Inquiry offers counselling to help families cope after testifying

As the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls wrapped up its first set of Whitehorse hearings June 1, staff said plans were already in place to help families cope with the emotional toll that may have come from testifying.

As the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls wrapped up its first set of Whitehorse hearings June 1, staff said plans were already in place to help families cope with the emotional toll that may have come from testifying.

Health director Terrellyn Fearn said inquiry officials helped families come up with plans for how to take care of themselves before, during and after the inquiry was over. Phone calls to check-in could start as early as today, she said.

“When we leave we want to make sure that they’re rooted in support here.”

The type of support will be different for each family, she said. For some people it might mean a call or two from inquiry staff to check in. Others might need more attention.

Fearn said her staff started working with people before the inquiry began to get a sense of what supports they already had in place.

“Some families share with us that they have a counsellor or support worker that they’re already connected to (or that) they are engaged in different types of healing.”

A lot of the families who testified this week were involved in the federal government’s support for survivors of residential school and already had a support worker they brought with them to the inquiry, she said.

The inquiry hired 19 support workers, including elders, to be in Whitehorse this week.

“We have scheduled people coming in to share their testimony but we also have people that are coming in who want to inquire, they might want to ask questions, so we wanted to ensure that we had ample health supports in place.”

In some cases people were telling their story for the first time at the inquiry and so might not have support organized at home, Fearn said.

The inquiry recently signed two contracts with the Council of Yukon First Nations and Whitehorse’s Committee on Abuse in Residential Schools (CAIRS) to cover the cost of counselling.

The contracts are based on use, meaning the inquiry will pay if someone is identified as needing that type of help.

“Our intention is not to overburden supports that are already in the community, but to strengthen (them),” Fearn said.

Each contract is worth up to $25,000 and goes until December 31, 2018.

Fearn said Health Canada signed similar contracts to cover counselling for survivors of residential schools.

“As that process is winding down, there’s going to be limited opportunity for some of those workers,” she said. “So we are engaging a contract with them so they can keep those workers onboard so they can continue the support work with the families after we leave.”

The inquiry has also set up a 24-hour crisis line for people in need. The phones are staffed by councillors who speak English, French, Ojibwe, Cree and Inuktitut.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news-com

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