TORONTO, Nov. 28, 2014 /CNW/ - The Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth is repeating his calls to the government and the Standing Committee on General Government to adopt his recommendations 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.
"This week, I urged a legislative committee to protect all children and youth under my mandate and not just those under the care of children's aid society or a licensed home where the children's aid society is the placing agent," said Provincial Advocate Irwin Elman speaking to a legislative committee in Toronto. "I also repeated my calls for access to information to do my job in addressing a child or youth's concerns."
"I was very disappointed when the Minister of Children and Youth Services' Office explained that my recommendations would not be accepted by the government because it would create too much 'document process' for service providers and that it would be too much to expect them to respond to a 'robust, third-party oversight'," said Elman. "So how can I explain to a child or youth who bravely comes forward with a concern about their safety or care that I'm unable to act because the government is concerned about paperwork?"
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.
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.
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.
The following are real examples to illustrate the need for amendments to Bill 8 in order to deliver stronger protection to all vulnerable children and youth.
Example One - Restraints and serious occurrence reports and why Provincial Advocate should be permitted to investigate beyond Children's Aid Society
A young boy, under 12 years of age, called the Advocate's Office because he thought he was getting restrained too often and he wanted to be moved to a different group home. Anytime anyone uses a physical restraint on a child, a report needs to be made to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. An Advocate requested the reports and we discovered that this young man had been restrained over 100 times in one year. After analyzing the reports, we discovered that in more than half the cases, no immediate risk had been documented, which is the legal basis for using a physical restraint. This number of restraints is very high for a child of any age, much less someone under 12.
We found similar problems with physical restraints that had been used on another little girl, also under 12. She, too, had contacted the Advocate's Office because she felt the group home staff was using restraints too often and she was getting hurt.
These young people, as young as they are, were able to come forward and tell us there was a problem.
Right now, we are trying to analyze all of the serious occurrence reports from group homes that have been filed with the Ministry. Unfortunately, the Ministry is only willing to send us redacted reports, with the names, ages, and gender of the children involved removed. So while we can determine the overall number of restraints, and the risk that necessitated the use of a restraint – if the document identifies this - we cannot determine whether other young people are at risk at this home of receiving a high number of restraints.
This problem will be remedied by Bill 8 but only for those young people placed in a group home by a Children's Aid Society.
What Bill 8 won't help, are the young people with special needs (perhaps a developmental delay or communication difficulties) who are placed in Ministry funded homes but are not in CAS care. These young people may not be able to tell an Advocate (or anybody else) if there is a problem with restraints. And if we asked for the serious occurrence reports from all of the homes for children with special needs, these reports would be redacted if the language in Bill 8 stays as written. So, again, we will not know if particular homes were frequently using restraints, or if particular young people were being subject to many restraints, or particular young people with certain disabilities seemed to be restrained more often than others.
Example Two - Investigation Reports in Youth Justice Facilities
For the past five years, the Advocate's Office has raised concerns about the Ministry's refusal to provide copies of investigation reports into the allegations by young people in youth justice facilities who report they have been assaulted by staff. The reason we are asking for these reports is because we are concerned that the allegations are not being properly investigated. When we have managed to receive copies of investigation reports what we have found is that the investigator has relied on the written reports of the staff who were involved and then determined that the allegations are "unfounded."
We believe that whenever a young person alleges an assault by staff, a thorough investigation should take place, and anyone who was a party to the incident or witnessed it should be interviewed. This is consistent with the Ministry's Child Protection Standards for child welfare investigations into allegations made by children in institutions.
In one recent case, a young person alleged staff "kneed, kicked, and punched him in the face and ribs while he was handcuffed and shackled." In another case it was alleged that staff "ran at me and charged me into a wall."
As the Provincial Child Advocate, I believe I need to be able to confirm for myself -- not just take the assurances of others -- that these very serious allegations have been properly investigated.
Example Three - Provincial and Demonstration Schools
Some years ago, several students complained about being assaulted by staff at one of the provincial and demonstration schools. These are the schools operated by the province for children who are deaf, blind, deaf-blind, and severely learning disabled. I was told by the Ministry of Education I was not entitled to any information because our legislation permitted us only to do "informal advocacy" and we had no right of access to information. More recently, an 18 year old student from one of the schools requested assistance from an advocate because he had concerns about an investigation the Ministry had undertaken. The concerns were serious. My Office wrote to a senior ministry bureaucrat outlining our concerns, but we were told that because the student was 18, he would have to handle it on his own and the Ministry would not deal with us on this matter.
Example Four – Allegations of Assault involving a Child or Youth in a Mental Health Facility
Last December, the Globe and Mail reported a story about a man who had been given a 20-year sentence for assaulting a boy at a children's mental health facility. The Provincial Advocate had been made aware of the situation through media reports. The Ministry of Children and Youth Services took the position that it was unable to provide information to us about the specifics of the assault or the investigation. As a result, the Provincial Advocate was forced to seek public court documents to learn about the circumstances of the situation and we will need to file access to information requests to understand what steps have been taken to protect children in the future.
SOURCE: Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
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