Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost and Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston speak to media during the announcement of an awareness campaign about supports available for children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic on July 30. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News)

CYFN, YG launch awareness campaign after drop in calls to family and children’s services

Officials say there’s concern COVID-19 measures have isolated children from people providing oversight

The Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) and the Yukon government’s Department of Health and Social Services have launched an awareness campaign about supports available for children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The campaign, which consists of posters that will be distributed to all Yukon communities as well as social media posts, was triggered by a drop in referrals to the government’s family and children’s services.

Grand Chief Peter Johnston and Minister Pauline Frost announced its launch at a press conference in Whitehorse on July 30.

“We believe that the pandemic has placed yet another obstacle in the way of victims of abuse, making it even harder for them to come forward and seek help,” Frost told media.

“… The goal of this campaign is to reach out to vulnerable Yukon families to remind them that supports are available that can help them cope with the stresses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It also reminds us that all of the well-being of Yukon’s children is a collective responsibility.”

Johnston said the campaign wasn’t about “shaming or blaming” people who might be in difficult circumstances, but to ensure that people who need help know support is available, and how to access it.

“We’re in a different reality that we’ve never faced, however some of these issues that we are dealing with today are not something that is new to our society,” he said.

The posters feature the messages, “Are you worried about the health or safety of a child?” or “Need support for your family?” and list phone numbers for CYFN’s family preservation services and the Yukon government’s family and children’s services.

Calling the CYFN line will connect a caller with a manager or caseworker who can help families navigate different parts of the child welfare system, while calling the family and children’s services line will connect callers with a social worker who can either offer direct services or refer them to other community resources.

People who wish to report concerns about a child’s welfare should call the family and children’s services line.

The campaign has an anticipated cost of around $7,500, with expenses to be split between the Yukon government and CYFN.

CYFN executive director Shadelle Chambers and family and children’s services senior policy and project strategist Simone Fournel, who were also at the press conference, both acknowledged that it might seem counterintuitive to be concerned about a drop in referrals.

“In isolation, without COVID, that might have been a good sign, but with COVID, we started having other conversations and getting information from other departments and other programs like the RCMP and other folks who were concerned about levels of violence increasing,” Fournel said.

Fournel couldn’t provide exact numbers on how many fewer calls family and children’s services was receiving, or explain with certainty the cause behind the drop. However, both she and Chambers said there was concern that, with schools and daycares having been closed and gathering restrictions and physical distancing measures in place, children may be isolated and not seeing family members or caregivers who would otherwise offer oversight.

“It’s difficult to know with certainty but there’s just a lot of different indicators that we’re worried about and we don’t want to assume that everybody’s okay, we want to make sure we’re reaching out and offering those services,” Fournel said. “… Our message is, every door is the right door if you need help.”

Chambers said CYFN was ready to provide culturally-relevant support for First Nations families who need help, noting that the council had actually seen an increase in calls during the pandemic about Jordan’s Principle referrals as well as to its family unit, a relatively new initiative.

However, she said it was a “red flag” that there was a “compound decrease” in calls the family and children’s services following the introduction of COVID-19 measures, particularly those affecting social interactions.

“(We have to) make sure families and children know that there are supports available during a challenging time,” she said.

CYFN’s family preservation services can be reached at 867-393-9200 ext. 9260 or toll-free at 1-833-364-0509. Yukon family and children’s services can be reached at 867-667-3002 or toll-free at 1-800-661-0408 ext. 3002

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

Council of Yukon First NationsYukon health and social services

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