One foster family is hoping to help ease the transition that many Inuit children face when moving into the foster care system.
In Ottawa, Mary and Kevin Qamaniq-Mason are only one of two Inuit foster families in the nation’s capital and together they wrote I Am Loved, a children’s book meant for Inuit children in foster care.
The book came into fruition over time stemming from their experiences working with foster children.
Kevin worked at the Tungasuvvingat Inuit in Ottawa as the manager of family services, where he dealt with a lot of families who had open files with Child and Family Services.
“We had programs where parents and their kids who were in the foster care system would be able to have visits and interact and my wife’s a writer so we often talked about it,” said Kevin.
The two ultimately ended up adopting one of those children.
“We were looking at kids books online at this situation a lot of Inuit kids find themselves in,” he said.
“There’s a lot of weird dynamics involved with Inuit children moving into non-Inuit family homes and we just weren’t happy with the resources that were available.”
At the time, the two were getting their certification towards becoming foster parents themselves and saw a need for a children’s book that reflected the experiences Inuit foster children.
“I was so unhappy just looking at all these books, I just think there wasn’t very good options for kids and I didn’t find anything appropriate for indigenous or Inuit children,” said Mary.
She sid that incorporating culture is more than just adopting some elements and calling it a day.
“A lot of the foster families here, they think that culture means food, singing, dancing, clothing, but they’re not understanding that culture covers the way that we relate to each other, the way we speak, the natural interactions in a family, the personal dynamics in a family.”
“Often they have very good intentions but they’re acting in such a way that the Inuit child can never really feel comfortable, and (they’re) very confused and having many miscommunications with their foster parents,” Mary explained.
Transitioning into foster homes away from family in an unfamiliar environment can be one of the more difficult parts of being a foster child, they said.
“It’s really difficult, that’s what we observed,” said Kevin.
“We’re one of two Inuit foster families in Ottawa and we’ve fostered a dozen Inuit kids. Even though they’re Inuit children fostered by an Inuit family, it’s a big adjustment to make.”
Getting accustomed to a non-Inuit environment for an Inuit child is another even larger adjustment to make.
“If it’s a big adjustment to move into an Inuit foster home, how difficult it must be to move into a non-Inuit foster family, to an all-white family who has no familiarity with a unique culture or Inuit communication styles or maybe doesn’t know anybody in the Inuit community,” Kevin said.
“We wanted to write a book that gave a message to the Inuit children that are in care but also had a bit of a message for foster parents,” Mary adds.
If there was one message that the two wanted to get across in this book, it is one of family and love, that despite everything your family is still going to be there for you.
“Even though you’re away, you’re a part of the Inuit family and community right now, you’re never really apart,” said Mary.
“That connection is still there, that family and community is ready to embrace you at anytime, now or later. You’re never gonna be separate and away even if you end up spending years away from your community or your family.”
“Everyone is thinking of you everyday and is sending love to you everyday.”
I Am Loved is written by Mary and Kevin Qamaniq-Mason and published by Inhabit Media is available for purchase online both in English and Inuktitut on the Inhabit Media website.