Nunavut's only group home for youths closes its doors as gov't switches contractors

The noontime sun casts dramatic shadows over Iqaluit.  (Jeanette Gevikoglu - image credit)
The noontime sun casts dramatic shadows over Iqaluit. (Jeanette Gevikoglu - image credit)

Nunavut's Department of Family Services has ended its contract with a company that operated the Illagiitugut group home in Iqaluit, and says the youth in the group home are being placed elsewhere.

The group home, which housed up to eight girls and gender-diverse youths between the ages of 12 and 19, was the only group home for youths in the territory.

In an email, the Department of Family Services said the girls in the group home are still being cared for elsewhere in Iqaluit and the department is working with them "to find more permanent placements."

It said it has already given a contract to someone else for the program, but declined to give any details or interviews due to privacy reasons.

"We can confirm that the department is committed to continuously evaluating programming to ensure that children and youth in care receive the best possible care," the department stated.

"This means that any current clients are receiving the most appropriate services according to the most recent evaluations."

No explanation, no notice, says former operator

Shift, a Halifax-based company that operates other youth and adult care homes in the North, ran Illagiitugut for seven years before the territorial government ended the contract earlier in February.

Andrew Middleton, the CEO of Shift, confirmed in an email that the department closed the home.

"We were not given a clear explanation for the closure, which occurred mid-way through our third contract extension, other than to say they were re-evaluating their needs," he wrote.

"We were not informed that the home was continuing in operation but I trust that Family Services has a thoughtful plan in place for the centre."

David Gunn/CBC
David Gunn/CBC

Abby McAllister, who worked as a supervisor at Illagiitugut since June 2022, said the territorial government shut it down with no warning on Feb. 2, with all the youths removed from the centre by Feb. 6.

She said when it closed, two of the youths who were in the home returned to their families, while five others were placed with a foster family.

"It's very alarming. I do know that the kids did consider the group home [to be] their home," she said.

"It's very upsetting that their one place they felt safe was taken from them."

She said some staff are still in Iqaluit cleaning up the group home and shutting it down, but they're expected to be sent home at the beginning of March.

Rocky relationship

The lack of communication around Illagiitugut's closure mirrors what McAllister said was a testy relationship between the facility and Family Services.

She couldn't give specific details due to confidentiality reasons, but speaking generally, McAllister said she felt the group home was trying to hold Family Services to account for a lack of support and communication.

"I think that they didn't like that," she said, adding she often experienced "pushback" from the department when she reached out to them for help.

"Maybe there was something else going on that I have no idea about … but I can just say we just had a really hard time ever getting a hold of Family Services. It was hard for them to support us when we needed it."

Though other former staff at the group home declined to speak with CBC, McAllister said some of them had called the Representative for Children and Youth to express their concerns.

The Representative for Children and Youth declined an interview request, but its November report lists the stability of foster home placements and support for foster parents as two systemic issues the Department of Family Services needs to take action on.

McAllister said during her time at Illagiitugut, she felt the youth there had benefited from the program.

"When they were in our care, they were succeeding, they were excelling, they were learning life skills that would help them in the future," she noted.

In his email, Middleton said his team offered therapeutic and clinical care and incorporated Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit values in their programming, as well as on-the-land trips and cultural activities.

He said Shift was "extremely proud" of the care it offered.

He referred further requests for information to the Nunavut government.

This isn't the first time the group home has closed. In 2016, Family Services suspended its programming temporarily because it couldn't find someone to run it.