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N.L. child and youth advocate to begin four new investigations

Carol Chafe, Newfoundland and Labrador's advocate for children and youth, has announced that she will be conducting four new investigations into incidents involving children who were in receipt of government services.

Carol Chafe is the child and youth advocate for Newfoundland and Labrador. She released a report Wednesday updating how government departments and agencies have responded to recommendations stemming from a series of investigations and reports.

At a news conference this morning, Chafe said these new investigations involve the death of one child and three critical incidents related to seven children. 

Her office will be looking at whether the services provided met the needs of these children and youth, and whether their right to services was upheld.

"The systems currently in place in this province to provide services to children and youth continue to have significant gaps which place children at risk," Chafe said. 

She provided a brief summary of each new investigation:

— An 18-year old youth who committed suicide while residing in a group home and receiving services from the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development (DCSSD) and the Eastern Regional Health Authority. DCSSD was formerly known as Child Youth and Family Services;

— A 16-year old youth with complex mental health needs whose health deteriorated while in her group home placement and had experienced several critical incidents. Eventually, she was moved to another service provider and is currently thriving in her new placement;

— A family of several children, who had an open protective intervention file with DCSSD for several years, and yet they were allegedly maltreated and physically and sexually abused by their parents;

— A young child who was placed in an alternate care arrangement by DCSSD as his mother required further supports. The child remained in that arrangement for a lengthy period of time and concerns have been identified with the services provided by DCSSD, including a lack of permanency planning.

Chafe said on July 27, she notified the deputy ministers of DCSSD, as well as the Departments of Health and Community Services, Justice and Public Safety and Education and Early Childhood Development of her intention to conduct these four new investigations.

She also notified the CEOs of the Eastern Regional Health Authority, the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, as well as the chief of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the commanding officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

In addition to the four new investigations, Chafe's office is currently conducting six previously announced investigations, which involve two deaths and four critical incidents involving 18 children.

This results in a total of 10 investigations that involve the death of three children and seven critical incidents involving 25 children.

"It is significant to note, that I only became aware of two of the three deaths and all seven critical incidents through avenues such as family members and/or media," Chafe said.

The advocate said she was notified of one death by DCSSD in compliance with a verbal agreement in place with that department since September 2014. 

"It is imperative that I receive accurate and timely information in the event of a critical incident or death of a child or youth," she said.

In November 2014, Chafe noted the House of Assembly passed a motion committing to legislation to respond to her request of June that year to amend the Child and Youth Advocate Act to ensure mandatory reporting by all government departments and agencies of critical incidents and deaths of children and youth receiving services.

"This proposed amendment, if approved, could result in this office having one of the most progressive legislations in Canada and allow me to further fulfill my mandate as child and youth advocate. It will further enhance the ability of this office to ensure that the advocacy needs of children and youth are consistently met for all children and youth," Chafe said.

Intensive work and collaboration took place from January to June 2015, but Chafe said the House of Assembly closed before the cabinet submission was tabled.

Chafe said the current premier has committed that his administration will develop legislation for the House of Assembly that will make it mandatory to report deaths and critical incidents to the advocate.

This was also recognized as an important issue in the Speech from the Throne, but Chafe said it's now five years since she put forth the first recommendation to establish a protocol of reporting and over two years since she requested legislative changes to the Child and Youth Advocate Act.

"I acknowledge the hard working staff in government departments and agencies who are striving to provide crucial supports and services to our children and youth. However, we can and must do better. We can no longer accept that 'change takes time;' action must be taken immediately to make that “change now.”  We must ensure that not one more child or youth suffers because their right to services is not upheld," Chafe said.

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