Nunavut couple looking to adopt discouraged by government’s silence

Waited four years after registering with Department of Family Services but were never contacted, even though many Nunavummiut children were sent out of territory for adoption

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A non-Inuit couple living in Nunavut spent four years waiting to adopt a child but they say they never heard back from the Department of Family Services. “I’m just wondering why we weren’t allowed to, or nothing got done,” said the man who is already a father to his own children. photo courtesy of Pixabay

A Nunavut couple feel dejected and are still wondering why they were never given a chance to adopt a child when 69 Nunavummiut children have been removed from the territory to live with adoptive parents over the past four years.

The non-Inuit couple, who are being granted anonymity by Nunavut News, say they registered with the Department of Family Services four years ago, filling out the requisite paperwork and allowing a social services worker to inspect their home. They are already parents to their own children.

To increase their odds, they never imposed any restrictions on the adopted child’s age or gender. They were also fully prepared to ensure their adopted child would be exposed to local Inuit culture, tradition and language in their community, the father said.

Yet, after the initial contact, they didn’t receive further word from anyone in the department over all those years.

“I never heard anything … I’m just wondering why we weren’t allowed to, or nothing got done,” the father said. “Then a lot of times we would hear that people were adopted out to Newfoundland.”

He said a social worker told him in confidence that department staff don’t have much time to devote to adoption because they’re too busy responding to family crises.

Between 2015 and 2018, 32 Nunavummiut children were adopted within the territory compared to the 69 that left Nunavut.

The Department of Family Services wouldn’t provide the most common locations where the children wound up due to privacy reasons.

However, Family Services did reveal that 97 per cent of the adopted children were Inuit and 97 per cent of them who now reside outside Nunavut’s boundaries live with non-Inuit families.

Despite this, the department stated that it takes measures to preserve the children’s cultural identity.

“All adoptions include a cultural undertaking which requires the adoptive family to clearly state their knowledge of the child’s culture and living environment,” explained Joanne Henderson, regional director with Family Services.

“They commit to ensuring that this will be a part of everyday living to ensure that the child understands who they are and where they come from. They are encouraged to join programs that are Inuit-based in their jurisdiction and to bring the child home to their community of origin so that they do not lose the connection with their communities.”

Asked why a Nunavut-based couple would not have received such an opportunity, Henderson replied, “These adoptions are private adoptions. In these cases the birth parents make connections with individuals whom they wish to have adopt their children,” she stated.

“In other cases they are siblings from the same family once the connections have been made, the social work/adoptions agency will contact our office to complete the process in conjunction with the other jurisdiction.”

Henderson acknowledged that the department maintains profiles of people in Nunavut who have expressed interest in becoming adoptive parents.

“As soon as we have a child that has been surrendered for adoption or a permanent ward (of the state) that requires a forever home, we will review the profiles first and match the child with most suitable the profile,” she stated.

Nevertheless, the couple who approached Nunavut News was never selected.

Pat Angnakak, MLA for Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu, said she hasn’t heard of a similar case, but she noted that the Department of Family Services’ commitment to review and make amendments to the Aboriginal Custom Adoption Recognition Act has not yet occurred.

“This poses challenges as the whole area of adoptions in Nunavut is unclear to many of us and there is just not enough information to help guide Nunavummiut on what the adoption process is,” Angnakak stated.

“It seems that the system set up is not efficient enough to meet the demand.”