Wanted: Yukon families willing to change a child's life

Wanted: Yukon families willing to change a child's life

Children as young as three are living in Yukon group homes, but the territorial government says it has no other options for now.

The territory is looking for more adults willing to provide foster care in their homes for youngsters of all ages.

Simone Fournel, assistant director for Yukon Family and Children's Services, says the territory has about 60 foster homes in all. 

She says another 15 would bring that to a "comfortable" level. The Yukon's seven group homes are housing about 40 children — many of whom would benefit from a foster home placement.

However, while the demand is clear, there are several challenges that make that goal hard to meet.

One challenge is trying to keep siblings together, Fournel says. 

"We have lots of people who will take in one child, but it's so difficult for children when they're separated. We really are looking for folks who might be able to take two or three children. That's a particular need."

Placements for Indigenous children hard to find 

Fournel says Yukon is "not different from other parts of Canada," in that Indigenous children are disproportionately represented among those in foster care. About two-thirds of children in Yukon foster care are Indigenous. 

However she says fewer than 10 per cent of foster homes include at least one Indigenous parent.

And in rural areas, where the proportion of Indigenous people is often greater, there's another problem.

Some would-be foster parents say government rules are a disincentive for families in small communities. For example, the government wants foster homes to have a separate bedroom for a foster child.

"By our policy, we definitely want and need children who are coming into care to have a safe, separate, private spot that's theirs," Fournel says. 

However she acknowledges this reduces the number of eligible applicants.

Fournel says the department has been speaking with First Nations and the Yukon Housing Corporation to "find ways where children could be in a home."  

She says one misconception is that only homeowners can apply.

"It doesn't have to be a single-family dwelling. You could be in an apartment with an extra bedroom or a cabin. We're very open-minded, we just need things to be safe," she says.

People applying to provide foster care must have their homes inspected for safety, as well as pass an interview and reference-checking process which includes a criminal record check. 

Providing foster care does not pay a salary. Instead Yukon foster parents are paid $34.61 per child per day in Whitehorse and $37.04 per day in the communities. Supplemental funds can be provided if children have disabilities which require more complex care.

The territory also provides grants to purchase school supplies and other materials.

'Short breaks' needed, not only full-time homes

Fournel says not all foster homes must be permanent. 

'We need homes that can provide short breaks for other families. Whether people can spend a little bit of time, or a lot of time, or even just support other foster parents in the community. It really will take all of us for this to work," she says. 

She adds there have been signs of progress lately, however, the department is still unable to place all children in homes. 

"The community, broadly speaking, is starting to respond and hear the message that we need some help."

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended that governments in Canada commit to reducing the number of Aboriginal children in care as part of its 94 Calls to Action.