Premier Sandy Silver and Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston speak to reporters at the Yukon Forum in Whitehorse on May 7. The two were together again for this year’s third installment of the forum. (Chris Windeyer/Yukon News file)

Grand Chief Peter Johnston calls group home problems “unfortunate”

The comment came during the Yukon Forum on Sept. 13 in Dawson City

During the third instalment of the Yukon Forum this year, Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston called the issue of mistreated youth in Yukon group homes, which was in the news again last week, “unfortunate.”

“Very sad to hear the realities that (we) are currently facing, but, at the end of the day, these are things that we as governments in the territory are now identifying as priorities to not only reduce the amount of children that are going into these realities, but to ensure that no child is taken away from their family …” he said.

The forum was hosted in Dawson City on Sept. 13, one year to the day after the Joint Action Plan was signed laying out the governments’ joint priorities.

On Sept. 6, spurred by an independent investigation that substantiated two allegations leveled at the government by youths at group homes, Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost publicly apologized to them, acknowledging they were mistreated.

“The Government of Yukon was responsible for you and we let you down,” she said.

Frost ordered the investigation in May and retained Pamela Costanzo, a lawyer and investigator from British Columbia.

Costanzo investigated five claims by youth that they were denied placement into group homes, locked out or unfairly evicted on a short timeframe between the end of 2016 and early 2018, according to a summary.

The sixth allegation, was that managers at Health and Social Services “ignored” or “covered up” complaints.

On the topic of keeping children and youth within the family unit, Premier Sandy Silver, also present at the forum, said “kudos” to Frost and her department “for the direction.”

“What better place to be than with grannies, with aunties, with uncles, with family members,” Silver said.

“We have children in care. Now that they’re in the communities how do we make sure that we can increase the participation of First Nations governments and our own government to make sure that the quality of care is there in those communities?” he said. “We have an awful lot of work ahead of us.”

Silver said the focus is reducing the number of children and youth in care, which he said has dropped by 44 per cent.

“I believe this is a result of our collaborative approach with the First Nations,” he said.

Johnston said conversations between governments have opened up the realities on the ground.

“It’s our responsibility as governments to ensure that we have these constructive dialogues and that we come with solutions in hand to help reinstate the children back into their communities,” he said. “There are always going to be examples we don’t want to see.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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