Service gaps identified for low income Aboriginal families

Author: By Shari Narine
Sweetgrass Contributing Editor EDMONTON
Alberta Sweetgrass
Volume:  19 Issue:  10
Year:  2012

The findings of a study looking at the social determinants of health for Aboriginal families residing in Edmonton reflect similar circumstances for Aboriginal families living in other urban centres in Alberta.

“This being a trend in Edmonton, we would expect the same barriers in Calgary, for example, and partially because we also see it in our non-Aboriginal population,” said Dr. Laura Templeton, with the University of Alberta and one of three lead authors of the Families First Edmonton study, a community-university partnership.

While the report provides no “over-arching message,” said Templeton, it is clear that “around social determinants, we know there are so many correlates to eventual health for parents, children and families.”

The study followed low income families from December 2005 to June 2011. Because of recent interest expressed by the provincial government regarding low income urban Aboriginal families, Templeton said FFE pulled out the results pertaining to the 207 Aboriginal families that participated in the study and provided those to Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research and Ministry of Human Services in June.

The study, which examined education, employment, housing, social inclusion and health information, identified definite gaps in service.

Settlement services for urban Aboriginals was one such need noted by FFE steering committee member Cheryl Whiskeyjack, executive director with Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society.

“A lot of people do move to the city and they may lack social resources, kin connections to help them adjust to life in Edmonton,” said Templeton.

Edmonton has the second highest urban Aboriginal population in Canada.

In the fall of 2011, Bent Arrow combined with Boyle Street Community Services and Boyle Street Aboriginal Services, and with money from the provincial government opened the New In Town Aboriginal centre. The service provided by the centre, which connects people to available resources, is available to those who have lived in Edmonton for a year or less. Whiskey Jack said the service is expected to help 2,400 people annually.
Templeton noted that the First Nations families that took part in the survey indicated connections with 83 per cent of the First Nations spread across the province – as well as connections to First Nations in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and the Northwest Territories – increasing the chance of relatives from any of these First Nations moving to Edmonton because of kin connection.

“Some (of the findings) were not specific to Aboriginal low income families,” said Templeton.

As with other low income families in Edmonton who participated in the study, the majority are single parent-led. For Aboriginal families, 96 per cent of single parent families are headed by women. Education is also low. Approximately half of the Aboriginal caregivers had less than a high school education. As well, child care provided a barrier, with approximately 75 per cent of Aboriginal caregivers not working for pay outside of the home. Housing was also an issue, with affordability, over-crowding and disrepair all being concerns for more than half of the Aboriginal families. Social isolation was also noted. Ninety-two per cent of Aboriginal families expressed a desire to get involved in the community but factors such as child care, lack of transportation, and awareness of what is available all make it difficult.

The mental health component of the survey was “quite revealing,” said Templeton. “We have a lot of people who have mental health concerns perhaps who aren’t receiving mental health services necessarily.”

Mental health findings indicate that both Aboriginal caregivers and children requiring mental health care, for such issues as depression or anxiety, are significantly greater than expected.
Of the 207 Aboriginal families who participated in the study, 60 per cent self-identified as First Nations and 40 per cent as Métis.
Templeton is hoping that the study will be used by social organizations and the government to fill the service gaps.

“This (report) can really speak to some of the hidden issues,” she said.

Templeton expects the study to go out to the university community as well as other government departments, such as Health Services and Education, shortly.