November 24, 2006

Report: Nunavik child protection puts kids at risk

“The population should be made to confront the increasingly degrading situation of its young people.”

JANE GEORGE

Children in distress who live in Nunavik’s Ungava coast communities are left in the hands of abusers by youth protection services, mistreated in foster homes, and made victims of a public system that offers them little protection, says a chilling report by Quebec’s Commission on Human Rights and the Rights of Children.

The 160-page document details horrific stories of child abuse and neglect.

It describes children who are raped, starved and passed around like a joint. These children learn to dull their pain with drugs and booze.

“We were told of youngsters who had hallucinations, one who swallowed needles and another who thought he was Satan, for whom the parents and the community refused any medical or social treatment,” write the investigators.

The report describes the youth protection system as “not currently functional,” and lists isolation, lack of teamwork, disorganization and little supervision and training as grave shortcomings.

Other problems include a high staff turnover, troubled employees, language barriers, lack of specialized resources, inadequate prevention and support programs, a housing shortage that leaves abusers and their victims living together, and a general mistrust of health and social services.

Investigators interviewed 120 people and combed a sample of files from Ungava Bay communities to prepare the report.

“It is also clear that the population as a whole must mobilize and show a real willingness to protect its children and that all municipal, school and social authorities must work together to the same goal,” the report says.

“Today, Nunavik is at a crossroads in its history, and, according to the people we interviewed, priority should be given to young people and to prevention.”

Investigators heard that youth protection services should involve elders, rely on more multi-disciplinary teams, and that “the population should be made to confront the increasingly degrading situation of its young people.”

Here is a sampling of information the report says “points to serious problems of social dysfunction”:

But a collective silence now protects the abusers and negligent parents, says the report.

Youth protection services do not intervene to help children, and do not file any reports, even when doctors note signs of sexual abuse, the report says.

And workers don’t protect other children living in a house where there is abuse or neglect, the report finds.

In one case cited, a child was sexually abused by an uncle. Youth protection workers nonetheless accepted repeated assurances from the mother that the uncle would leave, but the uncle never left and the child remained in the abusive home.

In another case, a doctor’s complaint about a child with fecal incontinence, a common side effect of repeated sexual abuse, was not retained because, a file notes, “the physician is uncertain.” Complaints about a young child with genital warts and a shaken baby were also ignored.

Many teachers say they no longer called youth protection services because nothing happens when they made complaints or, because of breached confidentiality, they faced the risk of assaults from angry parents.

Complaints are also often ignored when children have a link with an employee of youth protection services, or when the family is friendly with the director of youth protection.

Other complaints are dropped because the parents refused any outside intervention. In one case a complaint was dropped because the mother threatened to kill herself if her child was taken away.

However, the Youth Protection Act says the director of youth protection should take action if a child is in danger, with or without the agreement of the parents.

The report says the Youth Protection Act is “misunderstood and applied in a haphazard way” and that “as it is poorly applied, it is considered to be poorly adapted to Inuit culture.”

The investigation into youth protection services started in 2002 after the commission received complaints that about 13 children had not received adequate services from the region’s youth protection services and other organizations.

Jeannie May, executive director of Nunavik’s regional board of health and social services, was unable to comment in detail on commission’s findings due to travel commitments.

But she said youth protection services in the region had been improved since the investigators prepared their reports.

 

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