Youth in Difficulty in Nunavik

Overview of the youth situation in Nunavik

Nunavimmiut women generally give birth for the first time at an early age and have much more children than do women elsewhere in Québec. Nunavik’s population is characterized by a very large proportion of young persons: 40% of the inhabitants are under 15 years and 57% of the population is under 25 year old. Although the drop-out rate is still high, the high school graduation rate is steadily growing year after year. Nunavik’s youth is increasingly connected to the Inuit circumpolar world and the rest of the planet through a wide variety of participatory initiatives and the internet.

The imposition of Christianity and residential schools, the Western legal and education systems as well as social and youth protection services has had the effect of rupturing the ability of many Inuit to transmit their own life model for the proper education, protection and support of their children. Psychosocial problems, coupled with post-traumatic stress, depression, addiction and even incarceration, prevent certain parents from appropriately fulfilling their role vis-à-vis their children today. The rates of physical and sexual abuse as well as neglect are worrisome in Nunavik. These situations impact many children and parents.

For the past 30 or so years, there has been an alarming rise in suicidal behavior in Nunavik. The situation is all the more worrisome with suicide being the primary cause of mortality among young adults (20 to 34 year old). The issue of suicide is extremely preoccupying for the 15-to-24-year age group. Girls under twenty years old and young men in their twenties are particularly affected. The distress behind suicidal behavior appears to be linked to undiagnosed mental issues, alcohol or drug use as well as a history of sexual violence or exposure to physical violence. Excessive alcohol consumption or binge drinking as well as early regular cannabis use by young Nunavimmiut are also of concern and constitute risk factor in regards to suicidal behavior.

On one hand, Nunavimmiut generally acknowledge that many children are currently at risk of being neglected or abused, and that steps must be taken to protect them. Many have expressed their dismay that parents, extended family members and the community cannot presently meet the resounding need for protection of some of the region’s children, a need that has generated an overwhelming demand for Youth protection services.

On the other hand, the past few years have seen the Nunavimmiut clearly voicing their concerns with the existing youth protection system. The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse du Québec shares a good number of these concerns. It is feared that the repercussions of the large number of interventions by Youth protection and the temporary or longer-term placement rates for youth in difficulty will have a deep and severe impact on the Inuit society.

Overview of the youth and family services in the region

The Nunavik health and social services network is not the only service provider for youth and families. The Kativik Regional Government has successfully supported the creation of early childhood centres across Nunavik. These centres could be in a position to offer early stimulation activities and to play a key role in the early detection of child developmental issues. The Kativik School Board and the local schools can also offer support to their students through student counselors and other support staff.

In Nunavik, the local CLSC’s points of service are the usual point of entry for family services. Basic services are offered by local nurses, social assistants and human relations officers. Midwives deliver babies on both coasts and conduct prenatal and short postnatal follow-ups. On the Ungava Coast, there is one child psychologist based in Kuujjuaq. Through the support offered to Nunavik by the McGill University’s network (Réseau universitaire intégré de santé-McGill), child psychiatrists based down south are visiting the region on a regular basis. These psychiatrists also offer support to local workers as needed.

Youth protection services are offered in each community by social assistants, human relations officers and social workers. Deficiencies in the roll-out of the various services/programs, and particularly social services designed for parents, families and youth in difficulty, have a significant impact on the delivery of youth protection (YP) services. Youth protection, in fact, is thoroughly overwhelmed by the severity and scope of the cases being reported. Such a situation, along with the population’s lack of trust in institutions, goes a long way towards explaining the high turnover among Inuit and non-Inuit personnel in this sector.

Rehabilitation services for youths with adjustment problems are offered in seven rehabilitation units in the region and down south. There are two specialized resources for children aged 6-12 year old: Kuujjuaq and Kuujjuarapik. There are two group homes: Kuujjuaq and Puvirnituq. There is a rehabilitation centre for boys in Salluit. The rehabilitation centre for girls is currently located in Montreal but is scheduled to move to Inukjuak in 2015. A closed unit for young offenders is operating out of Montréal.


The reaction to parents’ psychosocial problems must not consist of punishment alone. The necessary services must be introduced so that they can receive help in developing their parenting abilities and begin to make changes to limit the effects of their substance abuse or mental health problems on their own lives and those of their children. These services are often lacking, leading to a situation that can reinforce the feeling of helplessness of parents and children.

For the organizations and Nunavimmiut involved in ilusiliriniqmi pigutjiutini qimirruniq, it is believed that the focus brought conjunctively to family, mental health and addictions services will provide part of the solutions needed to adequately answer the complex psychological and social issues at play in Nunavik.


Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse du Québec, «Investigation into child and youth protection services in Ungava Bay and Hudson Bay-Nunavik : report, conclusion of the investigation and recommendations», 2007.