A First Nation child welfare group in northern Ontario will be getting more than $2.1 million through the province’s ‘Child Welfare Stabilization fund.’
Timmins MPP George Pirie made the announcement at the Kunuwanimano Child and Family Services officer in Timmins on Wednesday.
Funding announcement at Indigenous child welfare agency in Timmins. Pictured left to right Timmins Mayor Michelle Boileau, Kunuwanimano Child and Family Services executive director Shirley Gillis-Kendall, and Timmins MPP George Pirie. April 13/23 (Sergio Arangio/CTV Northern Ontario)
Pirie said the agency’s executive director, Shirley Gillis-Kendall, recently made what he called a “powerful” presentation about the needs of Indigenous children in the region and how the organization needs help to continue serving them.
“My role is to listen to what people are telling us and bringing that message back to Queen’s Park to see if we can affect change,” he said.
“It was hugely rewarding to see those dollars specifically awarded to this facility.”
The funding was part of more than $10 million in province-wide investments, with around $600,000 going to support other agencies in Timmins.
Shirley Gillis-Kendall said Kunuwanimano has been operating at a deficit due to a surge in children needing services in the wake of the pandemic and the opioid crisis, along with added financial pressure from the rising cost of living.
The agency is also looking to develop capacity within the region to serve children with “special complex needs,” she said.
“If we don’t have the homes in the north […] we have to find a home in the south,” said Gillis-Kendall.
“The cost of those homes, for one child with complex special needs, could go between $500,000 and $1 million a year.”
Founded in 1989 as a prevention-focused non-profit, Kunuwanimano took on a mandate of delivering child welfare services in 2015.
Currently caring for around 230 children in an area stretching from Hornepayne to Matachewan, Gillis-Kendall said there have also been challenges with hiring and training enough staff.
“The staff go into situations where families are so challenged, where there’s vicarious trauma,” she said.
“Staff go off on leave sometimes and then you have to find other staff to fill in.”
Gillis-Kendall said the new funding will provide stability to continue the agency’s work.
However, she said it sometimes has to work with an unbalanced budget in order to help children in need.
“We can never have our children go without, ever,” she said.
“The goal is that our children are safe and healthy.”