The Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) and the Government of Yukon say they’re concerned First Nations children and families are experiencing increased isolation, abuse and neglect due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are launching a campaign to remind them that supports are available.
In a joint press conference, the two organizations announced that since the pandemic began in March, there’s been a noticeable drop in the number of child welfare calls, as well as in the number of First Nations families seeking social supports.
“(The drop in calls) was really a red flag,” said Shadelle Chambers, executive director of CYFN. “We have to let children and families know there is support during this challenging time.”
Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost said the decline is alarming.
“We believe that the pandemic has placed another obstacle in the way of victims of abuse, making it even harder for them to come forward to seek help,” she said.
While neither organization can confirm if there has been an increase of abuse and neglect, with fewer First Nations children in public institutions like schools and day cares, the organizations worry victims of abuse are being isolated from protective systems that would typically report cases of suspected abuse.
Frost said of further concern is a recent survey by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, which found that one in five women have been a victim of violence over the previous three months.
Simone Fournel, a senior policy and project strategist for Health and Social Services, said stressors caused by pandemic like financial problems and issues with childcare can lead to increased family violence.
“We’re seeing a lot of risk factors that make us worry,” she said.
“We want people to feel like they can come to our organizations and get help to manage through the pandemic.”
As a result, the CYFN and the Government of Yukon have co-developed a multi-media ad campaign to reach children and families who may be isolated from protective systems.
The new campaign will include newspaper and radio ads, social media and posters, and will feature scenarios and pictures of children and families experiencing neglect and abuse, as well as list social supports.
“The goal of this campaign is to reach out to vulnerable Yukon families to remind them that supports are available that can help them cope with the stresses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Frost said.
The $7,500 campaign is a joint strategy and was equally funded by both organizations.
Frost said that although the campaign was triggered by COVID-19, the CYFN and Yukon government hope to continue with it well after the pandemic.
“We have not forgotten about (First Nations families),” she said. “We’re still here, and we’re certainly concerned and want to support them.”