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Inuk teen displaced from foster homes 78 times before her suicide: Quebec coroner

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A Quebec coroner has released a report citing a "shocking" number of times an Inuk teenager was moved from foster home to foster home before her suicide in 2019.

Since she was a child, Maggie Kimattuuti Padlayat was displaced more than 78 times in six different communities in northern Quebec. In total, she lived with 18 different foster families since the age of seven — moves that contributed to her poor emotional well-being, according to Coroner Pascale Boulay.

Padlayat, who died by suicide at the age of 18 on Aug. 10, 2019, struggled with alcohol addiction in the years before her death. After a recent breakup, she posted messages on social media and sent text messages to relatives that suggested she would harm herself following a night spent at her friend's house.

The coroner's report described her death as a symbol of how the foster care system fails Indigenous children in northern Quebec and said her multiple displacements contributed to her lack of trust, difficulty integrating with families, and feelings of rejection.

"This situation alone is worrying for the psychic stability of the child and the woman in the making and can certainly have contributed to the development of the medical history," the report stated.

Padlayat was found unconscious on Aug. 2, 2019 in a shed behind a foster home in Inukjuak, a small village on Hudson Bay in the Nord-du-Québec region. She was then airlifted, while intubated, to the Montreal General Hospital, where she was admitted to the ICU. She remained in a neuro-vegetative state, and despite the efforts of the medical team, she was declared dead eight days later.

The coroner ruled her death a suicide.

Faced with a shortage of foster families in the north — worsened by a housing shortage — the coroner noted multiple moves for a child is sometimes the only recourse, but is nonetheless a factor that harms the physical and psychological well-being of Inuit children.

"No child in Quebec should experience these multiple trips," Boulay wrote.

"Can we really be surprised that she developed behavioural problems with difficulties integrating and respecting the rules associated with a severe attachment disorder with deep feelings of rejection? The breakup probably became the straw that broke the camel's back and that was the trigger leading to" her taking her own life, she added.

CORONER'S RECOMMENDATIONS

The coroner included two key recommendations in her report, which aims to prevent similar deaths.

Boulay said Quebec's Ministry of Health and Social Services should "relax" the employment standards for the province's youth protection system, the Direction de la protection de la jeunesse (DPJ), to allow more Inuit youth protection workers to enter in the network. People who work with foster care children need to be more culturally aware of the needs of Inuit children in the north, the coroner said.

She also recommended the government and other stakeholders "identify possible solutions to avoid multiple trips," and that sense of belonging and cultural issues "are taken more seriously into consideration for Inuit children when they are confronted with situations giving rise to repetitive movements."

Community members say there is an "urgent need to act" to build more housing in Nunavik, which is the responsibility of the Société de l'Habitation du Québec," according to the report. About 640 homes were set to be built between 2018 and 2019 and 2022 and 2023, but stakeholders on the ground say it's not enough.

The coroner called on the government to "act quickly to ensure access to healthy and adequate housing for families and stakeholders."

LIST OF MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES IN QUEBEC

If ever you need help, don't hesitate to reach out to:

Your family doctor (if you have one)
Your local CLSC, CISSS or CIUSSS: 811
AMI-Quebec: 514-486-1448
Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA): 514-521-4993
Centre Interligne Inc.: (for issues related to sexual orientation): 514-866-0103
Depressives Anonymous: 514-278-2130
Groupe d'entraide pour un mieux-être: (GEME): 450-332-4463
Quebec Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation: 514-727-0012
Société québécoise de la schizophrénie: 514-251-4000 x3400
Suicide Action Montreal: 1 866 277 3553
Suicide Prevention Service: 1 866 APPELLE
Veterans Affairs Canada: 1 800 268-7708
If you need immediate assistance, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.

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