John Beaucage to advise on needs of aboriginal youth

By Tanya Talaga
Queen’s Park Bureau, Toronto Star

For the first time, Ontario has appointed a special advisor to the government on the plight of aboriginal youth.

John Beaucage, former grand council chief of the Anishinabek Nation, will be the aboriginal advisor on child welfare, reporting to Children and Youth Services Minister Laurel Broten.

“This is a very important step and reflective to the significance we place on finding solutions to the very challenging issues that do exist, both in the north but also in our urban centres,” Broten told the Star.

Staggering youth suicide rates in remote northern communities and funding problems among First Nations children’s aid societies will be a focus for Beaucage. His one-year appointment coincides with an ongoing review of the Child and Family Services Act. The review hones in on the situation of aboriginal kids.

It would be a mistake to believe all the problems among First Nations children could be solved in a year, said Beaucage. Children in the north often grow up in Third World conditions, coping with poverty, substance abuse, inferior education and despair. Those problems often follow aboriginals off the reserve and into the cities.

“The problems have been there for a long time,” he said in an interview from Ottawa. “But what I am hoping is there will be a more inclusive process with First Nations leadership and leadership with urban aboriginal people.”

Nearly 21 per cent of Ontario’s 9,000 Crown wards are aboriginal kids or children with First Nations heritage. There are six aboriginal children’s aid societies and many struggle to manage historic funding inequities while taking care of vulnerable kids.

On Wednesday, the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies called improved services for aboriginal children one of three priority areas the province needs to tackle now.

A Star investigation last year focused on the troubles of Payukotayno James and Hudson Bay Family Services which nearly shut its doors because it could no longer afford to pay its bills. The agency was also confronting a teen suicide crisis – 13 youth in the remote communities dotting the James Bay coastline committed suicide in 2009, all by hanging.

Suicides among First Nations youth is a societal problem with no easy answers. “It is always something there that is lurking”, said Beaucage.

“I have experienced it, I’ve seen it and I would be remiss if I wasn’t able to make some kind of comment on it, speak to elders and to look at the traditional aspects of prevention of these horrible tragedies,” he said.

Broten did step in to help with Payukotayno’s $2.3 million debt. Costs are higher in remote agencies that often service fly-in only communities and have to charter planes in a moments notice to rescue a child in danger.

After the Star series appeared, Broten also provided funding for four suicide prevention workers.

But agencies serving First Nations communities are historically underfunded. An independent review prepared for the government in 2006 showed Payukotayno and Tikinagan Children and Family Services required a baseline funding increase of $24.6 million to give northern kids the same level of care Crown wards in the south receive.
A three-person committee is also studying the funding woes of all of Ontario’s 53 children’s aid societies, 49 of which have recently faced shortfalls.

Terry Waboose, deputy grand chief, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, called Beaucage’s appointment a positive step. “It is vitally important for us, child welfare is a big issue,” he said. “I see this as a positive step.”


One Comment

  1. Anne Fox says:

    The appointment of an Aborigenal advisor is late in coming. I wish to state the importance of having Aborigenal satffing levels addressed and issues with the record of urban Aborigenal persons within the Children’s services networks. Since Children’s Services is a law enforcemetn mechanism issues in communictaions and services review must include recording of calls for services as well as clearly understood requirements for reporting and direct contacts regarding co-ordination of services. Issues between departments and informal communications involving vague third hand information recorded in summary has become a serious issue in the mistreatement and refusal of equal protection before the law to Aborigenal persons. In addition issues downloaded to ill-equiped Police services and problems in investigations have surfaced as an issue in Alberta. Nowhere has the now almost irrational issue of badly managed inter-governmantal affairs and jurisdictional disputes been so tragic. The focus of the concern has been on prevention and diversion handled in a hap-hazard fashion and involving psychiatric evaluations with poor outcomes. The amount of money being spent on the build-up of services focussed on this needless abuse of process and scrutiny has been the prevention of required services funding allotted to greedy individuals supplying a sham service while children are left to their own devices. In Ontario several agencies supporting this type of service have recieved extensive funding and it has left the province drained of resources. Issues surrounding divorce and custody and parsimonious disputes of every type have arisen of the presures of this ill-fated program of diagnostics which fail in their view of the obvious issue. The focused investoigation and issues in privatization and reform of the justice system have made a managerial abuse of process the rule rather than the aception. The intent to install these managment issues into the public service in every area of concern leaves no action so clearly a badly poorly though out solution. Mental Health problems and issues in complaints and whistle blowing are now at the bottom of every issue. Sexyual harrassment and issues in harrassment of staff who do not follow the political flow are often an issue as are problems in understanding the needs of any monority including those of the particular Aborigenal group who have several cultures which vary locally along with the more pan-Abrigenal-Canadian approach of the urbanized Aborigenal culture. The problems in focus and understanding related to this matter are legion and the Truth and reconcilliation council has brought matters to a head for Aborigenal people but especially to the people who serve them. In many areas factions of service providers are angry and confused as to their roles. They become saddened and feel disgraced because of the actions of their predecessors and can not understand that these unresolved issues are taking place right now. They must become a part of the solution instead of sweeping issues under the rug or sticking their heads in the sand. Co-rdination will involve sppecail interets to many who have understood the plight of those who are being poilitically abused and attacked even within the ranks of the RCMP. Politically and trade issue motivated abuse has prevented the most glaring issue for Aborihgeanl children in the North form coming forward. It is first the environmental safety involving hundreds of chemical poisons in the environment ( Mercury, Arsenic and H2S gas are prevalent in Alberta). Extreme abuse of children in schools where they are expected to put up with teacher involved bullying and abuse including racist remarks and the latest trend accusations of mental illness to whistle blowers in anything from sexual abuse cases to trafficking charges. The last issue facing children is the refusal of services by RCMP members overwhelmed with their responsibilities and internal strife. That is in the area of enforcement concerning Human/Drug tafficking as well as fraud/extortion related to settlements from the residential schools issues, identity/credit card theft, transportation of stolen goods/vehicles chop shops sexual assault, murder and missing women inapropriate racial tracking and abuse as well as refusal of reports. Hopelessness in this era of the fall out of the Mike Harris common sense revolution and the Ralph Klein cuts fiasco has been one of the most expensive cruel and degrading issues. Anyone can set up shop and charitys fight to gain favor for their own expansion. Everyone is welcome from all over the world to take part in what has become Canda’s extension of the Residentail School formula for destruction of children now engulfing everyone.