Council of Yukon First Nations executive director Shadelle Chambers, right, and the Yukon government’s director of family and children services Geraldine MacDonald speak at the “Our Families, Our Ways — A Family Strengthening Gathering” at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse on Oct. 28. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News)

Yukon First Nations, YG working on plan to connect children in care to families, culture

The program, Honouring Connections, is currently in planning

Yukon First Nations and the territorial government’s family and children services branch are working on an initiative to reconnect First Nations children in care with their cultures and communities, and, if possible, reunify them with their families.

Known as “Honouring Connections,” the program will see the creation of individualized cultural plans for Yukon First Nations children and youth in care, and encourage and support the return of children to their birth parents or extended family members.

Shadelle Chambers, the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) executive director, and Geraldine MacDonald, the Yukon government’s director of family and children services, shared details of the plan on Oct. 28 during a presentation at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre.

Their presentation was part of CYFN’s two-day conference on Indigenous child welfare, called “Our Families, Our Ways — A Family Strengthening Gathering.”

“I think it’s really important to note that no other jurisdiction in Canada has done this or is doing this,” Chambers said of Honouring Connections, “so Yukon and Yukon First Nations really have an opportunity to be leaders across the country.”

As of Aug. 31, Chambers said, there were 83 children in the director’s care, meaning their biological parents have had their parental rights extinguished. Of those children, 67 of them, or approximately 81 per cent, are Yukon First Nations.

Of the 59 children living in foster care, 53 of them, or 90 per cent, are Yukon First Nations.

Yukon First Nations make up only approximately 23 per cent of the Yukon’s total population.

Meanwhile, of the 55 foster homes in the Yukon, only nine are Yukon First Nations.

The ultimate goal of Honouring Connections, Chambers and MacDonald explained, is to improve the outcome for Yukon First Nations children and youth currently in care, with a priority on reuniting children with their families.

Yukon First Nations will take the lead on how to best ensure children maintain ties with their cultures and communities and with crafting the cultural plans for each child.

“I think historically, that hasn’t been done,” Chambers said.

“There’s been a fundamental power imbalance … and so this is what why we’re committing to ensuring that a collaborative decision-making process is adhered to, which ensures everyone who is affected in these decisions, whether it’s the birth parents, extended family, Yukon First Nations, the child and/or youth, depending on the age, and that caregivers are going to collaboratively come together to make decisions for children.”

The program will also focus on reuniting children in foster care or group homes with their families, whether that be birth parents or extended family members, and providing supports to ensure that as many children as possible are not only reunified, but are done so successfully and for the long-term.

“We can’t just simply reunify a family and cross our fingers and hope that everything goes well,” Chambers explained. “We know that families need support with challenges around employment, addictions, housing, some of those things that many of us and our families have faced.”

One of the tools that can be used to reunify families are extended family care agreements, she said, in which children are placed in the care of a relative when returning to their parents isn’t an option.

According to the most recently-available data, there are currently 133 in extended family care agreements, 93 of which, or about 70 per cent, are Yukon First Nations.

To date, 10 Yukon First Nations have officially endorsed Honouring Connections, and family and children services is seeking a representative from each of the 14 Yukon First Nations for the program.

More details about Honouring Connections, as well as another announcement about the program, are expected at a later date.

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

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