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Umingmak Centre to open its doors soon for child victims of abuse

The Umingmak Centre will finally become a reality after a federal funding infusion of $875,526 over five years to the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation.

The Umingmak Centre, a one-stop centre that will provide a safe, culturally informed, child-friendly environment where agencies can deliver services in a collaborative fashion for child victims of abuse, is set to open in September if renovations to its building are completed on schedule.
photo courtesy of Arctic Children and Youth Foundation

"Primarily, the center is for children and youth that disclose abuse," said executive director Sarah Clark.

While the funding announcement by federal Minister of Justice David Lametti came July 29, the foundation entered into the memorandum of understanding (MOU) in 2018.

"We found a location (in Iqaluit). We found staff. We have the MOU in place. And we've got the funding. It should be opening in September, as long as our renovations go according to plan," said Clark.

The centre has been several years in the making, with a needs assessment completed in 2014.

A 2019 document by Nunavut pediatrician Amber Miners notes that in Nunavut, children and youth experience abuse and maltreatment at 10 times the rate of other Canadian children, and the territory has the highest rate of child sexual abuse in Canada.

Fifty-two per cent of Inuit women and 22 per cent of Inuit men reported having experienced severe child sexual abuse, according to the 2008 Inuit Health Survey. There were 278 child maltreatment investigations by RCMP between January 2017 and June 2018 in Iqaluit alone.

Miners also notes the actual rates may be much higher, as many incidents are not reported to authorities.

The Umingmak Centre was named after the 2015 territory-wide feasibility study.

"It came out that umingmak would be a good name because of the way that muskox create a circle around their herd and their children when they feel threatened," said Clark.

According to documents, the centre will include a child-friendly interview room for use by police and family services, a medical examination room, a counselling office, offices for two case coordinators bilingual in Inuktitut and English, and accommodation space for families from outside Iqaluit.

The basic idea of the centre is for all services to come to the child.

"A typical centre provides for forensic investigation on children and youth who have been abused, sexually or physically," Kylie Aglukark, a former executive director and now a board member, told Nunavut News in early 2015. "It's a one-stop shop. It allows a child or youth who has been abused to come and, under one roof, be able to do one interview rather than being sent to the RCMP, then over to Family Services, then to the health centre or hospital."

Clark says that along with services, there will be specialized programming.

"Our counsellor will be doing groups for problematic sexualized behaviour ... for the kids. So any kids that have been identified as having that sort of behaviour will come to group. And then for the parents, it would be a support group basically for non-offending parents because they often feel guilt or they need support," she said.

"One of the biggest indicators of a healthy journey forward for a child is how strong the non-offending caregiver feels, and what how supported they feel with as much information as they can have."

For now, the centre will not deal with the offenders, which can be anyone, including other children or siblings. But that may come in the future.

"In other places like Alaska, which we model a lot of our stuff after, they're starting to look at how can we do interviews and counselling with the offending sibling or the offending whoever," said Clark.

Though the centre is intended for all of Nunavut, the foundation is taking one step at a time.

"We're trying to start small because we want to get our team down and our process down. At this point, we'll take families that come – in different communities some nurses or RCMP just don't feel comfortable doing an exam or doing an interview," said Clark.

"Often they will send the child and family down to Iqaluit to do those things. That's why we have the accommodation space at this time, to help and to take that family and keep them in one place. They don't have to go to boarding home or anywhere else."

The foundation's partners are the territorial departments of Family Services, Education, Justice and Health, as well as Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the RCMP.

The centre's counsellor is linked with Ilisaksivik in Clyde River, as well as with professionals in the south with experience in the North and the Sheldon Kennedy Centre in Calgary.

"We have lots of people ready to support us through this," said Clark.

"We're hoping to create something that is quite effective for people."