Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavik August 25, 2016 - 4:00 pm

Retired social worker walks, talks for Inuit foster children

"This is a Canadian issue, this isn't just an Inuit situation"

SARAH ROGERS
Retired social worker Lorraine Loranger is pictured here during a visit to Quaqtaq in 2009. This year, Loranger is walking through British Columbia to raise awareness of the difficult conditions faced by Inuit foster children and their families. (PHOTO COURTESY OF L. LORANGER)
Retired social worker Lorraine Loranger is pictured here during a visit to Quaqtaq in 2009. This year, Loranger is walking through British Columbia to raise awareness of the difficult conditions faced by Inuit foster children and their families. (PHOTO COURTESY OF L. LORANGER)

Lorraine Loranger wants to see more safe houses for Nunavik children, women and their families, and she’s willing to walk across the country for it.

The retired social worker, who spent part of her career in Nunavik, is about 1,400 kilometres into a cross-country expedition that she embarked on last spring to raise awareness about the difficult conditions that face Inuit youth in foster care.

While working as a youth protection agent in Salluit in 2010, Loranger said she was struck by the divide between a system that seeks to protect children but one she found often harmed them instead.

“I had one little girl under my ward who had been [in dozens of] placements,” Loranger recalled. “I went ballistic. I thought, how can we be doing this to children?”

At that point, Loranger said she began documenting each time a child in care was placed more than 19 times —  there were many, she said, and those placements included communities north and south, Inuit and non-Inuit.

Loranger also spent time in court with the parents of her wards.

“A lot of these mothers didn’t know enough English… and a half hour isn’t enough time to understand your rights,” she said.

What Nunavimmiut need is a stronger community response, Loranger contends, one that supports its children and families and allows them to stay in their communities, pointing to the concept of a safe house for children, or the family houses that have now opened in both Kuujjuaraapik and Kangiqsualujjuaq.

When Loranger returned home to southern Quebec after her contract, those ideas stayed fresh in her mind. When she retired last year, she decided to put her belongings in storage and plan a trip that would take her across the country and into coffee shops, parks and politicians’ offices to talk about her experience.

Loranger, 66, began her walk this past spring in Prince Rupert, B.C., hiking between 10 and 20 kilometres a day and making time to stop and chat with people about her project, which she calls “No Child Should Have to Take the Long Way Home.”

The goal, she said on the phone from Hope, B.C., is to offer Inuit children a stable and protective environment where they can live with other Inuit.

For example, the family houses in both Kuujjuaraapik and Kangiqsualujjuaq aim to provide a resource for children at risk of being placed under youth protection before that happens, while also offering counselling to their parents and caregivers.

While B.C. is thousands of kilometres from Nunavik, Loranger stresses that this is “a Canadian issue.”

“This isn’t just an Inuit situation. And it really pains me to say that,” she said.

Loranger says she’s heard many similar stories from First Nations community members she’s met along the way who struggle with youth protection issues of their own.

Loranger doesn’t suggest she has the means to solve Nunavik’s youth protection woes, but she feels a need to play a supporting role.

“[Inuit] are going to help themselves,” she said, “but I’m lending a hand.”

“It’s not about me [as a social worker] being there, it’s about the community being there and developing their own tools of resilience,” she said.

“It’s up to the people to decide what works best for them.”

You can learn more about Loranger’s project here.

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