from left, Pauline Frost, minister of health and social services, Peter Johnston, CYFN grand chief, Shadelle Chambers, executive director for CYFN, announce on Dec. 12, a new program aimed at reuniting more First Nations children in government care with their families and connecting them with their culture. (Ashley Joannou/Yukon News)

New program aims to return kids in care to their communities

All 14 Yukon First Nations signed on to the guiding principles document for Honouring Connections

The Yukon government and Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) officially unveiled a new program aimed at reuniting more First Nations children in government care with their families and connecting them with their culture.

The Honouring Connections program was first discussed publicly in October. Yukon Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost and Grand Chief Peter Johnston made the formal announcement Dec. 12. All 14 Yukon First Nations signed on to the guiding principles document for the program.

“Children and youth currently in care will be given an opportunity to reconnect to their community and culture which will give them a greater connection to their traditions and practices and their strong family connections,” Frost said.

A review of 58 cases of Yukon First Nations children and youth in government care is beginning said Shadelle Chambers, executive director for CYFN.

The first priority is to try and reunite those children with their birth parents, extended family, or other community members, she said.

If reunification is not possible, each child remaining in foster care or in government group homes will have a comprehensive cultural plan created by their First Nation.

“We know at the end of this we will at least have comprehensive cultural plans that speak to… connections back to community, cultural and language,” she said.

“We see that as a great benefit to the community and something that hasn’t normally been done as part of practice.”

Each Yukon First Nation will be in charge of creating the unique plans for their children and youth though CYFN has been researching similar systems in other jurisdictions and is creating a template that could be used or tweaked.

Johnston thanked the Yukon government for “taking a risk.”

“Traditionally we’ve always thought that the more that children have the opportunity to know who they are, where they come from and to understand that, the more that they grow up with that responsibility, that accountability to the world.”

Frost said that the Liberals have been working to reduce the number of children in care down from what she said was approximately 400 four or five years ago.

The government has placed social workers and councillors in every Yukon community, she said.

“That means that we have the resources now within our communities so there’s no reason why we couldn’t bring our children back home to their communities”

Chambers said Yukon First Nations are optimistic about the new program and the way the current government is changing how things have been done in the past.

“We’re happy to say that reunification has been a priority, and Yukon First Nations are optimistic that they finally have an opportunity to review some historical legacy cases and (children) have opportunities to be reconnected with their family because their family has been asking for this.”

Frost would not say what kind of budget the governments are expecting to spend on the program, saying only that the they’ll be looking at “initiatives” and working with “partners.”

“You can’t put a price tag on children,” she said.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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