years now, with several developments in rehabilitation resources in Nunavik, and a series of actions have already been taken that are in line with the recommendations," the statement said. 

Katherine Moxness, director of youth services for the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, the health agency that oversees Batshaw Youth and Family Services, said all recommendations from the Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission report would be implemented within six months. (CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

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