The Current

Inuit children need foster care in their own communities to retain culture, says mother

The high number of Inuit children from Labrador who have been removed from their homes to live with non-Inuit foster families is raising concern — some are comparing it to the days of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.
Relocating Inuit children to distant foster homes feels reminicient of the residential school program and Sixties scoop, says Michelle Kinney, deputy minister of Health and Social Development with the Nunatsiavut government. (CBC)

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Despite the vibrant Inuit community in Nain, N.L., local children who go into foster care often get sent to communities such as Roddickton and Englee that are located over four hours away by air.

Other than the incoming children, there are virtually no Inuit families in these communities.

And for some, the moving of children out of their Inuit communities to new homes far away, is reminiscent of a darker part of Canadian history.

Related: Why so many of Labrador's children are in foster care so far away from home

"A lot of people thinks it's like residential school all over again," says Indigenous leader and Nain town councillor Kristie Holwell.

"It's like tearing families apart."

To a mother in Nain, N.L., whose four children were taken into foster care and who now live in in Englee, N.L., it's devastating. (NOTE: The Current is withholding her name to protect her children's identity.)

"We are going through a great deal of pain being away from our children." 

"We go out about I'd say every six to eight weeks and the Children, Seniors and Social Development [dept.] pays for that — for travel and accommodation," she tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.
Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh says the Newfoundland and Labrador government support Aboriginal leaders in trying to keep the children as close to home as possible. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

"They only let the parents get maybe like a couple hours, or even a few hours a day to be with their children. I don't find that right at all." Her last visit in February lasted six hours.

She says she worries that her kids are losing their culture and roots being so far away from home.

"[Our son] is forgetting his language and that's another thing that also hurts us."

If the kids were closer to home around Inuit people to teach them ways of life, the mother says it would be so much better.

"This should have been recognized long ago. Services should have been made available long ago."

Minister of Children, Seniors and Social Development for Newfoundland and Labrador Sherry Gambin-Walsh tells Tremonti that children are placed first and foremost with family members before looking for alternatives.

"Our objective and goal is always, forever, to try to keep the children as close to the family as possible."

Gambin-Walsh says the protection of a child is their priority and sometimes "social determinants" and "demographic challenges" prevent placing children in their community, or close to the family.

The Inuit community in Labrador has its own regional self-governing body, the Nunatsiavut government. But it doesn't have authority over foster care for Inuit children in the area - that is still the responsibility of the Newfoundland and Labrador provincial government.

This graphic gives a breakdown of the number of children in some type of foster care in Labrador Aboriginal communities. The numbers were provided by the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development.

According to Michelle Kinney, one of the main problems with support is too many children coming into care, "not necessarily the lack of foster homes."

Kinney is the deputy minister of Health and Social Development with the Nunatsiavut government.

"I think we can't separate the protection of children from supporting families - the two have to go hand in hand."

She suggests the system relocate resources to focus on preventative measures.

"When you look at the amount of funding that it takes to keep a child in care in the Roddickton area — about $33,000 a year. So you multiply that by four in the case of the mother that we just talked to and I mean that's a large amount of money that could be going into preventative services, family support within the community of Nain."

Kinney tells Tremonti that while the provincial government may see this foster care as successful, assimilating to the family they are placed in is very similar to "the residential program and the Sixties Scoop."

"I don't think anyone would point to the residential school program as being successful by citing examples of children who got an education," Kinney says.

"The negative impacts are too great."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Karin Marley and Ines Colabrese.