System not working for children, advocate says

Investigating six cases, four deaths

Bonnie Belec
Published on June 19, 2014
Carol Chafe is the child and youth advocate for the province.  
— Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

It is unfortunate that children have died while receiving services from various government departments, the minister of Child, Youth and Family Services said Wednesday.
“I guess what we’ve got to do is work with the child and youth advocate and ... once the investigations are done, if recommendations come out of it we certainly do it,” Clyde Jackman told The Telegram.

The minister was responding to a statement released Wednesday morning by child and youth advocate Carol Chafe in which she discusses six cases her office is investigating. Three of the cases involve the death of four children, and one of the three involves the death of two children.

The other cases that didn’t result in death involve serious physical, emotional and sexual abuse of several children in separate cases over several years while the family and children were receiving services from various government departments.

“That will be the whole role of my investigation, to review what did occur for whatever period of time they were receiving services and what type of services,” said Chafe, when asked how children can be victims of abuse and even die when government agencies are supposed to be providing services to the family.

“The focus of the investigation will be to determine: did they receive the services they were entitled to? 

“Were their rights upheld, and if they weren’t, what went wrong? And identify what needs to change so that it doesn’t happen in the future, and provide recommendations to government,” she said.

Jackman said the child and youth advocate is doing exactly what the office was designed to do — acting as an independent body that advocates and investigates on behalf of the youth and children of the province.

“Personally I respect that office. I agree totally with it and I can assure you and the public we’ll do anything to support it,” he said.

“Certainly when you’re talking about youth and children, any time there is a death of a child it is most traumatic and most unfortunate, and (it’s) most unfortunate these things do happen in society. But the important thing is we investigate and continue to make efforts to improve so that we see less of it happening,” said Jackman.

In Chafe’s statement issued Wednesday morning, she said she was saddened by the steady increase in cases that have come to light while government services have been provided to families.

“Despite assurances of change, both systemically and in practice on the frontlines, children and youth continue to be victimized,” she said.

Chafe said the systems in place to protect children and youth “continue to have significant gaps which place children at risk, and most regrettably, in three of the six cases under investigation, the children have died.”

She told The Telegram the gaps she have identified have been heard before.

“They will sound familiar to lot of people because I have identified them in previous investigations and made it known in recommendations and findings that I had in other reports,” Chafe said.

She said the gaps include a lack of documentation in cases, a lack of communication and collaboration between departments — some families receive services from several departments — a lack of sharing of information, not assessing the family situation in a timely manner and not following the standard practice in a professional manner.

“This can lead to incorrect decisions being made or timely decisions not being made,” she said.

In her statement she said she has continuously called on government departments and agencies to work from a “rights-based perspective safeguarding the rights of children and youth to receive quality health, education, justice and protection services — in short, a system that is robust in working in the best interest of our most vulnerable.”

Chafe said there are a lot of hard-working people doing their very best every day and no one sets out to hurt anyone, but by not following certain standards and timelines the end result is a child suffers.

NDP MHA Gerry Rogers said she has heard the same recommendations from Chafe in the past and it’s about time the government started listening.

“This is such a clear and urgent call for action,” she told The Telegram Wednesday afternoon.

“She couldn’t be any more clear and we should all be very concerned, not only about the abuse these children suffer, from but the deaths of children who are receiving services from government departments,” she said.

The MHA for St. John’s Centre said other reports from Chafe from previous investigations the child and youth advocate has been calling for the same changes over and over again.

Rogers said she also supports Chafe’s intent to change legislation.

The child and youth advocate said it is imperative her office receives timely information in the event of a critical incident or death of a child or youth, and what is in place now is not good enough.

“One gap in our legislation, and we have a very strong act here that is envied across the country the strenth of its wording, and if I want access to anything about any child, everybody co-operates. It’s the law,” she said.

“But what is not in the law is that I must be notified when the death or critical incident of a child or youth occurs. Therefore I am never notified. I find it out in different ways through the media or a parent or a neighbour or an anonymous call,” said Chafe.

She said she has already initiated the process to change the act.

“If I know today something has happened with a child, I can act at the moment, investigate, make recommendations in a timely manner and ultimately, which is the whole goal, prevent this type of thing from happening to another child or youth.”