Advocating for children

Deana Stokes Sullivan
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Community activist disappointed with government office inactivity

Recent court cases involving sex abuse against children and internet luring stir a mix of emotions for Maryann Fleming of St. John's.

She says she doesn't believe the justice system is harsh enough on the perpetrators and says it's also upsetting that children who have been sexually abused are treated as mere witnesses in courtrooms, without anyone there to support or advocate for them.

Maryann Fleming displays just some of the paperwork she has acquired over her years of advocating for a provincial child youth advocate. Although such an agency was established in 2002, Fleming feels it has failed in its mandate to advocate for the well-b

Recent court cases involving sex abuse against children and internet luring stir a mix of emotions for Maryann Fleming of St. John's.

She says she doesn't believe the justice system is harsh enough on the perpetrators and says it's also upsetting that children who have been sexually abused are treated as mere witnesses in courtrooms, without anyone there to support or advocate for them.

"To me, they're bringing kids into an adult world and emotionally destroying them. That's a serious issue and still not addressed," Fleming said.

More than a decade ago, Fleming led a lobby for the appointment of a child advocate in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The province's first child and youth advocate office was opened in 2002.

The office, however, has since been plagued with controversy, has gone through two advocates, and is currently led by former provincial court judge John Rorke, an acting child and youth advocate.

The provincial government website says, "The position of advocate is currently vacant. Government is required to publicly advertise to fill the position. John Rorke is acting child and youth advocate until government appoints a permanent advocate."

Fleming is still involved in an ad-hoc group formed in 1996 called Justice for Children and Youth, which includes parents, social workers and other professionals. She said the members still meet and feel they have to keep going.

"We thought, to tell you the truth, the ultimate dream was the advocate office, when here we are today advocating to get in to see the advocate," Fleming said.

The office is advertised as being a voice for children, but Fleming has questions. "Where's their voice pertaining to children having to go through sexual abuse trials or their voice on residential care?"

Dr. Shirley Turner was facing extradition to the U.S. to face charges in connection with the death of her ex-boyfriend when she went missing in 2003. Turner and her 13-month-old son Zachary were found dead on the shores of Conception Bay, in what police ruled as a murder-suicide.

In April, Rorke, as acting advocate, released a report on the mental health unit at the Janeway children's hospital, but refused to do interviews with the media or discuss the report with Opposition Leader Yvonne Jones.

Fleming said she's also heard concerns about accessibility from frustrated parents and families and has been trying to help them herself.

"Since 1987 to '88, I've been advocating for people," Fleming said. "I have all my seven kids raised and I'm still doing it."

She said parents have been telling her group they fear being penalized if they speak out publicly themselves.

Fleming said the province has told her every child in care is assigned a social worker, but if you crunch the numbers, that seems impossible. There's about 6,000 children each year in need of protective intervention and only about 270 social workers, Fleming said, and all of these social workers are not employed in child protection or working on children's issues.

Members of the Justice for Children and Youth group have met with Speaker of the House Roger Fitzgerald and Child Youth and Family Services Minister Joan Burke to voice their concerns.

Fleming said it's like going back to "Square 1" again because over the years they've met with about a dozen ministers.

"If they can't do the job, give it back to us," Fleming said, of the child and youth advocate office. "Give it to the community because at least we'd have the heart to oversee it and see that it progressed."

Fleming said the advocate office doesn't have the staff to handle the 400 or more outstanding files.

"So, what the hell is going on with these files and where is (Rorke) to in the voice? Why isn't he voicing his opinion? At least he would be a mechanism to help change the system," Fleming said.

dss@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Justice for Children, House Roger Fitzgerald and Child Youth and Family Services

Geographic location: St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, U.S. Conception Bay

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Recent comments

  • Saucy Face
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    With all due respect to Ms. Fleming's hard work, what we are dealing with here is yet another human interest story brought to us by The Telegram that should be on page 3. The front page of a newspaper is for news, not this.

  • Judy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    In response to Saucy Face's comments. Page 3? Any & All news pertaining to our children's welfare should be on Page 1. What exactly do you call News? It is very clear you do not understand the Whys behind the work she is doing. Keep up the good work Maryann.

  • Concerned
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    I am glad that Ms Fleming is trying to do something for the children of this province in need of help because the CYFS and Advocate's office certainly are not. All we hear from them is intentions and no action. Minister Burke announced today that it will take 5 yrs to get the system up an running properly, children haven't got that time to wait, they need help now and are not recieving it properly. The advocates office is in shambles, they are not helping the kids they are creating a make work project they will not even address reviews publically, so what does that tell us?
    The problems that are among the system aren't in the hands of SWorkers they are in the hands of gov to do something immediately, if not individuals such as ms fleming & groups have to take it upon themselves. When all hope is lost with the system someone has to stand up and lobby for those who cannot themselves (the children) and I commend her for doing so.

  • Joanne
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    Since 2002 the Child and Youth Advocate has been nothing but a high paying job for someone to do nothing.
    What the heck is John Rorke doing?
    Why was he chosen?
    He wouldn't even talk with the media.

    Advertise the job and get it filled a.s.a.p.
    and be absolutely certain that the
    chosen candidate genuinely cares about
    children's issues, and not just putting
    his/her big paycheque in the bank.

  • Saucy Face
    July 01, 2010 - 20:23

    With all due respect to Ms. Fleming's hard work, what we are dealing with here is yet another human interest story brought to us by The Telegram that should be on page 3. The front page of a newspaper is for news, not this.

  • Judy
    July 01, 2010 - 20:04

    In response to Saucy Face's comments. Page 3? Any & All news pertaining to our children's welfare should be on Page 1. What exactly do you call News? It is very clear you do not understand the Whys behind the work she is doing. Keep up the good work Maryann.

  • Concerned
    July 01, 2010 - 20:01

    I am glad that Ms Fleming is trying to do something for the children of this province in need of help because the CYFS and Advocate's office certainly are not. All we hear from them is intentions and no action. Minister Burke announced today that it will take 5 yrs to get the system up an running properly, children haven't got that time to wait, they need help now and are not recieving it properly. The advocates office is in shambles, they are not helping the kids they are creating a make work project they will not even address reviews publically, so what does that tell us?
    The problems that are among the system aren't in the hands of SWorkers they are in the hands of gov to do something immediately, if not individuals such as ms fleming & groups have to take it upon themselves. When all hope is lost with the system someone has to stand up and lobby for those who cannot themselves (the children) and I commend her for doing so.

  • Joanne
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    Since 2002 the Child and Youth Advocate has been nothing but a high paying job for someone to do nothing.
    What the heck is John Rorke doing?
    Why was he chosen?
    He wouldn't even talk with the media.

    Advertise the job and get it filled a.s.a.p.
    and be absolutely certain that the
    chosen candidate genuinely cares about
    children's issues, and not just putting
    his/her big paycheque in the bank.