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Systemic improvements would have helped boy sooner

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By Shari Narine Sweetgrass Contributing Editor EDMONTON







November 7, 2016.

An investigative review released last week by the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate into the death of a young boy resulted in no recommendations.

But that isn’t an indication of improved circumstances for Indigenous children in care, says Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff.

“I would suggest that is not what it means,” he said. “What it means is that the systemic issues that were arising in this circumstance, that we thought were present and that was the basis for us to do a review, were not confirmed.”

In this specific review, 15-year-old Netasinim (not his name) died in a drowning accident when visiting his First Nation. He had been in the care of a designated First Nations authority and living in a group home off his First Nation. When he returned to his community for a celebration, he went swimming with friends and was pulled under by a strong current.

Graff admits he was surprised that no recommendations came from the investigation. It is the first time in the 20-plus reviews he has conducted since he took office in 2011 that that has happened. He says potential systemic issues had been identified in the preliminary examination.

“We had anticipated systemic issues in relation to the services Netasinim was receiving. And when we went out and had the interviews and got some additional information, what we found was once he was identified as being in need of service, the service provided was appropriate service,” he said.

Graff says had they known what the investigation would reveal, his office would not have gone further than the preliminary work.

“Should we have been able to identify this? I couldn’t see a way we could without that additional information,” he said.

Graff points out that the initial assessment involves reviewing the information that is in the child’s file and then getting confirmation of that information from someone who is close to the child. The investigative review involves interviewing people in depth.

While no specific recommendations came from the investigation into Netasinim’s death, Graff is clear that the tragic death of the young boy is not the only tragedy he experienced.

Netasinim lived in a garbage dump for two weeks before child intervention services were made aware of him.

“Netasinim was not willing to return home because of his family’s drinking and physical abuse. He was

emotional when he explained that he preferred to live in the dump because it was safer. The police investigated and charged his mother with assaulting Netasinim and his younger sister,” said the report.

“We think if the Voices for Change recommendations were mobilized in indigenous communities in fact there would be some … actions that would be taken sooner than what we saw (here),” said Graff.

Voices for Change, which examined Indigenous child care, was released by the OCYA in July and contains

eight recommendations focused in four areas: legislation, governance and jurisdiction; resources, capacity and access; program and service delivery; and outcomes and accountability.

“He comes from a community where some of the recommendations that we’ve made in our Voices for Change report would be especially helpful in developing his community’s capacity to care for vulnerable children,” said Graff.

When taken into care, Netasinim initially resided on his First Nation with Indigenous foster parents. Two years later, he was moved to a group home in the city so that he would have access to more supports.

Graff says recommendations from Voices for Change which specifically target community control, more recognition of the rights of Indigenous people to provide their “own style of parenting” and more capacity to support children to stay in their community and to reside in their homes would have impacted Netasinim.