Nunavut gov’t apologizes to people impacted by family services crisis

Family Services Minister Margaret Nakashuk says she is committed to ensuring that history doesn’t repeat itself. (Nunavut Legislative Assembly)

By Emily Haws · CBC News 

‘I am sorry for the very personal impact this has [had] on vulnerable Nunavummiut’

Nunavut Family Services Minister Margaret Nakashuk has apologized to people affected by her department’s failings in how it cared for the children in its custody.

She made the comments during her minister statement on the opening day of the Legislative Assembly’s fall sitting.

“The systemic deficiencies highlighted in the auditor general’s report have led to negative outcomes for the children and families we serve. I am sorry for the very personal impact this has [had] on vulnerable Nunavummiut,” she said, adding she is committed to ensuring history is not repeated.

“On behalf of the Department of Family Services, I apologize to those children and their families. I assure Nunavummiut that my department is taking immediate and sustainable steps to address the auditor general’s report and to ensure the best interests of children in our care are in the forefront of our response.”

Iqaluit Sinaa MLA Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster, who has personally dealt with the foster care system, thanked Family Services Minister Margaret Nakashuk for the apology. (Nunavut Legislative Assembly)

Canada’s auditor general tabled a scathing report in May, which urged the territorial government to take action to protect vulnerable children.

“This audit report describes a crisis. It is a call for change,” said the auditor general’s office at the time.

Among the findings, it noted that the department failed to properly investigate reports of suspected harm, didn’t do proper follow-ups, and couldn’t say how many children were in its care.

Nakashuk reiterated her department accepts the report’s findings, and said she hopes to table a strategic plan responding to the report in the coming months.

The strategic plan will tackle issues like hiring, training, and providing wrap-around supports, she said. The government is also exploring professional education opportunities, employment incentives, and partnerships.

She said responsibilities will be clear, and leaders will have a detailed action plan.

“We’re bringing in a quality assurance process, better standards, and chances for staff to grow,” she said, “The plan also includes a way to carefully assess how well we’re helping our clients.”

‘Healing begins with apologies and taking responsibility’: MLA Brewster

The apology prompted Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster to change her member statement. She initially planned on talking about the importance of getting seasonal influenza and COVID-19 vaccines.

Instead, she thanked Nakashuk for her apology. Brewster has previously said she’s dealt personally with the foster care system.

“I know that there are many Nunavummiut who will be impacted by those words,” she said. “What we know is that healing begins with apologies and taking responsibility. So thank you very much for your apology, Minister Nakashuk.”

Tununiq MLA Karen Nutarak agreed with Brewster, also thanking Nakashuk.

The Standing Committee on Oversight of Government Pperations and Public Accounts studied the findings of the report last month.

It is expected to table a number of recommendations during this sitting.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Ottawa Inuit association says it’s “encouraged” by Ontario’s plan to redesign child welfare, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Psychologists in Finland sign climate petition, citing concerns for youth mental health, Yle News

Sweden: Calls for more Indigenous protection in Sweden on Sami national day, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska and its tribes sign child services agreement, Alaska Public Media

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