This week Nunavut News turns its eye to National Child Day, and services for children and youth in our communities.

Much is centred around protection, rightly, as safeguarding children’s well-being protects the future as surely as protecting our environment provides them one.

The desire to work toward healthy, Inuit-led solutions in child care and social development is greater than ever. This is made especially apparent in the work being done by several organizations both within and outside the territory.

Attitudes of organizations outside of Nunavut have been slowly shifting as the conversation around reconciliation continues. In 2017, Mary Ballantyne, then-CEO of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS), apologized for the harmful role child welfare has played in the province, saying the societies “were aware of or should have been aware of the damage and trauma created first by residential schools, then carried forward by our participation in the Sixties Scoop. We saw the broken and devastated communities and were complacent in the belief that the fault was all yours. It was not. The actions we participated in clearly led you to this point.”

The society’s 2020-21 annual report stated a follow-up survey indicated it has made “good progress” mainly in only two of the nine areas they committed to in 2017: training and board representation. The report acknowledged room for improvement.

One of the more valuable commitments made by OACAS was to “shift resources to Indigenous organizations so that they are better able to provide services for and advocate on behalf of Indigenous children, families, and communities.”

Ottawa has the largest population of Inuit outside of Inuit Nunangat, so these commitments in Ontario have some lasting impact on Nunavummiut families.

In the lens of reconciliation, the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa (CASO) published a 2018 report on promising child welfare practices, especially those tailored to Inuit families.

CASO has hired more Inuit staff, and has worked on cultural competency training. It has also acknowledged the power imbalances that organizations such as itself hold over clients, and has reduced the number of supervisors and staff who attend meetings with their Inuit partner organizations and Inuit families in an effort to be less intimidating.

Closer to home, the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation (ACYF) and the Umingmak Centre in Iqaluit are working to provide much-needed support to youth and their families.

The Umingmak Centre has a trauma therapist and counsellors on staff, as well as Elder counsellors to offer guidance to parents.

The Inuit Child First Initiative, started October 2020, accesses federal funding to address inequality and the high cost of living in the North. In the past year, co-ordination manager Taya Tootoo has helped families fill out detail-oriented applications to assist 86 children.

Her ACYF colleague, Emma Akulukjuk-Hackett, said, “I just want to highlight the strength in the young families in our communities that are trying to change the trajectory of their kids. We have a lot of young families reaching out for different resources for their kids and for themselves.”

Meanwhile, school programs provide at least one meal per day for any child that needs one, and recreation programming gives youth an outlet for their energy, whether through sport or arts and cultural activities.

Despite great odds, Nunavummiut and Inuit organizations are making great strides in child and youth care. It’s encouraging to see work at so many levels reach healthy solutions that keep Inuit children connected to their culture and close to their communities.

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