Reviewing treatment of Inuit children in Newfoundland child welfare

ST. JOHN’S, NL — An independent review into the treatment of Inuit children and youth in Newfoundland and Labrador’s child welfare system will be led by the province’s child and youth advocate.

The Nunatsiavut Government announced Wednesday in a news release that Jackie Lake Kavanagh will report findings by March 31, 2019.

The study is being commissioned amidst concerns from the Inuit government in Labrador over the number of Inuit children being placed outside of their communities.

Michelle Kinney, director of social development in the Nunatsiavut Government, said in an interview that approximately 40 children are living in Roddickton and St. Anthony, a trip of over 12 hours from their original home communities.

Kinney said she hopes the findings of the review will provide the necessary documentation and evidence for effective legislative changes.

She also said the review could potentially lay groundwork for the self-governing region to eventually take control of child protection responsibilities.

“Our hope would be that as we go through this process that we would develop a model of better serving Inuit families that would eventually move to devolution of CSSD to Nunatsiavut government,” Kinney said, referring to the province’s Department of Child Services and Social Development.

Roughly a third of children and youth being sent to child protection services in the province are Indigenous.

Nunatsiavut president Johannes Lampe has said the separation of families is causing undue stress, along with a loss of culture and way of life.

“Too many of our children have been taken away from their families, communities, culture and way of life,” Lampe said in an interview.

“We have to find a way to address this serious issue, so that those affected can find a way to lead healthy, productive lives.”

Kavanagh says she is expecting to review individual cases and child protection service policies, and to hold conversations with Inuit communities around Labrador.

“This is a historical issue with its roots in colonial practices reflected in residential schools, generations of families with histories of trauma, and social inequality,” Lake Kavanagh said in a news release. “The status quo is not acceptable and cannot continue for Inuit children and youth.”

Kinney said her government does not want the process to be about laying blame, but about a review of the issues to help those affected move forward.

“The important piece for us is engaging communities, families, parents, children, and having them all feel like they are a part of the process,” said Kinney.

“We really see this, if we can get this process right, as being a good model for reconciliation.’’

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