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Ryerson professors lead $2.5 million federally funded project for Indigenous youth

Initiative aims to improve outcomes for Indigenous youth in the child welfare and youth criminal justice systems
July 08, 2021
The exterior of a courthouse.

Professors Judy Finlay and Loretta Loon will work with Indigenous court workers in five Canadian regions to help Indigenous youth, who are over-represented in the criminal justice system.


As the country continues to reconcile its history of treatment of Indigenous Peoples, two Ryerson professors are leading a federally funded project to help address the systemic factors affecting Indigenous youth.

“The overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in the child welfare and justice systems are only some of the harsh realities Indigenous Peoples experience in Canada,” said Loretta Loon, assistant professor in the School of Child and Youth Care.

“Unequal relations, continued genocide and certainly the systemic and historical factors continue to perpetuate and impact First Nations, Inuit and Metis families and communities today because systems aren’t working,” said Loon, who is Eeyou and Inninew Cree and a band member of Fort Albany First Nation. “As a collective working together within systems, we need to be asking, ‘how do we begin to consistently improve and decolonize systems of oppression that are failing Indigenous youth and families?’”

Tailoring the project to specific communities

Loon, along with Judy Finlay, associate professor and director of the School of Child and Youth Care, are co-leading the federally funded National Indigenous Courtworkers: Indigenous Youth-Centered Justice Project (IJYP), which kicked off April 1.

Finlay said the project, in partnership with Indigenous Courtworkers, will provide resources to court workers who are working to stop or divert Indigenous youth from entering the child welfare and youth justice systems. The approach will be tailored to each community.

“Each community will make their own decision about what the project will look like,” she said. “It will be unique to their community and consistent with their community culture.”

Tailoring the project to each community based on culture and needs will ensure that each young person in the program will have a specific plan, exclusive to them.

“It's really bringing all the resources together to work on behalf of the young person,” said Finlay, meaning that every member of the community sector, from court workers to law enforcement to community elders, will be tapped to support the young people involved.

“Service providers across disciplines are working together to make sure that Indigenous youth stay out of the criminal justice system, and when they are in that system, find ways to move them out as quickly as possible to more appropriate services found in the children’s service sector.”

A five-year commitment 

Canada’s Department of Justice is making a five-year investment of nearly $2.5 million. The project will reach youth in five Canadian regions: British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Nunavut.

The goal of the project is to improve outcomes for Indigenous youth who are involved in both the child welfare and youth criminal justice system.

The initiative will also work to identify the systemic issues that contribute to the issue of over-representation.

Finlay acknowledges that this funding is incredibly important because it will give the Indigenous communities the opportunity to “lead community services and development related to their people.” As project co-leads, Finlay and Loon will be available to support Indigenous court workers as they move forward in the project sites.

Funding for the IYJP project also includes developing a student hub in each project site that will service internships for graduate and post-graduate students across disciplines. The student hub at Ryerson is now underway.

“We're offering opportunities for students to learn about the issues that Indigenous young people are facing,” said Finlay. “So that when they enter the field in their chosen profession they have this knowledge and understanding.”


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