TORONTO, Nov. 26, 2014 /CNW/ - The Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth is calling on the government to protect all vulnerable children and youth under his mandate by making changes to Bill 8, Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014. Bill 8 passed second reading on November 18th and is currently before the Standing Committee on General Government for public hearings this week.
"While I welcome new powers to investigate serious incidents and concerns involving children and youth under the care of the children's aid society or a licensed home where a children's aid society is the placing agent, the bill fails to provide the same level of protection to other vulnerable children and youth in the province," said Provincial Advocate Irwin Elman speaking to a legislative committee in Toronto.
If passed, the bill would make Ontario's Provincial Advocate the only child and youth advocate in Canada with limited jurisdictional powers for conducting investigations. Further, the Provincial Advocate would have less authority and tools to carry out his mandate compared with the other six independent Officers of the Legislature.
"Every year, my Office receives an average of 4,000 calls from children, youth and their families with concerns about their care. Access to information is critical for looking into these concerns. Currently, as the Provincial Advocate, I lack the power to compel a government employee or a service provider to share information. This makes it very difficult to carry out my job and look into concerns involving the treatment of children and youth," said Elman.
Recommendations proposed by the Provincial Advocate to the Standing Committee on General Government to strengthen Bill 8 are as follows:
- Investigate complaints from vulnerable children and youth in all areas of the Advocate's mandate – not just in children's aid society or residential licensee where a children's aid society is a placing agent;
- Ensure accountability by enabling the Advocate's Office to obtain information in the course of its duties, specifically when it reviews complaints or conducts reviews under the Act;
- Provide whistleblower protection for service providers who make reports to the Provincial Advocate. Whistleblower protection under the Public Service of Ontario Act, 2006 covers only employees within the Ontario Public Services and does not extend to employees who work in transfer payment agencies; and
- Enable the Provincial Advocate to communicate Coroner's recommendations where such information is already publicly available.
"The bill fails to protect employees who work in agencies who wish to report a serious incident to the Advocate," continued Elman. "We must create a safe environment where any employee can come forward with concerns involving the treatment and safety of a child or youth."
"These changes are necessary to ensure that all vulnerable children and youth are treated equally and offered the same level of protection and that the Provincial Advocate has the necessary tools to hold organizations to account," said Elman.
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.
"While the proposed changes are a significant step forward, we encourage the government to move toward international norms and national best practices so that any child or youth entitled to any service provided in Ontario can have recourse to investigation and advocacy support from the Provincial Child and Youth Advocate in a timely, child-sensitive way. Vulnerable children need access to simple and appropriate advocacy support with a focus on their best interests to navigate complex systems and support good outcomes."
- Marv Bernstein, Chief Policy Adviser, UNICEF Canada
"OACAS believes the scope of investigative powers should mirror the full scope of advocacy services provided by the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth (PACY). PACY should be able to investigate matters pertaining to all children for whom the Office has an advocacy mandate. Children and youth receiving other provincial services, as well as those placed in residential settings by non-CAS agencies, should be equally eligible to access PACY's investigative functions."
-Mary Ballantyne, Executive Director of OACAS
SOURCE: Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
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