Current Problems

Child Welfare (1-5)

MLA presses for more youth shelters in Nunavut

November 2, 2023

Adam Arreak Lightstone points to hundreds of referrals to family services case workers for child abuse

Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone makes a call in the legislative assembly Tuesday for more child emergency centres in Nunavut. (Photo by Jeff Pelletier)

By David Lochead

NationTalk: Nunatsiaq News – A Nunavut MLA is calling for more safe havens for youth across the territory, citing hundreds of referrals to case workers for child harm listed in a recent child and family services annual report.

“I hope the minister [of family services] will one day commit to child emergency shelters in our communities,” said Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone said in the legislative assembly Tuesday.

He noted the director of child and family services’ annual report for 2021-22 indicates there were 518 referrals for child sexual harm during that period, with 458 of these reported in the South Baffin region.

These numbers are included in a table that lists referrals for child services case workers to intervene in situations related to child protection, broken down by the type of harm reported. For example, there were 716 referrals for child physical harm; 1,519 for inadequate care and supervision; and 662 for exposure to family violence.

In the legislature, Lightstone highlighted the effectiveness of the Umingmak Centre for youth in Iqaluit. The Umingmak Centre provides support to youth while RCMP and child and family services investigated reports of child abuse. Lightstone asked if there are plans to build or help create other child advocacy centres in Nunavut, or plans to assist the Umingmak Centre.

Family Services Minister Margaret Nakashuk agreed it would be good to have centres similar to Umingmak in smaller communities, as the GN relies on it as do other communities around Nunavut, but “There’s just not enough supports available for children and youth to try and keep them safe.”

Nakashuk said it’s not only the Department of Family Services that can address the problem of child sexual harm. “It takes all of us,” she said. “It takes parents, it takes community members, it takes grandparents.”

She said her department works with other departments to ensure programs are in place.

A shortage of staff has also been an issue in the Department of Family Services, Nakashuk said. She told Nunatsiaq News her department does not have current numbers on how many staff it needs to add, but noted it is trying to increase supports for staff.

Inuit Child First, Indigenous Services Canada

On the first day of the legislature’s fall sitting on Oct. 19, Nakashuk apologized on behalf of the GN and the Department of Family Services for failing to protect vulnerable children in its care.

The apology followed a report from Canada’s auditor general, released in May, that was highly critical of the quality of care child and family services provided to vulnerable children in Nunavut between the period of Jan. 1, 2019, to May 31, 2022.

By David Lochead