Thunder Bay

First Nations child welfare agency responds to concerns after death in Wapekeka First Nation

A First Nations child welfare agency is responding to concerns after a 12-year-old girl, who had been in its care, died by suicide last week.

'We need to have a system ... to address the needs of the increasing numbers of children at risk': Tikinagan

"We need to have a system, a spectrum of services here in the north to address the needs of the increasing numbers of youth and children at risk," says Thelma Morris, executive director of Tikinagan Child and Family Services. (Tikinagan)

Tikinagan Child and Family Services is responding to concerns after a 12-year-old, who had been in the care of the First Nation child welfare agency, died by suicide last week in a remote community in northern Ontario.

Jenera Roundsky died on June 13, several weeks after being sent back to Wapekeka First Nation by Tikinagan, against the wishes of community leaders, Wapekeka's band manager Joshua Frogg told CBC News on Wednesday.

An 18-year-old, who had also been in Tikinagan's care attempted suicide on the weekend of June 10, Frogg said, adding there was not a safety plan for either of the young people. 

"We cannot comment on specific cases, especially out of respect for the family, but when a child is returned home after being in a specialized residential home, they always have a safety plan in place," said a statement to CBC News from Thelma Morris, the executive director of Tikinagan.

"This safety plan is always created with the First Nation's leadership and other community resources who can support the child," Morris said.

Roundsky's family posted a letter on Facebook on Sunday, saying they do not blame anyone for her death.

'We do not blame Tikinagan'

"We do not blame chief and council, we do not blame the police, we do not blame the mental health workers in the community and we do not blame Tikinagan," said the letter posted on Jez Winter's Facebook page. 

"When we take our granddaughter home to Wapekeka, we don't want to see any posts on any social media of blame and pointing fingers of her death," the letter continued.

Tikinagan uses a "very different way of providing services," as compared to non-Indigenous child welfare agencies, Morris said. "Our service model is called Mamow Obiki-ahwahsoowin, which means everyone working together to raise our children."

But, with no specialized residential treatment options available in the 30 remote First Nations that Tikinagan serves, there are challenges to delivering on that service model.

Tammy Keeash, 17, was in the care of Tikinagan when she was found dead in the floodway of the Neebing-McIntyre River system in Thunder Bay, Ont., last month. 

The privately-run group home where Keeash was living, and that was contracted by Tikinagan and other agencies to house high-needs children in care, was shut down by the province in response to "a report of concerns," after Keeash's death.

"We need to have a system, a spectrum of services here in the north to address the needs of the increasing numbers of children at risk," Morris said. "And not just for children who come into care with a child protection agency, but for all children and their families."