Representative for Children and Youth

Representative for Children and Youth

Okay, so next you’re going to hear an interview with Christa Kunuk, a child and youth advocacy specialist at the Representative of Children and Youth office in Nunavut. The office phone number in Iqaluit is 975-5090 and outside of Iqaluit, in communities across Nunavut. The number to call would be 1-855-449-8118.

And the website is So, Christa and I talked about different scenarios and ways that the Representative of Children and Youth Office may provide support to a family or a young person and the ways to access their advocacy resources and support.

One note I’d like to make is that throughout the interview, I do refer to the Children and Youth, The Representative of Children and Youth office as the RYC, which is incorrect. What I should have said is the RCY Office. So every time you hear me try to shorten or make an acronym out of the organization’s name, which is the Representative of Children and Youth office in Nunavut, please know, that’s what I’m referring to.

Hope you enjoyed the interview.
Thanks for listening.

(Jennifer) “Okay, so we’re really lucky to have Christa Kunuk here with us from the Representative for Children and Youth in Nunavut. And Christa is going to take us through a presentation that will help us have a better understanding about what the RCY can do for children and youth and their caregivers or guardians and we’ll just see how things play out where we might ask questions that fit with families and children and youth, who may have neurodiversity or FASD and how the RCY can help or how Piruqatigiit can work with the RCY to best support people to navigate systems.”

(Christa) “Thank you, Jennifer.” (Jennifer) “Thanks for being here with us.” (Christa) “So yes, thank you. Like Jennifer’s saying I’m coming from the Representative for Children and Youth Office. My title is Child and Youth Advocacy Specialist. Our office has been open since September 2015. So, it’s been roughly what is that… 6?/7? Years but you know we are an organization of 9 / almost 10, but we work very diligently very hard to help children and youth in Nunavut. And I’ll just getting into a bit more about our office. So, how the Representative for Children/Youth office works is we’re not under any department. We’re not under any division. We’re considered an independent office. We report directly to the Legislative Assembly and to the public. Currently, our representative is Jane Bates and the office and her main responsibilities is to make sure that the Government of Nunavut departments provide ethical, equitable, and consistent services that meet the needs and support the rights of young Nunavummiut and families who rely on them.”

(Jennifer) “Okay, so when I think about families who might be, maybe they have a diagnosis of FASD maybe they don’t but, would the RCY be able to help let’s say we have a family where a child is presenting with some challenges. Maybe the school is having a difficult time supporting that child. It hasn’t been considered yet that maybe its FASD and maybe there might be a occupational therapy required or other kind of extra supports. If a school, for example, wasn’t aware that maybe that was what’s happening and a family wasn’t quite sure how to advocate for that, would they then be able to contact the RCY?”

(Christa) “Absolutely! When families come to our office is usually we’re sort of the last, the last straw. What we would do is, we encourage the family to kind of speak with the school, if they need to speak with, go see the doctor, if those avenues if those avenues, which is possibly they’ve tried and they’re still feeling like they’re not being supported, then it’s under our mandate and we could help advocate for this young person and family to get the proper supports that they need.”

(Jennifer) “Ok thats helpful to know, that the RCY you would still offer support to a family inquiring but the first kind of line would be for them to try to navigate things, pull in supports, communicate the needs to the school try to get in to see whatever medical team would be available to them, look for diagnosis first and if they still felt they weren’t having their needs met then they would connect with RCY?”

(Christa) “Absolutely, Yes. So, just following going on to that. So, if yes if they come to us, usually it’s kind of the last, you know, they’re frustrated, they’re angry, and at times we really want to make sure that they feel supported. Anyone that contacts our office, whether it’s in or out of our scope. We ensure that we are either, if it’s in scope of course work with them. But if it’s not within our scope, our intake specialist is, you know, following up with them, making sure this is who you should call, we don’t want to turn people away, because a lot of times we know government services at times can be very You know, sometimes I feel that, Children and Youth are considered more like a phone number and not you know as a person with a voice.

So, we really want to ensure that we make sure that they feel supported and if we cannot help them, connect to them to the correct people when they come to us with an issue or with a concern about the department, we most definitely want to help them. We can get involved. And try to figure out what’s going on for them. What’s occurring? Where is sort of the gap? Where’s the barrier? Who should we bring into the conversation? overall, we would we want to help and work through it and make sure that in the end they may not get necessarily everything that they have requested. But at least they felt heard, and they feel like they’ve been supported.

One thing, people, when they come to us we don’t replace the service providers. We don’t make appointments, we don’t provide the services, but what our job is to do, is to ensure that say for example we have a young person who may need an assessment and family has tried and things have not gone well, as it should, we can sit down with the young individual, if possible, if they feel comfortable speaking with us. That’s the first, the voice of the child’s really important in our work. we don’t replace the services, but we help them either navigate, we can advocate for them, we can coach them. We’ve had situations where even, I’ve had a young individual say I don’t really want to be there, if they scare me or intimidated, so we can go on their behalf. But everything guided my work, is guided by them. I don’t go in saying, this is what we got to do: this, this, and this. We listen to, you know the child and the family. And try to understand what their wishes are, what they’re what they wish their outcome to be, if that makes sense?

(Jennifer) “Yes! It does, it sounds very much in alinement with our model: Tamata, as well. Where, everyone in the in the circle has a voice, is heard, foremost whether it’s in our case, we serve children, youth and adults, but whoever the person is that we are supporting, that their voice is really guiding what it is that they actually want and people aren’t you know imposing on them, what we think that they should want or need or be striving for.”

(Christa) “and we really strive, we work very hard to work collaboratively, we understand that sometimes service providers they, the frontline workers especially are swamped or there’s a lot on their plates. So when we come at it, we come with respect and understanding and you know especially young people, they think that they should get something done immediately. But, we really work on ensuring that it gets done, but we’ve had cases where we can be done, finished in a week and we’ve had cases that have gone on over 2 years, but it’s just keeping that consistent…relationship building with, a lot of times when people go to government services or service providers that they know, if they’re swamped and if they’re busy theres things that will get missed and there’s like there’s times were they don’t see them or hear them. It’s really important for our office you know, I had an individual who I worked for two years. At first it was every 5 days, I kept in contact and then we discuss like bi-weekly and then once a month and every month I checked in just to say, “how are things going? All right good for you”. And it was as well as their caregiver. Just say, okay, this is what /were the goal is. This is the goal that everybody wanted, but it took time to get there. But it’s like working together and ensuring like everybody who’s, like you said your circle of support, they are also in the loop and understanding what’s going on.”

(Jennifer) “It sounds like too, to me, when I think about the families that we support being a person with lived experience and parenting a child with FASD, it almost sounds like too, that that kind of approach helps to prevent burnout for families too or for individuals, because advocating, whether it’s for yourself or a loved one can be so draining and exhausting and sort of feeling like all you keep coming up against are closed doors/ barriers and sort of like what you said earlier about being a case number, or not, on the other side of things, not being seen as urgent or that there are real needs and real people on the other side of this, who may be in crisis or we’ve had families too who have come to us and said, you know, we’re just going to have to leave the Territory because we can’t access, you know as quickly. We know what it is we need and we’re going to relocate which is not actually what they want to do. So it sounds like to me, even just hearing you describe that approach that is helping to prevent burnout. It’s a touchstone where you continue to be a connection. Because the other thing we know and as you would know, repeating your story over and over, and over, again about what you’ve tried, what you’ve done, what assessments you’ve got, what paperwork you’ve done, you know, all the barriers it’s also quite exhausting.”

(Christa) “It Is”.

(Jennifer) “You know it’s nice to have the same person or body at the RCY, body of people I should say, that hold that knowledge, that can kind of hold it for you. And you don’t have to keep repeating.”

(Christa) “One thing, before I was a child advocate, I was a school counsellor, at Nakashuk school, and it was difficult for me, like I knew after five o’clock those children were off on their own, not off on their own but you know, I mean in terms of, I knew that there’s needs to be a greater support for the family. But as a child advocate, legally I have within our act, we are guided by the Representative for Children and Youth Act, I’ll talk about that in a bit more later. But legally it gives us the ability, like we can ask the questions, but we can also say for example if we’re needing some information from the school, we can request the records if we need something that’s from the doctor or the hospital we can request those records, family services their records, but what it means is, it’s not that we want this information literally we just need to see the whole picture. In terms of how things are going, on for this child? Where do we feel there needs to be more emphasis on support? Where is it lacking? It gives us kind of that the act just allows us a little more, for help to advocate and hold people accountable.”

(Jennifer) “Yeah I was just going to say, accountability is what comes to mind and like you say, you’re always approaching people with kindness and respect and knowing that service providers plates are full, absolutely. But this Act and being able to actually leanon it, can help certainly help with accountability and also some of the gaps that might come that maybe even be different, in different jurisdictions, like you know in Nunavut where it might be a little bit unique where we might not have consistent staff. We have a higher turnover rate of frontline service providers and an even physicians and other healthcare providers so that continuity that’s by no one’s fault, but that might get messed, so it’s great that the RCY can help to just have that complete picture and kind of keep everybody accountable, transparent. And working together.”

(Christa) “It’s truly to me is you know, it’s quite a for me, it’s not just a job, it’s a passion and I feel at times policies and procedures though, they may be in the best interest of the child, they don’t necessarily at times have the voice of a child. And so having a young person even quite young able to articulate for themselves or be it, you know, whatever way it means, like I’m thinking of in terms of your centre, if there’s a way for a young person to say this is not okay or this is not what I want. Then we would go with that. We just jump in and there’s myself and three other advocates, so how it works is we have an intake specialist, 3 advocates and then our systemic investigators. And then the Representative, and then the director and manager.

Like I was saying earlier; our act, is the Representative for Children and Youth Act, but we also are guided by the United Nations and United Nations Convention on The Rights of the Child, and I S V (Inuit Societal Values), and of course the voice of the child. but, for the United Nation Convention for the Rights of the Child, Im going to give you a little bit of examples because we when we first started, It was sort of a topic of like rights, like my child has rights? and I think at times people were a bit cautious about us at first when we opened because they didn’t quite know who we were and that maybe we’re just another department of the government that’s going to take their child away or take control.

Which we really worked hard the first few years to do community visits and just talked about rights, but the rights within government services. So, some of those Convention on The Rights of the Child, that we’ve talked about with young people, because we did a lot of self-advocacy workshops with a lot of kids across the territory we talk to young people about how they have the right to access the best health care possible and the government has responsibility, with young people. Like to provide the best healthcare possible. So, So, even though they’re young, they some children felt the health centers within their communities was a place that they’re just like didn’t sit well with them. And they didn’t feel… not all, but the health centres

did come up in terms of how they felt treated. Another big one was young people have the right to go to school and the government has a responsibility to provide a good quality education. So we talked a lot about rights but we also talked about responsibilities with the young people. Like you do have a right to education, but whats your responsibility? you have to get up in the morning, you have to get to class. Health centre, you have a right to your health centre… But work with your family, if you’re young. If you’re old enough to make those appointments. So yeah, we talked a lot about the right to be free from all forms of abuse and the government’s responsibility to intervene and protect children and youth, when it’s not the case, so. It was important I think for me as an advocate to talk to children about, you know all forms of abuse, because at times I think it becomes normalized and sort of quietly accepted. So it was important for us to have those conversations with young people.”

(Jennifer) “I’m really glad that you brought up the UN Declaration on the Rights of The Child and the child friendly language poster there by UNICEF because we also really come at everything that we do for our rights based lens or approach and I think it’s Article 23, in the rights of the Child, speaks about inclusive education, but also about whether or not you have a disability that you have appropriate care and inclusion. And so we kind of adapt that to mean everything, everybody has a right to accessible care or to feel included and not just the language of inclusion but language of inclusion, but actually enacting the inclusion making it truly inclusive for people with differences and when we talk about FASD, for example, or other brain differences/ neurodiversity, whether it be ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorder or other mental health challenges that are often a little bit more hidden. Sometimes we find that there’s even more barriers to sift through. So we have to kind of come back to the right space language as well, and leaned on that to really frame FASD is as a disability and the children, youth, and adults of course, all people with FASD and their caregivers have a right to appropriate care and accommodations.

(Christa) “And that, for us if that’s what it boils down to we would most definitely, if we had say a family, or caregiver, coming with a child with FASD. We, you know, we listen for what are their wishes? And that’s what guides us. So, when people ask about our work, there’s such a variety. It’s a variety of situations that we deal with and how we can just bring the focus back, like a lot of times I know I’ve had cases where it’s like just bring it back to the child, like young people people tend, sometimes when it’s a very complex case it can get kind of bigger and bigger and then, but it’s like no, let’s bring it back to why are we here? We’re here for this young person. And so we need to readjust our focus back on that individual. Disability or not disability,

but it’s what’s in their best interest. So thank you for that. I was going to bring up that article, you brought it up already, perfect. So for our work, we work basically with any young person under the age of 19 years old. There are a few exceptions. One being if there’s a situation we have now. We have worked where we had a young person who was under the Young Offenders Act. so, the charge was before they were 18, but by the point they contacted our office they were 19, or almost 20, I think Its like no, because of that, when it originally started we can work with them. We’ve also worked with children under the care of the director if they’ve, if they’re under still the agreement with them that we can we can work up to…oh I should know this, I’ve just went blank.”

(Jennifer) “I’m just thinking to about children who may have been in the foster care system and I don’t like the term but for lack of a better term that aging out, turning 18, 19. And for lots of those youth still needing support with navigating systems, self-advocacy, accessing what they need, and an our end of things and we’re not saying, certainly not that all children and youth have FASD, but we do know that there is a disproportionate amount of children and youth in foster care who maybe on the spectrum, who may not have been diagnosed, and who may actually have additional barriers as a result. And need that extra support.”

(Christa) “And under our act as well. It would be considered a disability, so we can go further than 19. “

(Jennifer) “Ok good, ok so for disability you have, ok thats good to know…And if they don’t have a diagnosis, would you be able to operate under the assumption of the suspected?”

(Christa) “I’ll have to get back to you Jen, because I think, I’m like yeah, yeah, yeah, we don’t want to turn anybody away, I’ll get back to you because its a very good question, because its true with a suspected, with the youth that we’ve worked with before its not FASD but something that they’ve been diagnosed with. Its interesting, I’m glad you brought that up, I’m pretty sure we would, but I can’t I wanna get back and talk with my…”

(Jennifer) “Well, just for the for the purpose of this video because people will be listening to this. What we’ll do is, once Christa gets back to us with that we’ll actually post a little summary and we’ll just find out what the”…

(Christa) “I feel like, yes, but then my mind, I’m like wait, wait. So, yeah, we work youth under 19 depending, though there are some exceptions we talked about, any GN (Government of Nunavut) department, if any Government of Nunavut Department is involved, we can, its under our mandate too. And last, the Rights of the Child, as explained in The Convention the Rights of the Child are not being met. So, if you feel for example article 23, which you brought up, in terms of there’s a young person who we feel that there’s violations happening, that within a Government Department, that we can most definitely get involved. And the young person or family want our help. Like I said, we get so…truthfully we get right excited when people call us and they want to like, our intake, like we have very passionate people in our office who are working towards, you know, betterment of our young people. So when people call us, we don’t just say, ok sorry we can’t help you we talked about that, its, anyone can call us.”

(Jennifer) “Its finding a way so even if you can’t directly support them, you’re connecting them with other resources or service providers who could or just you know, linking them with information about funding, I know we are, both your organization and Piruqatigiit, we’ve partnered on applying to Childs First Initiative for example, or other kind of Federal or Territorial resources, but it’s great to know that, you know, if somebody does contact the RCY even if it’s not specifically for you, that your team will still try and make those connections.”

(Christa) “And follow up, that’s the important part ok we’re giving you these numbers and then our intake will check back in. And if they still need a little bit more support, ok then we can try this way, or do this way. So yeah, for our work there are some areas where we are not getting involved. So any private relationships, such as when a teenager isn’t listening to their parents. It also reminds me of a young person in one of the other communities the parent contacted us and said, ‘my son says he has a right to play’. (Christa) “And I said that’s great”. (parent) ‘But he wants new hockey gear’.

He assumed that thats what that meant, that he had a right to get new hockey gear. So we had a conversation they said, can you talk with them. So any sort of private matter is between families, we don’t get involved. There’s an investigation of child abuse or neglect and any sort of private organization, sectors like a young person didn’t get paid their paycheck, if it’s a private organization, we don’t get involved. So in terms of the work of our office there’s sort of four areas that we look at it.

So we have: Individual advocacy, systemic advocacy, communications and public awareness, and reviews of critical injuries and deaths. I’ll go quickly into those right now. We talked a bit about by the individual advocacy cases are when a young person and or their family do not get the help that they need from Government Department. Our office can help by figuring out what went wrong and find the solutions. So, if you see on this screen, sort of a quick process, so we have our intake specialist who will ask some very basic questions questions, at that point will assess whether or not it’s in our scope or not. And then what the intake specialist will then do is assign it. Like I said, there’s three of us, so we rotate. And then when its assigned, we go into the investigation and problem-solving.

So like I said, there’s been times when somethings very basic, its one service provider and then kind of working with that department to finish like problem-solve, figure things out, and close the case. But then there’s a lot of times where when we speak with the young person its like, oh maybe we should talk to the teacher. Oh I think we have a social worker? Maybe we should also get a hold of mental health. So it’s through these discussions like you know we don’t just speak to the young person, like me. We do in the beginning yes, and throughout the time we’re with them, but it could turn into a sort of like three or four service providers and just kind of keeping the dialogue going and talking and having discussions. Because we said in the past a lot of times people work in silos. And, that’s not necessary in the best interest of this young person. And so just kind of bringing everyone together.

So that throughout this problem solving. We’re just trying to figure things, how things can work better. Suggesting, how (computer sound) what they may want to do. And like I said, when we speak with young people its like, we hear you may not get all that you’re hoping for but we won’t close a case until you feel like it’s been resolved. Not resolved for me, not resolved for Jennifer, but resolved for them. And then we follow-up, just to ensure like things are going well, and so that’s for the individual advocacy.”

(Christa) “So what like our child advocates, they’re strictly like more one-on-one. Like they’re the front line, like they’re dealing with the families And the young people. And the systemic advocacy. is when multiple young people and or their families have the same problem with government services. So in time, like we only, like I said, we’ve been open now what 6/7 years? things start to like, I remember this from that other community. Or remember this from that other file. So as things kind of pop-up, we kind of flag them over to systemic and they have their own database, they they deal with turn the bigger picture. When this happens, our office consider that something within the government departments system, such as practice or policy or piece of legislation maybe causing the issue. And that’s when they can come in and kind do it two ways, formally and informally. So informally, is kind of behind closed doors. Saying, you know what, this policy we noticed has popped up a few times and maybe there should be a, maybe some changes. So they can make recommendations to the department. And then the formal reviews is more of the public is aware, it’s a big report. Like Our Minds Matter report which was put out a couple years ago on mental health for young people. So they’re, they’re quite busy.”

(Jennifer) “I’m sure. It’s good to know though. Even if you’re a child/youth/or family and you’re dealing with addressing your specific case, or situation, but that it also may be flagged for bigger systems, investigation and policy change that’s awesome.”

(Christa) “One of the big things for us is communication/ public awareness. Like I said, we started, when we first came about people were like, rights? What are you? Who are you? so we went out, we try to get out four times a year, but of course of Covid.”

(Jennifer) “Yes Covid changes things.” (Christa) So not to, like every advocate sort of has a region and we try to get to 4 communities and then next year’s different communities. So, It’s our responsibility to educate all Nunavummiut about children’s rights. As well, the responsibilities that adults and governments have to fulfill those rights. So when we go into the communities, we don’t like, I love going into the communities because that to me is where a lot of work, good work gets done.

we need, we go to the schools. We not only go to the school’s and do presentations, but we go see the social worker and then we may go see the CJOW (community justice outreach worker). Then we may go see the mental health nurse Ah, what’s her name? they call them the SCHP, head nurse and have conversations with their buildings to say, how are things going? We may if we have files within those communities, it’s great to meet face-to-face and have discussions and meet the family. So, we always need to work with and support all Nunavummiut to speak up, so that’s really yeah. So being out in the communities and being very, wanting for trying to push her social media next, but it’s really important to kind of get out there so that people understand that were there to support them. and we’re there to hold the Government of Nunavut accountable.”

(Jennifer) “Well its so wonderful that you could do this with us today because this is going to be available to community members, it will also be offered in Inuktitut as well, so people will be able to access this information, we do a bit of a series about what is advocacy and how do you self advocate, we’re more speaking to navigating the world of FASD and systems, and we certainly don’t want to duplicate amazing work thats already being done, but its so wonderful that we can we partner together to help Nunavummiut learn about this as a resource, and this does exist, you’re not alone. Even if the RCY or Piruqatigiit can’t support you specifically with a matter and resolve it for you or with you, we can still work collaboratively to help connect you with the right resource.”

(Christa) “Absolutely. So this slide just shows Nunavut and where the three regions. And some of the things we’ve done. Like we did the self-advocacy workshop with young people and it is how to navigate the system, how to be effective communicators, with lot of fun and games. And so that was kind of the last, we’re now trying to sort of evolve those community visits. What will they look like now? Because I think we delivered to the majority of the communities. So, this slide just kind of shows our outreach. So, the last part is the reviews of the critical injury and death. This is still under development, it still hasn’t been. what’s the word, with interact legally? What’s that word?

(Jennifer) “I don’t know. A legal word for finalized?”

(Christa) “well no, its interact, but it hasn’t been, um…Oh my goodness Christa… legally. It hasn’t started. There is behind the scenes, the people that have been working on the critical injury and death portion of our Act, but is still under development. We want to make sure that when this does start, it’s done respectfully. We may be a large Territory but we are, you know, small in population so when this sensitive matter of critical injury and death, we want to make sure that we do it in a way that people are not feeling like we’re…not doing it in a good way, I guess you can say. Um we can,

So when this does happen, we will conduct investigations and circumstances, leading up to a critical injury or death of a young person. Determine if they receive the government services they are entitled to. And if the service is met their needs, so basically it’s not. It’s not the death per se, but or the critical injury, its what led up to that point?”

(Jennifer) “Okay.” (Christa) “And where other things went awry, things didn’t happen, and so hopefully, I would say in the next couple years that this will be.”

(Jennifer) “this part will be done too, ok.”

(Christa) “What you should know. So yes, anyone can raise an issue or problem to our attention. Anyone can call our office, its not oh sorry you’re not the parents. Anyone can contact their office, It’s strictly confidential. So it’s, we just say that there was a referral or there was someone had contacted our office. We don’t give that so-and-so contacted our office. And this is what they said. When we first opened and there still a little bit of hesitation sometimes from service providers because, sometimes you get service providers, who contact our office and we let them know that there cannot be any form of retaliation to the person who does bring concern to our attention. But if there is worried about that, it can even be reported anonymously. So we’ve had that situation where someone’s like; ‘Im sorry, I’m not comfortable giving my name,’ fine, lets just continue on and get that information from you. Like I said, where we operate under strict confidentiality, provisions, and all information reported to our office is confidential.”

(Jennifer) “Ok, thats an important one for people to know for sure.”

(Christa) “So, we’re located in Iqaluit, but we work on behalf of all Nunavummiut. Yes, we have a variety of individual advocacy cases: few in the Kitikmeot, few in the Kivalliq . So yes so, yeah, so we’re, our advocates have a variety of cases and not just here, but it’s hard. We would, I know in the past we’ve discussed you know peoples brought up like, why don’t you have a satellite office? that would be like down the road would be wonderful but you know, because we’re so new, we were new at the time, we’re still kind of new. Like it’s you know, it’s still under 10 years so there is still some growth thats occurring, but we do work on behalf of all Nunavummiut and we are an ally for government of Nunavut departments. We like I said, we try to work as collaboratively as we can. And we understand where they’re coming from, it may not seem that way sometimes but it’s what we strive to do.

Ultimately we all want the same thing, that is what’s in the best interest of the young person and their families. but yeah, we always tell people, please contact our office if you have questions about children’s rights, if you want to know more about our office and what we do. And if you’re young person or a family who just may be accessing government services, but may still have some questions about that, or some concerns like we again we don’t turn people away. We want to hear from them. We want what’s in their best interest as well and them to do well and thrive.”

(Jennifer) “Beautiful. Thank you so much for this today. This is so helpful and so informative and we think anyway at Piruqatigiit, so important that we are sharing about local and territorial resources, and making folks aware that they exist.”

(Christa) “Absolutely, thank you Jennifer.”

(Jennifer) “thanks for your time.”

(Jennifer) “So, Christa was able to update us with that question about having a youth, who was over the age of 19 and having either a confirmed like a diagnosed disability or suspected disability, Christa was able to confirm that even if it was suspected and not yet confirmed that under the Act, the RCY is able to provide support up until the age of 22, when it comes to disability rights and advocacy.So that was a great news update.