Charlene Johnson, minister of child, youth and family services, met today with members of the Nunatsiavut government and Innu First Nation leaders to sign three memorandums of understanding.
The goals of the MOUs are to improve planning around the safety and well-being of children and youth, as well as enhance service co-ordination and delivery in the Innu and Inuit communities.
During a signing event this morning in Nain, Johnson, Nick McGrath, minister responsible for Labrador Affairs and Felix Collins, minister for intergovernmental and aboriginal affairs, met with Sarah Leo, president of Nunatsiavut, and Patricia Kemuksigak, minister of health and social development for the Nunatsiavut government.
“Leaders within the Nunatsiavut government, Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation and the Mushuau Innu First Nation, as well as provincial government officials worked closely together to determine what would best serve the province’s Aboriginal children and youth,” Johnson said in a news release. “These MOUs provide the framework for improvement in overall service accessibility and effectiveness while recognizing the unique culture in Aboriginal communities.”
The province says the MOUs also establish expectations and a process for service co-ordination, including securing access to rights and benefits accrued to Innu and Inuit children and youth, as well as ensuring co-ordination with services operated by the Nunatsiavut government and the two Innu First Nations, such as child care service, family resource centres, group homes, medical facilities and shelters.
This new model for service delivery will be unique to Aboriginal communities and recognizes the need for Innu and Inuit involvement in the overall implementation of departmental programs and services.
“The provincial government remains focused on the needs of Labradorians,” said McGrath. “I am very pleased to see these agreements being signed, and I am confident that they will help meet the needs of the Aboriginal communities in Labrador.”
Collins said it has been very rewarding to see the MOUs come to fruition through the effort of all those involved. “This is a very positive step forward for the delivery of services in Labrador Innu and Inuit communities,” Collins said.
"We are pleased to be part of this new service delivery model as it is intended to ensure that the best interests of Inuit children and youth are met," said Leo. "The MOU promotes an effective and efficient working relationship between the Nunatsiavut and provincial governments by facilitating the continued sharing of information and to enhance this sharing for the best interests of Inuit children and youth."
Principle components of all MOUs include establishing a process for sharing information on Aboriginal children and youth who are currently on the caseload of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, as well as creating a “planning circle” that maintains consistent representation from both the department and Aboriginal organizations. The planning circle will review the shared information regularly in order to identify specific and practical ways to improve service delivery within communities and for children and youth on the department’s caseload.
“We are very concerned about the high number of Inuit children and youth being placed into care,” said Kemuksigak. “With this MOU, both levels of government can work together to ensure the children being placed will have culturally-appropriate care, and that plans can be put in place to support parents."
A joint-signing event was also held this afternoon in Happy Valley-Goose Bay was attended by Johnson, McGrath, Collins and Keith Russell, MHA for Lake Melville, as well as Chief Andrew Penashue of the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation and Chief Simeon Tshakapesh of the Mushuau Innu First Nation to celebrate the signing of a MOU with each of the Innu First Nations.
“The signed MOUs are a great step forward for the community, involving a united effort and fresh approach by community members,” said Russell. “This will have a positive impact for children, youth, and ultimately the future in Labrador.”
Penashue said he’s pleased to see the province committing to working closer with the Innu staff and community services.
“Only by working together can we properly care for Innu children and youth at risk. I, and the new council in Sheshatshiu, look forward to hearing positive results from this MOU,” Penashue said.
“The MOU is very encouraging,” said Tshakapesh. “We are hopeful that this MOU will help us move forward with treatment for children and youth in our community.”