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Ontario Continues To Fail First Nations Children In Care

Two weeks ago, it was reported in the media that a youth from a Northern First Nation community died in a fire at an Ottawa group home. In February, another group home fire claimed the lives of two individuals. Both tragedies are just two examples where young people in care face many unimaginable risks while under the province’s care and protection.

For First Nations children, who are disproportionately represented in the system, their situation is exacerbated; too often, many find themselves “placed” in homes located hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of kilometers away from their communities. They are left isolated and cut off from their family and communities, their language and culture, and the natural advocates in their lives.

The unimaginable burden the Province places on First Nations children and, in turn, their communities reinforce, rather than heal, the ongoing legacies of the Indian Residential School system. First Nations children continue to pay the price.

Ontario’s child welfare system is responsible for about 3,000 young people living in group homes, while another 15,000 children and youth live in foster homes operated by agencies and service providers.

Too often, young people in care have little or no say in where they are placed to live. It is sometimes difficult to know whether the children’s aid societies, responsible for placing young people in a group home setting, are confident about the quality of care provided to young people. Equally unclear is whether the Province has a clear picture about what happens to children and youth in their placements.

When children end up in the child welfare system and are placed in foster care or group care, they will have to wage their battles to survive in a profoundly inadequate child welfare system. Some of these young people will benefit from the services they receive while in the care of the state. Many will not. And some will die as a result of the instability and chaos they experience living in the system.

As the spate of recent deaths show, this is a crisis and Ontario’s most vulnerable children are suffering. Immediate action is needed to ensure that young people in residential care are placed in homes that are safe and nurturing, and where they are not put at risk. It is unfathomable that we live in a Province where we must say that, at a minimum, we need to take steps to ensure children survive our attempts to protect them.

While we urge all levels of government to continue to work with Indigenous partners and others to fundamentally change residential care, we call on the Province to immediately:

Identify children and homes at risk and talk to the children there. They must assess what supports are needed to improve the home;
Create a roster of clinicians (e.g. mental health professionals) and trained Child and Youth Workers who can be quickly deployed to homes in crisis to support young people;
Convene a panel of practitioners and educators, including those with knowledge of culturally anchored services and interventions with Indigenous children to guide this emergency response;
Determine the number and situations of First Nations children living in group homes in southern Ontario and takes steps to ensure their needs are being met.

Our office supports the Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s (NAN) calls for the Office of the Chief Coroner to call a discretionary inquest into the deaths of the two young people at two separate group homes, and for the Government of Ontario to require that an inquest be held any time a child dies in a group home setting.

Irwin Elman, Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth

About the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
The Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth (the Advocate’s Office) reports directly to the Legislature of Ontario and provides an independent voice for children and youth, including children with special needs and First Nations children. The advocates receive and respond to concerns from children, youth and families who are seeking or receiving services under the Child and Family Services Act and the Education Act (Provincial and Demonstration Schools). The Provincial Advocate may identify systemic problems involving children and youth, conduct reviews and provide education and advice on the issue of advocacy and the rights of children.

The Advocate’s Office can also conduct investigations and make recommendations to improve children’s aid society services and services provided by residential licensees where a children’s aid society is the placing agency.

The Office is guided by the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and has a strong commitment to youth involvement. For more information, visit: www.provincialadvocate.on.ca. For updates, read the Advocate’s Blog and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

SOURCE Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth

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