Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth comments on Guy Mitchell inquest

HAMILTON, ON, July 23, 2015 /CNW/ - After almost three weeks of listening to evidence at the inquest into the death of Guy Mitchell, the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth is looking forward to hearing the recommendations from the inquest jury after they finish their deliberations later this week.

The Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth did not seek standing at this inquest because Mitchell was an adult at the time of his death, and the scope of the inquest was outside of the Office's mandate. Instead, the Office attended the inquest each day as a watching brief to listen to the evidence as it unfolded, and sent our concerns and suggestions to the coroner's counsel based on what we heard.  

"I am extremely concerned about the future of children with development disabilities and what will happen to them when they move to an adult residential system that, without any doubt, failed Guy Mitchell," said Irwin Elman, Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.  "We are very concerned that the children for whom we advocate will lose their voice once they become adults and enter the adult residential system."

The Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth is an independent office that is mandated by legislation to advocate for children and youth in the children's services system, including children with special needs and developmental disabilities who live in residential placements. Currently, there is no similar advocacy body for vulnerable adults in the developmental services system.

Mitchell was 12-years-old when he was placed (with the assistance of the Children's Aid Society) into an unlicensed residence, run by an agency called Choices. Twenty-six years later, he died in the same residence which police described as "unfit for living."

Other individuals with developmental disabilities also resided in the same home. For many years, the residence was also used as a foster home by the Hamilton Children's Aid Society (CAS). The inquest heard that foster children were removed from the home by the CAS almost a full year prior to Mitchell's death. The inquest also heard that animals were removed by the SPCA months prior to his death. Yet, Mitchell continued to live there. At the time of his death, a twelve-year-old autistic girl was also living in the home.

"My Office hears from children with special needs. Some will need ongoing support as adults. Based on what we're hearing, we are extremely concerned about what will happen to them when they leave the children's residential system. These children have the right to expect support in their adulthood and they should not have to worry about whether their placement home will be safe. They have a right to be guaranteed a safe, enriching home environment with the basics like running water and clean rooms. Even more than that, they deserve to be able to live their lives to their full potential. They deserve nothing less than this," said Elman.

"Tragically, this was not the case for Guy Mitchell and we need to work hard to be sure that there are safeguards for vulnerable people in all residential services in the province," continued Elman.

The Advocate's Office forwarded its concerns and some possible recommendations to be considered by the inquest.

"There needs to be a vehicle through which the voices of children and vulnerable adults with developmental disabilities, in whatever form, can be heard, and there needs to be adequate oversight of homes by government funders and service providers," said Elman. "It also requires a change in culture so that vulnerable individuals are recognized as people. These are individuals with gifts and abilities, with hopes, dreams, and a legitimate voice. This change must start with our willingness to listen, to act, and to pay attention to what is happening to them."

About the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
The Office of the Provincial Advocate reports directly to the Legislature and provides an independent voice for children and youth, including children with special needs and First Nations children. The advocates receive and respond to concerns from children, youth and families who are seeking or receiving services under the Child and Family Services Act and the Education Act (Provincial and Demonstration Schools). The Provincial Advocate may identify systemic problems involving children, conduct reviews and provide education and advice on the issue of advocacy and the rights of children.

The Office is guided by the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and has a strong commitment to youth involvement.

SOURCE Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth

For further information: Media Contact: Eva Lannon & Associates, 416.300.9721 or elannonassoc@gmail.com

RELATED LINKS
http://provincialadvocate.on.ca

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