MOOSONEE – The issues of how First Nations communities receive services has been in the news ever since Attawapiskat hit the mainstream media in late November. Services and supports for at-risk children and youth and their families in the remote Northern communities serviced by Payukotayno: James and Hudson Bay Family Service, which includes Attawapiskat, are thread bare and understaffed, charges front-line staff at the agency focused on the well-being of children.
“Aboriginal families dealing with inadequate housing, isolation, high unemployment and skyrocketing consumer goods’ prices in our northern communities results in enormous challenges for us as workers,” says Mike Tomatuk a front-line worker at Payukotayno and the president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 4313 representing the 100 direct support staff at the agency. Tomatuk says “Staff at the agency are being called on to absorb the cost of provincial underfunding in a multitude of ways. Travel costs are not adequately compensated and front-line staff salaries are lower than at other similar agencies”.
“There is a revolving door of staff at Payukotayno as workers leave for jobs at agencies that pay more. This has a direct impact on the quality and level of services. It’s not fair to at-risk children, their families and to the workers who stay and have to deal with high workloads and gaps in services,” adds Tomatuk. In recent contract talks CUPE4313 appealed to the agency administration and board of directors to work cooperatively with them to advocate for improved funding to ensure adequate service and staffing levels. The agency has instead triggered a process to lock-out the front-line staff as early as 12:01 a.m. January 27.
The province’s own commission reviewing child welfare has stated in recent reports that Aboriginal CASs deal with unique socio-economic challenges such as poverty, poor amenities, high transportation and consumer goods costs and mental health problems including suicide rates for Aboriginal children and youth that are five times those of non-Aboriginals.
The commission has also stressed:
- That investment to address some of the socioeconomic determinants of child welfare demand is necessary
- The importance of responding to the unique and complex needs of Aboriginal children and families
- Developing a separate approach for funding Aboriginal CASs
“Now if only the Payukotayno administration would understand that better funding and collaboration not confrontation is needed. Locking out workers and disrupting services is not the answer. Achieving a fair contract settlement should be the goal. Families in crisis in our community deserve nothing less,” said Tomatuk.