Access to Appropriate Services

In addition to concern about over-representation, inadequate access to appropriate services for Aboriginal youth was identified in many of our consultations as a pressing issue. Concerns ranged from the lack of residential services in reasonable proximity to young people’s communities, to the limited access to cultural programming or spiritual guidance, to concerns about racist attitudes or insensitivity to the historical context of Aboriginal young people.

The lack of residential placement options in reasonable proximity to young people’s communities was frequently mentioned as an issue needing urgent attention. One Nothern agency described its extensive efforts to “repatriate” young people placed in residential settings in the South of the Province. In addition to concerns that these young people were being cut off from their families, friends and communities, staff talked about the challenges inherent in providing any kind of oversight with respect to the quality of care or the appropriateness of treatment.

The cultural appropriateness of some residential settings were issues raised by several of the young people, staff and foster parents the Panel spoke to. Several Aboriginal youth found that menus rarely included any of their traditional foods; this was a particular concern for several Inuit youth who craved fish. Even non-Aboriginal youth talked about how much their Aboriginal peers missed “home food”. Limited access to cultural programming was noted by several young people and staff, and the lack of spiritual support was of particular concern given its potential importance for some of these young people. These concerns echo several of the themes that emerged from the Feathers of Hope youth consultation where First Nations youth spoke to the critical importance of connecting “First Nations young people to their culture and identity and de-coloniz[ing] [their] minds” through stronger bonds with family, opportunities to learn their languages, participate in community ceremonies, and to incorporate traditional knowledge in health, healing and education systems.

Comments about perceived racism or lack of cultural and historical awareness pointed to the critical importance of developing resources either run by Aboriginal communities or staffed by people who were adequately trained and supervised to provide appropriate support and care. We spoke to several young Aboriginal people who felt well-supported by staff who encouraged traditional healing practices and appeared to understand some of the challenges they faced as young Aboriginal people. We were concerned, however to hear about less positive experiences, especially one situation where two youth were forbidden to speak together in their native language. While there are situations where it could be important for staff to be able to monitor conversations between youth, alternative measures should have been developed given our history of abusive restrictions on indigenous languages in residential schools.

More generally we heard from a number of service providers and organizations about the importance of continuing to adapt legal, regulatory and funding structures that support Aboriginal communities’ control over their services. Métis organizations spoke in particular about the lack of legislative and funding mechanisms specific to Métis communities and young people. Many child welfare services are already delivered in the province by First Nations and urban Aboriginal organizations, but these organizations report that they lack resources to fully meet the needs of their communities. In the youth justice sector an Aboriginal dedicated secure detention/custody facility in Fort Frances and an open detention/ custody residence operated by Ininew Friendship Centre, provide services to Aboriginal Youth in Cochrane and James Bay Coast. We were encouraged to hear about Aboriginal community organizations that describe collaborative partnerships with child welfare agencies that allow them to effectively incorporate Aboriginal approaches. While developing more culturally appropriate resources closer to their communities is urgently needed for young Aboriginal people who are currently in residential settings, the Ministry, the Federal government and Aboriginal leaders must continue to work together to find more effective mechanisms to support Aboriginal communities to develop their own responses to their needs. Models of prevention, protection and care need to be re-thought.

The lack of appropriate supports and services goes well-beyond residential care. Many of the themes identified in the Panel consultations were also reflected in the Feathers of Hope First Nations youth consultation. Issues of identity, culture and language were identified as being at the core of many of the challenges faced by First Nations youth. Lack of access to quality education, mentorship, role models, sports and recreation were concerns raised for youth living in First Nations communities.