In Manitoba, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection is working with 10 families that have children who have been missing for more than six months. Eight of those families are First Nations.
While Christy Dzikowicz, director of MissingKids.ca, with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, doesn’t have exact figures, she does know that Manitoba’s numbers are a reflection of what is happening across the country.
“It’s a sad but accepted fact that we know that First Nations adults as well as children are going missing at a disproportionate rate,” said Dzikowicz.
In the last three years, she said, MissingKids.ca has started the process of building awareness in First Nations communities about the resources the organization has available.
At any given time, MissingKids.ca has several hundred files open, some of which have been active for years. While the office is located in Winnipeg, the organization went nationwide in May 2011 with the launch of MissingKids.ca. The Assembly of First Nations passed a resolution in July 2011 supporting the organization and pledging to work with the centre to “assist in creating awareness of and disseminating tools and resources provided through MissingKids.ca.”
The role of MissingKids.ca is to work with parents and provide them emotional support through on-staff social workers as well as to help them with the legal system. And depending on the situation, in particular if the child is a runaway, the centre can provide parents with the steps they can take to help find their child and what they can do to help aid the police in the search. The organization can also liaise with the police on behalf of the family.
“We’d like to see more families contact us so we can advocate for them and help them navigate through this experience,” said Dzikowicz.
She adds that families who already have missing children are welcomed to contact the centre and get the support MissingKids.ca offers.
Missing kids can be runaways, abducted by a family member, or the rarer case of stranger-abduction.
Parents know little about the electronic world that many kids live in these days, so MissingKids.ca has technicians that can help parents access twitter and Facebook on their child’s computer.
“We have in-house technical resources. Our staff can help the family navigate through how to do search histories on the computer,” said Dzikowicz.
MissingKids.ca also has a unique network established where individuals register through MissingKidsAlert.ca. If a child goes missing in their area, and the family and police think it will be helpful, MissingKids.ca sends out an electronic notification.
“We encourage the public to look around. We know people care, but I think people don’t realize it is possible that you can be that person who helps find a child,” said Dzikowicz. “It’s just a matter of calling us or calling the police if you think you may have seen that child.”
She says MissingKids.ca has a good relationship with the local law enforcement and families are often made aware of the organization through referrals from local police or the RCMP. However, she would like to see MissingKids.ca become well enough known that parents will approach the organization on their own.
MissingKids.ca also has a community response plan, which they developed through working with a variety of advisory committees consisting of First Nations and Aboriginal peoples, families, and law enforcement, and will be rolling out as a pilot project this March in Norway House Cree Nation, in Manitoba.
MissingKids.ca will work with Norway House to tailor the community response to meet that First Nation’s needs. It is not that Norway House has a large number of children who go missing, said Dzikowicz, but that the community and MissingKids.ca have a good working relationship. If the response plan proves successful, MissingKids.ca will work with the AFN to bring the plan to First Nations across the country.