Nfld. & Labrador

Child Advocate to review experiences of Inuit children in protective care

There will be an independent review of the experiences of Inuit children in protective care in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate announced Wednesday.

Office of the N.L. Child and Youth Advocate announced a review on Wednesday

A foster mother in Roddickton where dozens of families provide care to children from Labrador. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

There will be an independent review of the experiences of Inuit children in protective care in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate announced Wednesday.

The Nunatsiavut government approached Child and Youth Advocate Jackie Lake Kavanagh to request the review, a news release said. The move comes as concern grows about the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in protective care, both in the province and nationally.

It's a story, called Uprooted, reported by CBC News in February 2017 about why so many of Labrador's children are in care far from home, living with families on the island in communities such as Roddickton and Englee.

The review will look at "the treatment, experiences and outcomes" of Inuit children and youth in the province's protective services, including protective intervention, in care, foster care, youth services and other alternate placements. 

Child and Youth Advocate, Jackie Lake Kavanagh, says she will be looking at why so many Inuit children end up in care, and the level of oversight by social workers. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

"I think that the services have been lacking and I think that children have been disconnected from families and from their communities," Lake Kavanagh told CBC News.

"Sometimes they're removed very small and it doesn't take very long for a lot of that to be lost, so children, if they do go back to their families then or their communities, they're coming back without any of that cultural context of who they are and how their culture works for them."

Inuit communities will be directly involved and give input during the review, the release said. Given the sensitive nature of the topics discussed, support services will also be available.

"We wanted a process where people could tell their stories, and be listened to, and have some of those stories validated, and to be able to provide solutions and ideas for moving forward," said Michelle Kinney, Nunatsiavut's deputy minister of health and social development.

"We want it to be a healing journey in many ways, and a good model for reconciliation."

The review will also involve an examination of individual case files.

'Fully engaged'

The review process will be a collaborative one, said Kinney, who hopes for strong public engagement.

"The Nunatsiavut government is fully engaged in this process," she said. "We were joint partners in developing the terms of reference. We have Inuit staff who will be travelling with the independent consultants as they go into the communities and make sure it's a respectful process."

The review will cover a wide range of topics: the experiences of children in care both inside and outside of the region, court time frames, risk assessments, family-centric action plans that reflect Inuit values, ways to support social workers and foster home recruitment.

The discussion will also go beyond those more specific topics into discussion of the role inter-generational trauma plays in Inuit homes and the number of Inuit children in protective care. 

"We know that the majority of children coming into care from our communities are coming into care because of neglect, or perhaps addictions issues or witnessing family violence, as opposed to being the actual victim of violence or maltreatment," Kinney said. 

"I think when we have a good picture of that, that will give us also a clearer picture of what kinds of resources and supports we can be putting into place to prevent some of those."

Overrepresented both federally and provincially

Last year, the provincial government announced an inquiry into the treatment of Innu children in the child protection system.

Nunatsiavut respects that the Innu chose a different approach, but decided that an independent report would better suit their needs, Kinney said.

"We want communities to be involved. We want a process that is inclusive, that families are going to be consulted."

Lake Kavanagh said the government is contributing $400,000 for her investigation into issues involving Inuit.

In November, the federal government said the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in protective care had become a crisis.

This graphic gives a breakdown of the number of children from Labrador Aboriginal communities who were in some type of foster care in 2017.

More than half of the children in protective care in Canada are First Nations, Inuit or Métis. In Newfoundland and Labrador, 34 per cent of the children in protective care are Indigenous, and half of those are Inuit.

Lake Kavanagh said she will be looking at the level of oversight.

Social work cases are supposed to be reviewed once a month but in Labrador, that happens 21 per cent of the time, compared to 93 per cent of cases in St. John's, she said.

Kinney hoped the report will lead to Nunatsiavut eventually taking over child protection for its members.

"Any system has to be reflective of Inuit values and principles, and it's difficult for a provincial system to do that when Indigenous people are just one part of that system."

The review, which will be shared with the public in a report, is expected to be completed by Mar. 31, 2019.

With files from Peter Cowan