Establish ‘right to return’ for First Nations youth in care, inquest jury recommends

HAMILTON- The jury at an inquest into the death of an Indigenous teen who went missing from a group home has issued dozens of recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths, including establishing a right for First Nations children to return to their home communities while receiving provincial child-protection services.

While reading out the jury’s recommendations, the officer presiding over the inquest said the right to return proposal should be developed in collaboration with parties at the inquest and adopted by the province as “Devon’s Principle,” named after Devon Freeman.

The inquest spent nearly four weeks examining the circumstances surrounding Freeman’s death, he was 16 when he was reported missing from the Lynwood Charlton Centre group home in the Flamborough area of Hamilton in the fall of 2017.

He was found dead in April of 2018 and an autopsy determined he died by hanging.

The five-member jury made recommendations directed at a number of players, including provincial ministries, Hamilton police, the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton and the Lynwood Charlton Centre.

Many recommendations involved increased communication between agencies involved in youth care, from police to children’s aid societies, as well as with First Nations communities regarding services for Indigenous youth navigating systems such as child welfare and mental health supports.

The first recommendation was to create a case study training module for children’s aid societies and residential service providers regarding lessons arising from Freeman’s life and death.

The jury said that effort should be led by the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation, where Freeman was from.

Other recommendations suggested the provincial and federal governments provide “direct, sustainable, equitable and adequate funding” for service providers supporting off-reserve First Nations children, youth and families and culturally relevant services.

Counsel for Ontario’s Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services had told the inquest earlier that the province couldn’t endorse some proposed recommendations aimed at the government since they involved funding or legislative changes and could use further study.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

 

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