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Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children residents faced 'hard transitions' into adulthood says progress report

'Nobody prepares you for when you’re no longer in the system and you’re no longer a ward of the state,' said council co-chair Tony Smith
The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children is pictured in this Nov. 2012 file photo

Former residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children have told the inquiry looking into past child abuse there, that once they “aged out” of care, they essentially had no preparation for adulthood.

That’s one of the findings from a progress report officials with the restorative inquiry released Friday. The inquiry is also seeking to stretch its mandate to 2019, a media briefing in Halifax was told.

The report says former residents of the home have had a tough time – they’ve faced “hard transitions” – taking the path from a child in care to healthy, independent living.

They have “encountered poverty, homelessness, mental-health issues, post-traumatic stress and other difficulties,” said the report, made public by the inquiry’s council of parties.

It says many former residents told the inquiry there’s a stigma attached to being “Home children.” The report says many believe “a culture of silence contributed both to their abuse as children, and to the difficulties they faced in coming forward” after they grew up.

Basically, kids in care were on their own after leaving the home, council co-chair Tony Smith said after the briefing at the inquiry’s office. The 57-year-old Hammonds Plains resident was placed in the home during the 1960s.

“Nobody prepares you for when you’re no longer in the system and you’re no longer a ward of the state,” Smith said.

“In my particular situation, I . . . had no family, I had no place to live, I don’t have a job, I have no money – who prepares you for that?” He said that was “a common theme” among survivors of abuse at the home.

Regarding institutionalized racism, the 17-page report says the inquiry has established a research advisory committee whose members include “regional, national and international experts” in the field.

It says these experts will help inquiry officials “in gaining a deeper understanding of systemic and institutionalized racism.”

The inquiry has been overseen by the council, a group that includes former residents of the home, members of the province’s black community, a judge, government officials and a representative from the home’s board.

According to the report, the council “will focus its efforts” on the following key issues in the months ahead: responses to institutionalized abuse, experiences of children and youth in care and historic and ongoing impacts of systemic racism on African-Nova Scotians.

Not a blame-assigning probe, the restorative inquiry was announced in 2015. It has heard from survivors of past abuse who’ve said they suffered when they were children at the Dartmouth-area facility.

The update from the inquiry comes almost a year after a previous progress report, which was released last winter during African Heritage Month.

A restorative-justice type of process, the inquiry examining abuse at the home has been focusing on avoiding further harm to survivors. Community engagement with the province’s African-Nova Scotian population has been a crucial component, too.

The $5-million inquiry was originally expected to finish this spring, but its work is to be extended, subject to cabinet’s approval, to March 2019. Although it’s a public process funded by taxpayers’ dollars, the probe has included private sessions with former residents of the home.

Part of the reason for the extension was a delay in getting the inquiry started, Smith told He said the budget will remain unchanged.

Another element of the need for more time was that inquiry personnel were waiting for the emotional dust to settle, at the start, as financial settlements with survivors were finishing. “So we had to wait for that process to get done,” said Smith.

He said a final report, with recommendations to the provincial government, should be ready around the time the inquiry concludes.

Abuse covered during the inquiry happened when the Home for Colored Children was an orphanage for black and biracial youngsters. It currently operates as a short-term, child-welfare centre for troubled youth of all races.

Two settlements for abuse survivors – one is a $29-million agreement stemming from a class-action lawsuit, the other is a $5-million pact authorized by the home’s administration – were cemented years ago.

Michael Lightstone is a freelance reporter living in Dartmouth

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