Deaths, Deformities
and Destruction

the truth about child welfare in northern Ontario

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It’s no secret that Canada’s child welfare system is in a state of crisis, or that it’s Indigenous children who are paying the highest price.


To this day no one knows the total number of Indigenous kids in care

– or how many have died.


It’s not only the federal government that’s failing Indigenous children.


First Nations child welfare agencies are assuming more and more responsibility over child welfare each year, and the numbers tell us they are repeating the same mistakes

– with deadly consequences.

"If this were anything but First Nations children it would be leading the news across the country."​

Death by Neglect: Sacha Raven Bob died alone and Weechi failed to save her

The child welfare worker got a call just before lunchtime saying one of her clients wrote a suicide note. By 3 p.m. she read it.

But Ashley Gibbins didn’t act. Gibbins didn’t go see the child who lived an hour away. She didn’t call the child’s caregiver.

Her shift was over soon and working overtime, she claimed, wasn’t approved in the Big Island First Nation child protection team.

All the while a child’s life hung in the balance.

“We don’t have the luxury of turning a blind eye to these stories… These are lives we are talking about. This is our society. This is our culture. This is our community. These are our children.”

Sarah Laurich

Weechi knew of problems with Sacha Bob’s child protection team before suicide: documents

Weechi-it-te-win Family Services knew 75 days before Sacha Raven Bob took her life that there were problems within the child protection team at Big Island First Nation.

The team was behind in their case notes.

Weechi also flagged Sacha’s worker for training.

She needed help maintaining files.

There was another problem.

Weechi wasn’t keeping track of the files.

“When Weechi-it-te-win was originally created it was a beautiful thing. Like they had the right vision and we don't know exactly where it went wrong, we just know right now, I feel like it's too far back to fix anything.”

Autumn Windego

More money won’t fix First Nations child welfare, not repeating the same mistakes just might

Autumn Windego’s home is filled with the sounds of children playing.

The 25-year-old mother of three is the first in four generations of her family to raise her own children.

Windego spent her childhood being shuffled from one foster home to the next, 10 different homes over 14 years – a lifetime at the mercy of the child welfare system.

Once she aged-out of the system she wanted to give back to her community and help stop the cycle of abuse.

She went to work for the child protection team for her community under Weechi-it-te-win Family Services in 2017.

It’s a job she left last summer – here’s why.

“As long as we allow ourselves to be implicated in the system, then nothing will change
- because it is not our system.”

Dennis McPherson

Helping Daniel: A caregiver’s two-year journey to heal her broken ‘son’

When Daniel first walked through the front doors of his new home, to Sandra and her family he seemed like just your typical 12-year-old kid.

Tall for his age, skinny, a head full of unruly hair that seemed to shoot out in every direction at once.

Maybe a little quiet, a little shy, but that’s to be expected coming into a strange new home, meeting a new family for the first time.

What they couldn’t have known at the time was how much pain Daniel was living with on a daily basis.

“We have to ask ourselves, are our children not of value? So when we have these systems, you know all levels of government, if they do not place their children as a priority, then those systems that deliver inadequate services or lack of will continue.”

Anna Betty Achneepineskum
Between January 2013 and November 2020, 178 Indigenous children died in connection to Ontario’s child welfare system according to the province’s chief coroner.
10 %
This percentage represents the number of Indigenous children (147) who have died and were tied to First Nations child welfare agencies.

These three stories are the result of years of work including fighting for access to documents, reviewing thousands of pages of reports and conducting hours of interviews with families and workers about the child welfare system in northern Ontario.

 

 

“APTN’s work has begun clearing barriers standing in the way to healing for the most marginalized and vulnerable Indigenous community members who have had child welfare interactions. Sometimes, the only thing worse than everyone knowing your story and the trauma you have endured, is no one knowing,” said Sarah Laurich, executive director of the Atikokan Native Friendship Centre.

 

 

While the investigation was anchored by an internal death report into Sacha Bob’s death in 2014, APTN’s reporting on Weechi-it-te-win Family Services began just days before the coronavirus pandemic gripped the world.

 

 

“The over-representation of First Nation, Inuit and Métis children in the child and family services system has been described as a humanitarian crisis – it is a crisis. And anyone who has seen the ground-breaking reporting of Kenneth Jackson, knows that this is an ongoing crisis,” said Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, when announcing new funding for on-reserve child welfare, on Nov. 27, 2020.

For their effort on this series, and the dozens of stories APTN News has published on this issue, Cullen Crozier and Kenneth Jackson have been nominated for a Michener Award.

Within weeks of APTN’s broadcasts, investigations were launched into individual cases; families were reunited; new funding was announced for on-reserve child welfare; and a pandemic moratorium was imposed on Ontario youths aging out of care.

The award “honours and celebrates outstanding and unbiased public service in journalism,” according to the website. The winner will be announced on June 16 at a virtual ceremony.

“This isn’t about a single reporter or even APTN. It’s about kids dying, or being harmed, in the darkness of the child welfare system. Our reporting pulled that system into the light for everyone to see,” said Jackson.

For their effort on this series, and the dozens of stories APTN News has published on this issue, Cullen Crozier and Kenneth Jackson have been nominated for a Michener Award.

Within weeks of APTN’s broadcasts, investigations were launched into individual cases; families were reunited; new funding was announced for on-reserve child welfare; and a pandemic moratorium was imposed on Ontario youths aging out of care.

The award “honours and celebrates outstanding and unbiased public service in journalism,” according to the website. The winner will be announced on June 16 at a virtual ceremony.

“This isn’t about a single reporter or even APTN. It’s about kids dying, or being harmed, in the darkness of the child welfare system. Our reporting pulled that system into the light for everyone to see,” said Jackson.