TORONTO – The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies is joining a call for a coroner’s inquest into the recent deaths of aboriginal youth living in group homes in the province.
First Nations in Ontario and the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth called for an inquest earlier this month following the deaths of two girls who lived in group homes in the Ottawa area.
Chiefs with the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nations communities in Ontario, then renewed their demand last week, just days after the body of Tammy Keeash, who had also been living in a group home, was found in a floodway in Thunder Bay, Ont.
The chiefs said four aboriginal youth living in group homes had died in the province in six months.
Kanina Sue Turtle, 15, of Poplar Hill First Nation, died in late 2016 while in a group home in Sioux Lookout.
In the Ottawa region, Courtney Scott, 16, of Fort Albany First Nation, died in a house fire on April 21, and police said Amy Owen, 13, of Poplar Hill First Nation took her own life on April 17.
The body of Keeash, a 17-year-old from North Caribou Lake First Nation, was discovered on May 8.
On Monday, the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies said “a full understanding of prevention strategies that need to be implemented” is required.
“These recent deaths have again highlighted the challenges faced by indigenous children and youth in Ontario, particularly those from northern communities,” it said. “Those who are brought south because the mental health and other treatment resources they need are not available in their communities are not well-served by the current residential care system.”
The association said it is committed to working with indigenous agencies, First Nation communities, and the Association of Native Child and Family Services Agencies of Ontario to ensure that a “much more consistent and holistic service is provided.”
“At the same time, we are committed to advocating for the services that these children and youth require to be made available closer to their home communities,” it said.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum said last week that the community has been shocked by the recent youth deaths.
“We are disappointed the coroner’s office has not yet responded to our call for inquest,” she said last Wednesday.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation has also called on the provincial government to make legislative change so inquests are mandatory for all youth who die in group home settings, a position supported by Irwin Elman, Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.
First Nations children are disproportionately represented in the system, Elman has said.
“Too often, many find themselves ‘placed’ in homes located hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of kilometres away from their communities,” Elman said in a release earlier this month. “They are left isolated and cut off from their family and communities, their language and culture, and the natural advocates in their lives.”
Elman said immediate action is needed to ensure that young people in residential care are placed in homes that are “safe and nurturing, and where they are not put at risk.”
“It is unfathomable that we live in a province where we must say that, at a minimum, we need to take steps to ensure children survive our attempts to protect them.”