Pamela Freeman says it’s been a long and painful four years, but she finally feels some sense of closure.
“I have never seen a room full of people whose lives have changed and are determined,” she said from the coroner’s inquest into the death of her grandson, Devon Freeman, that wrapped up in Hamilton, Ont., Friday. “Their careers are going to be for the best when they work with children. Just the testimonies were very emotional.
“That hope I came in with was strengthened. Devon was only 16 when he passed, but I really feel now that this was his purpose.”
Devon was reported missing from the Lynwood Charlton Centre, Flamborough Site, in October 2017. He died by suicide but his body wasn’t discovered until April 2018 – six months later.
An exact time of death has not been established.
The inquest jury came back with more than 70 recommendations.
Shannon Crate works in child welfare on the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation, which was Devon’s home First Nation.
She said one of the recommendations really stood out – the ‘right to return’.
“The most significant one is the right for a child to return home,” she said in an interview. “That means any Indigenous child in care could ask their worker if they could visit the community that they come from.
“Maybe it’s even return there, find family, just to put their feet on the land in the community that they come from. And what was really touching is the jury named that recommendation Devon’s Principle.”
Many of the recommendations focus on creating greater involvement from First Nations communities in the provincial child welfare system and increased funding from the Ontario government.
Others look at establishing better communication regulations between provincial agencies that serve Indigenous children in care – including the children’s aid society, ministry of social services, care facilities and the police.
The inquest heard Hamilton police were unaware Devon had suicidal thoughts in the months leading up to his disappearance.
The month-long inquest began on Georgina Island and concluded in Hamilton.
Help is available for suicide crisis and prevention. Contact Talk Suicide Canada (1-833-456-4566), Kids Help Phone, the Hope for Wellness Help Line, and 1 866 APPELLE (277-3553) (Quebec residents), for 24/7 support.