There are some extremely emotional and disturbing moments at the Umingmak Centre in Iqaluit, where children and youth facing abuse turn for help.
Emma Akulukjuk-Hackett, the centre’s program director and child and family advocate, admits that it was really difficult to cope with the suffering when the facility opened its doors in October 2019.
But as the weeks and months went by, she witnessed remarkable improvement in many of the young clients.
“Just seeing the significant progress that they make within a short amount of time just gives me huge amounts of hope,” she says. “So anytime there’s a kid that comes in and we know there’s a hard story behind it, the only thing I can really focus on is the hope and just being really glad that they’re here because I know that they’re going to be OK.”
The building is designed to have a safe and comfortable “home-like” atmosphere. There are toys and food on hand for guests.
The Umingmak Centre’s complement of staff includes a trauma therapist and counsellors. Pediatricians from Qikiqtani General Hospital pay visits, as do Child and Family Services workers. Three Elder counsellors offer guidance to struggling parents.
In severe cases of abuse, the RCMP get involved and may lay charges. Children in those instances often wind up with foster families.
The Umingmak Centre, which has approximately 75 active files, was conceived through the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation (ACYF), itself borne to provide support to youth facing a crisis due to the clash between two cultures, according to Akulukjuk-Hackett.
Taya Tootoo, Akulukjuk-Hackett’s colleague under the ACYF umbrella, spends her days assisting often despairing families in obtaining items and services such as beds, clothing, food support, behavioural therapy, school supplies, medical travel support for pregnant women with other children and assistance with rent. Tootoo is the co-ordination manager with the Inuit Child First Initiative, which, since October 2020 in Nunavut, accesses federal government funding to address inequality and the high cost of living in the North.
She’s helped families fill out complicated applications to assist 86 children over the past year.
“There’s such high demand for these services and we’re very limited in the resources and the amount of staff that we’re able to have,” she said, adding that the hope is to formally expand into the Kivalliq and Kitikmeot regions in the future.
In one case, a specialized stroller was required for a baby with brittle bones.
“As long as we can make a case that without these services the child will not have a substantive, equal opportunity to thrive,” she says of the wide range of eligible requests.
Tootoo also sets up appointments for speech-language pathology, which can be provided to families across Nunavut via online platforms, either at home or through the local health centre.
In the process of aiding those in desperate need, Akulukjuk-Hackett and Tootoo are sometimes confronted by troubling circumstances in their workplaces. They, too, are able to access counselling to help them deal with the anguish – and that’s “a significant help,” Tootoo says.
Employees also come together monthly for wellness days and team bonding.
“We work on heavy stuff (in the office) and sometimes also we need to take time to learn, reflect and be inspired together,” Tootoo adds.
Akulukjuk-Hackett points out that some Nunavummiut may be in a predicament, but they are not giving up.
“I just want to highlight the strength in the young families in our communities that are trying to change the trajectory of their kids,” she says. “We have a lot of young families reaching out for different resources for their kids and for themselves.”