(A young Inuk boy waits for the school bus last October outside of an Ottawa group home.)
APTN National News
Nunavut has been flying in social workers “as required” to check in on foster kids it has sent to live thousands of kilometres away in Ottawa group homes and have done so for over a year.
The children used to have a designated social worker in the city until the territory didn’t renew a contract with the firm J Mark Consultants that acted as the first point of contact for about 40 kids in the capital for several years.
When that contract ended in April 2016 Nunavut didn’t have a replacement – and still don’t.
It appears Nunavut has had difficulty finding a social worker, or what it calls a “client liaison officer,” that speaks Inuktitut in Ottawa.
Of about 65 children shipped out of territory, 40 were placed in Ottawa in November, while the rest were spread out through Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta where J Mark Consultants also had a single social worker to serve the three provinces.
If the kids had a problem they could call their worker.
“The job ads for the positions will be posted this month and the positions will be restricted to Inuktitut speaking Inuit,” said spokeswoman Megan Blair with the department of Family Services Tuesday.
Blair said Nunavut has also had difficulty finding office space.
Without a worker in Ottawa or Edmonton the kids in group homes are forced to call their social worker in Nunavut if a problem arises.
“Departmental staff have continued to do site visits with clients located outside of the territory as required,” said Blair.
An APTN National News investigation in November showed Nunavut foster kids sent out of territory are big business as group homes in the city make millions off the few dozen children, many with medical or mental health issues Nunavut says it can’t care for.
In fact, according to statistics provided to APTN, it’s about $5 million annually spread out among several licensed group homes in the city.
After APTN’s stories, Nunavut said it was hiring a permanent workers in Ottawa and Edmonton.
As the position remains vacant in Ottawa news broke recently that a First Nations child died in an Ottawa group home April 21.
Courtney Scott, 16, from Albany First Nation, died after a fire in the home operated by a company Nunavut said in November it had children placed with. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Then it was learned that two other First Nations children also died while living in group homes before Scott.
Amy Owen, 13, died on April 17 while living in a group home in Ottawa, Ont. about 2,000 kilometres from her home in Poplar Hill First Nation on the Manitoba/Ontario border. She died from suspected suicide according to her family.
Kanina Sue Turtle, 15, also of Poplar Hill, is suspected of committing suicide Oct. 29, 2016 while living in a group home in Sioux Lookout, Ont.
APTN’s investigation in November looked at the number of children shipped to Ottawa from Nunavut through the story of one young boy.
APTN called him Jacob.
He came to Ottawa at 13 when Nunavut said there was no one to take care of him, as he suffered from epilepsy, and suicidal thoughts.
He barely spoke English and left only speaking it last summer after several years.
His sister, who is educated in child services, had offered to take him but the social worker in Nunavut told an Ottawa court she had never heard from her.
When contacted Tuesday, the sister who APTN can’t name as her brother is still a ward of Nunavut, said she was upset to learn of the deaths.
“This is so sad,” she said, adding she’d like to see the homes shutdown and kids stay in their communities. “Why does this keep happening?”
As for her brother, she said he is doing better now back in Nunavut.
She supports calls for an inquest into the deaths, which is being pushed by Nishanawbe Aski Nation, that represents the First Nations where the three girls came from.
“We are dismayed to learn that an inquest in these cases is not mandatory under the Coroners Act. We are calling for the Office of the Chief Coroner to exercise discretion and call an inquest as quickly as possible to fully address the issues behind these tragedies,” said Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum.
“This inquest must encompass the full range of systemic issues that led to the tragic deaths of these youth. We are calling for legislative change to the Coroner’s Act so that any death of a youth in a group home setting will result in a mandatory inquest.”