Torngat Mountains MHA Randy Edmunds is calling on the provincial government to take immediate action to help troubled youth in Natuashish who have been sniffing gas.
"Well the government doesn't know what to do. ... There needs to be immediate intervention," said Edmunds during an interview with TC Media on Thursday. "I think the kids need to be removed from that environment where they have access to gas ... before there is permanent brain damage or worse."
When asked if he thinks children should be taken outside the Innu community for treatment, he said, "Whatever it takes to save these young people."
But Edmunds said removing troubled youth from their homes would only be a short-term fix. There also needs to be a long-term solution in place, but finding such a solution will not be easy given the complexity of the issue.
"I've racked my brains over this. ... You can have all the solutions in the world, but you need participation; you need the community to be involved," Edmunds said.
Edmunds isn't the only public official speaking about the plight of troubled youth in Natuashish. On Thursday, Carol Chafe, Newfoundland and Labrador's Child and Youth Advocate, issued a statement asking leaders to take action against the ongoing gas-sniffing issue in the Innu community.
"Once again, I am publicly addressing solvent abuse among children in Natuashish, and at this time I am asking all government departments and community leaders involved: what is it going to take to ensure the safety of children and youth in Natuashish?" said Chafe in the statement. "Now is the time to respond to this crisis before critical injury or death of a child occurs as a result of solvent abuse."
Chafe as been the province's child and youth advocate for the past three years, and she said has monitored the situation in Natuashish during that time. In an interview with TC Media on Friday, she said it is getting worse.
"I view it as definitely growing, increasing, escalating. ... I hear that there's younger children, some aged six and seven, that are being enticed to gas sniff by older children," said Chafe. "I hear they're more blatantly out in the open doing gas sniffing, as opposed to off in the woods, which was the practice before."
Much like Edmunds, Chafe wants action to be taken to ensure the immediate safety of children in the community.
"I feel that with any child, whatever is determined necessary to ensure the safety and protection of the child has to occur," said Chafe. "The key thing here has to be the safety of the children."
Chafe stressed that the gas-sniffing epidemic is not an isolated issue in Natuashish but a product of a large community problem.
"Unfortunately, it is an impact of the overall unwellness of the community and the adults in the community," said Chafe. "I'm certain there are some parents and adults who are striving to do their best, but I've heard from members from the community themselves that a lot of the parents need help themselves."
The Department of Child, Youth and Family Services (CFYS) currently employs one social worker and two community support workers in Natuashish. Right now there are 52 children in care through CYFS, 17 of whom are in care because of solvent abuse issues.
CFYS Minister Charlene Johnson has been unavailable this week to do an interview. A department spokesperson, however, sent a statement to TC Media, saying that CYFS continues to work with Innu leaders on the issue.
"The Department of Child, Youth and Family Services continues to work with the Mushuau Innu Band Council to address issues around solvent abuse in the community of Natuashish. Ultimately, the health and well-being of children and youth depends upon a safe, secure and nurturing environment at home and in the community, which is best achieved by the cooperation of all parties with responsibilities to and for the Mushuau Innu," the statement read.
"CYFS continues to provide protective intervention services to the children and youth of Natuashish and to work with all stakeholders involved in supporting families in the community (i.e. the department identifies ways families can keep their child safe such as seeking out the children in the night time, as well as working out a safety plan with family members who can assist the parents in monitoring their child to prevent them from solvent abuse)."