After almost 2 1/2 years on the job, provincial child and youth advocate (CYA) Carol Chafe says she is proud of her office’s performance and hopes it can continue to serve those who need it.
“While we’re getting lots of contacts here, I am finding when I go out on outreach that a lot of people are not aware of just who we are and what we do, and that we are a totally independent office from the government departments and that we are another resource to them,” said Chafe, a former registered nurse who has also been involved with health-care management.
To aid outreach, Chafe’s office released its first annual public report Tuesday and unveiled a revamped website.
It already appears that many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are contacting the CYA office with concerns about the well-being of children and youth younger than 19 years (it also covers youth younger than 21 who are in a government care or custody arrangement).
According to the report, the CYA office handled 663 complaints from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012. Of those complaints, almost two-thirds (64.7 per cent) pertained to services provided through the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services.
Additional complaints referred to services relevant to the Department of Justice (11 per cent), the Department of Education (6.6 per cent) and the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. (0.75 per cent).
“I see it as an advantage when we’re not limited to only particular departments, because ... anything that impacts children and youth, our role is to ensure their rights are upheld and that their voices are heard,” said Chafe, who adds she has heard from people who are surprised to learn the CYA office is not limited to cases involving child protection services.
More than 43 per cent of all complaints received concerned child protection services, while 15.7 per cent were made in relation to children or youth in government care.
The annual public report outlines the recent activities of the CYA office and its goals for the future. It also includes examples of situations where the office has elected to intervene.
“I wanted to have a more public-friendly type of report so people could understand more about the type of services we provide here,” said Chafe.
Since she took on the position of provincial CYA, Chafe says, her office has undergone a number of changes.
“We did a full restructuring. We have all our policies and procedures in place. We’re very successful in getting outstanding investigations done. We’ve got a full new intake panel process of how we will take complaints and see if they fit within our mandate and then (provide) very clear communication back to the people that are contacting us to say whether we can help them or not.”
The report also addresses systemic issues Chafe’s office has examined. In relation to youth arrested under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, it was discovered there were cases where the temporary detention of youth was mishandled.
“When a youth is going to have to be held in an adult holding centre, they’re only supposed to be there in extreme circumstances, and they’re only supposed to be there for a specific period of time, and every measure has to be made that they’re not there beyond that period of time. Over the past 2 1/2 years that I’ve been here, I’ve had to address a few cases like that, and made some recommendations and suggestions to (the Department of Justice), which they certainly did welcome and follow through on.”
Chafe’s office also identified cases where inter-provincial agreements had not been made in relation to children or youth who were placed in residences outside Newfoundland and Labrador to receive services not available in this province.
“That would outline how the receiving province is responsible for this, and the sending province is responsible for this and that, and it just defines who is responsible for what, and what is covered under the agreement,” she said. “As with anything, if you have agreements, it’s best to have them in formal agreements, and that was the policy and the practice, but we did become aware of some cases where it hadn’t been completely documented.”
Chafe said systemic issues come to her office’s attention through a variety of avenues. Complaints received at the office can lead to the identification of such issues, as can media reports.
Of the advocacy work completed within the time frame of the annual report, 67.7 per cent involved children younger than 12.
Chafe hopes to maintain the office’s current momentum and to conclude ongoing investigations, which will be followed by public reports outlining any recommendations her office makes to the government.
The full annual public report can be found on the CYA office’s website.