Disconnected: Stories of the NWT foster care system

Joebody Elatiak has packed up the last of his things and is set to leave for Edmonton tomorrow- he’s done with Yellowknife.

Wearing a “Keeping it old school” Nintendo hoodie, he sits down to a breakfast of banana bread and juice.

He’s been couch surfing and staying at the local shelter for quite some time now.

Elatiak responed to to an interview request over social media and was moved to share what he labels, something he is just beginning to comprehend.

A few days’ prior the Auditor General released a report that gave the NWT child wefare system a failing grade.

Elatiak understands why.

He became homeless as a teen after being kicked out of his foster home. He began drinking, but his family troubles started much earlier.

“Before I got put in foster care my mum married a guy and he was abusive to us kids,” he said.

“Finally, she had the strength and the will to call the cops and that’s when we got taken away from her.”

Elatiak is from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut but was moved to the unfamiliar territory of Yellowknife for foster care when he was three years old.

“Me and my sister stayed together and my youngest brother use to live with us but they split up and it was just me and my sister in this one foster home.” Elatiak said.

“I don’t remember much but I do remember that it wasn’t a good place.”

He and his sister were eventually split up.

After that, he bounced around different homes until he eventually landed with a good foster family.

He said he knows they were good because his social worker had very little communications with him during his time in care.

“They [social workers] were more helpful when I was homeless than when I was in a foster home. I would go see them every week to see if I needed anything.”

But Elatiak’s experience is not isolated and unfortunately since his time in care, things have taken a turn for the worse.

According the 2018 Child welfare report of services in the NWT, 90 per-cent of the cases examined found that authorities did not keep in regular contact with children in foster care or other placements. That is up from 60 per cent recorded in the 2014 audit.

This is a stat that doesn’t surprise one foster parent in Yellowknife.

For legal reasons they can’t be identified.

When APTN News spoke with them, they said they had seen firsthand children failing to get attention from case workers in an overburdened system.

“When I have the older girls they had appointments with the social workers and there were times where they would cancel at the last minute because there was an emergency that would happen,” the foster parent said.

“I have had appointments where they are supposed to come to the house and at the last minute there is an emergency,” the foster parent said.

Similar to Elatiak, this foster parent looks after a child from a smaller NWT community. They  described the challenges imposed by the system for regular familial visitations.

“I think it is challenging for me and for the parent. Sometimes they [the foster child’s biological family] end up coming to Yellowknife but they don’t know until the moment they are coming. There is not enough time to schedule visitation with their family members,” they said.

Elatiak said he not only felt disconnected from his family, he was also denied learning his Nunavut culture.

“I learned more about the Natives down here than my own culture,” Elatiak said, mentioning his grandmother up in Nunavut who could have changed that outcome, had she been given access.

“Twice a year my mum would come and visit us just to so she can feel secure about her kids, she tried so hard to fight for us.”

Elatiak doesn’t have much communication with his siblings now.

His sister left the foster care system at 16 and decided to move back home.

While the troubles he has had from being in the foster care system of the NWT mar his past, Elatiak said he is hopeful that as he leaves Yellowknife, they won’t stake claim on his future.


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2 thoughts on “Disconnected: Stories of the NWT foster care system

  1. Sorry to hear bout that nephew! I hope you’re doing a lot better though ❤ much love, miss yah neph! Take care of yourself and stay strong like I know you’ll always be!
    – your uncle ❤

  2. Sorry to hear bout that nephew! I hope you’re doing a lot better though ❤ much love, miss yah neph! Take care of yourself and stay strong like I know you’ll always be!
    – your uncle ❤

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