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Court ruling 'disheartening' for Nunavut's foster families, says executive director

A recent court decision that placed a young girl with her mother who was convicted of being severely abusive to her son rather than entrusting the daughter's welfare to Nunavut's foster family system is “concerning, discouraging and disheartening” to foster parents and frontline workers, says the executive director of Family Services.

“Our first focus is obviously the safety of the child, but then it is ensuring the permanency of the family connections and the cultural connections,” says Department of Family Services executive director Arijana Haramancic.
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“When we have a Crown prosecutor and appeal court judges basing their decisions on hearsay or anecdotal information and assumptions instead of the facts, it places the whole court system into question in terms of the processes of how they make their judgments,” said executive director Arijana Haramancic. “This really negates all the good, meaningful and worthwhile work from our dedicated foster families, and I thought about the impact on them receiving that message.”

Crown prosecutor Gary Wool, in an October Nunavut Court of Appeals case, helped persuade a panel of three judges that a mother who beat and failed to sufficiently feed her young son would be better off looking after her daughter – to whom she showed no indication of harming – instead of placing the daughter with a foster family. The mother in this case avoided serving jail time despite the conviction.

Wool spoke of the “bleak future” of children in foster care in the North and said resources are lacking.

He declined further comment for this story.

Haramancic emphasized that numerous factors are examined before a child is removed from a home, and other family members, such as grandparents and aunts and uncles, are considered before a youngster is turned over to the foster care system.

“Our first focus is obviously the safety of the child but then it is ensuring the permanency of the family connections and the cultural connections,” said Haramancic.

Close to 230 children are in the foster care system in Nunavut, where 140 foster families are registered, although some of those children have been taken in by extended family, Haramancic noted.

There are approximately 70 children in foster homes and group homes outside of Nunavut.

The executive director explained that foster families must undergo an initial screening process that involves a criminal record check and a vulnerable sector check.

New mandatory training for foster parents was introduced this year. The material covers how to care for children safely, managing their behaviours, dealing with trauma and other skills and knowledge.

There are six modules that vary from half a day to a full day in length.

The department is also establishing ongoing professional development.

“We're developing more robust and consistent training and support for foster parents,” Haramancic said.

A 2013 auditor general's report found that fully-compliant annual reviews of foster placements only took place in 13 per cent of 32 sample cases.

That percentage rose to 75 per cent in 2019-20, Haramancic said.

“There has been a real ongoing focus on improving compliance since the auditor general's report,” she said. “The department has developed strategies to bring that compliance higher. I'm hopeful that we will be as close as possible to that magic 100 per cent but any incremental improvement, it was nice to be able to see progress there.”