Ontario government has no idea how many First Nations kids it puts in group homes

(Pictured above: Kanina Sue Turtle, Courtney Scott and Amy Owen, all died in Ontario group homes in the last six months.)

Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
For all the years that the province of Ontario has been taking Indigenous kids from their families and putting them in group homes, many times hundreds of kilometres from home, it hasn’t kept track of how many it was taking.

The province can’t say today how many are in care.

Ontario’s youth and child advocate knows this because he asked the government last week.

“I asked the ministry, give me a number. Is it five? Is it 300? How many children are thousands of kilometres from home, away from their communities, away from their culture, their way of life? How many children are in that situation in Ontario? They government said ‘we don’t know. We don’t track them,’” Irwin Elman told APTN National News Tuesday.

“I think that is unconscionable.”

Elman asked the Ministry and Child and Youth Services the question after news that a 16-year-old First Nations girl, from Fort Albany First Nation, died in a group home fire last month in Ottawa. It turns out two other First Nations girls also died in group homes dating back to late October last year, bringing the total to three little girls in under six months.

But it’s a question he’s been asking for years.

APTN also asked the ministry in November if they tracked the number of Indigenous kids in care.

“The ministry does not currently track identity-based data of youth in group homes,” said a spokesperson then. “However, the ministry will be requiring children’s aid societies and Indigenous child well-being societies (Societies) to collect identity-based data, including data on race and ethnicity, about children, youth and families receiving their services in the near future.”

Nearly five months later the ministry is still not keeping track, despite the province currently developing a “blueprint” on improving the quality of care in group homes.

“How can that possibly happen without knowing where your starting point is?” said Elman.

Elman said when he asks for the numbers the ministry tells him to contact the 47 Children’s Aid Societies. But the buck stops with the ministry he said.

“They are the parent,” said Elman. “Which is why I always go back to the government. It is their responsibility. They are in charge of the system. They are in charge the agencies.”

He’s calling on the government to take immediate action, as kids have described these group homes as “storage” or, worse, “my last stop before jail or death.”

That’s what happened to Courtney Scott, 16, of Fort Albany First Nation.

To Kanina Sue Turtle, 15, of Poplar Hill First Nation.

To Amy Owen, 13, also of Poplar Hill First Nation.

Barbara Suggashie said her daughter Kanina died of suspected suicide Oct. 29, 2016 in Sioux Lookout, Ont.

Jeffrey Owen said his daughter Amy Owen died of suspected suicide April 17. She was transferred from a group home in Prescott, Ont. in January to a different group home in Ottawa.

Scott died after a fire in her group home April 21 in Ottawa.

“The first time I heard my daughter had passed away,” said Suggashie breaking down in tears. “I didn’t believe it.”

She was told Kanina died from suicide but she doesn’t believe it and keeps demanding answers to this day.

“She wasn’t like that when she was here. When she was at home,” said Suggashie. “She wasn’t cutting herself like that.”

Owen said his daughter wasn’t suicidal before being put in a group home.

“All I know is she was on suicide watch,” he said. “How could she have done this if she was under supervision?”

He said Amy wasn’t allowed to make calls home but would do so anyways.

The last time he talked to her was a few weeks before she died.

“She said she wanted to come home. She hates it so much there. She started crying over the phone. I started crying with her and said ‘my girl, don’t worry. Pretty soon you’ll be home with us. Just try to be strong,’” he said. “I told her ‘we love you so much.’”

Suggashie also told her daughter the last time they spoke she would be home soon.

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