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Keeping the Child Advocate in the Dark
January 31, 2014 permalink
Ontario's Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth (PACY) has the mission of serving youth in state care and the margins of state care through individual, systemic and policy advocacy. So it makes sense that when a youth in care dies he should look into the circumstances. Then he can advocate for policies that will avert more deaths from similar causes in the future. But the coroner (OCC) is the officer who investigates deaths in the province, including deaths of foster children. He jealously guards his turf, and releases information to the advocate, currently Irwin Elman, on a restricted basis. In the words of the memorandum:
The OCC believes that there is no prohibition to releasing the child welfare PDRC reports to the PACY with the proviso that all personal identifying information has been redacted. Where personal information has not been redacted, the Chief Coroner may only release information where he/she believes that it is in the interests of public safety to do so.
Mr Elman can learn the names of dead foster children only when the coroner believes it is in the public interest.
The full terms are in a Memorandum of Understanding (pdf) between the Office of the Chief Coroner and the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth. The end of the memorandum shows that to get his reports Mr Elman must fill out a freedom of information request form just like a common plebeian.
David Froom suggests another reason the child advocate may have consented to the redactions. In the event that repeated abuses occur in the same family or by the same social worker or at the same place, the advocate may plausibly deny knowledge of the pattern.
February 1 2014
Irwin Elman, Provincial Advocate
Provincial Advocate - OFFICE OF THE PROVINCIAL ADVOCATE FOR CHILDREN AND YOUTH
Suite 2200, 401 Bay St, Toronto ON M7A0A6
RE Has PACY self-restricted its ability to properly advocate for children?
Dear Mr. Elam:
I recently read that the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth (PACY) signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the Office of the Chief Coroner (OCC) and itself.
No doubt PACY did due diligence prior to agreeing to this Memorandum for as I understand it PACY must be staffed with competent people. As per my read of the Memorandum, PACY found it was in the best interest of children for PACY to be, as I see it, left in the dark about the children they are advocating for.
The particular Memorandum section which I believe is very concerning is found below and I believe this section effectively codifies PACY not having the right to know the names or other personal information of who they are advocating for. As I see it vital information is to be redacted.
“The OCC believes that there is no prohibition to releasing the child welfare PDRC reports to the PACY with the proviso that all personal identifying information has been redacted. Where personal information has not been redacted, the Chief Coroner may only release information where he/she believes that it is in the interests of public safety to do so.” (emphasis added)
I am sure PACY is not self-restricting the information it receives so that if the PACY does err PACY will have a built in plausible deniability clause with that being PACY can truly assert that PACY did not have all the information hence it was not PACY’s fault PACY overlooked something. I only raise this as I am concerned that this Memorandum may accidently leave the false impression with some that PACY has purposefully and pre-emptively created grounds for plausible deniability for itself. I in no way imply PACY has done this.
It is clear to me that if 3 children with all the same last names and with the same addresses are presented to PACY in three separate cases over three separate time periods yet their names are redacted, their addresses are redacted and other identifying information has been redacted I think an investigation undertaken by the PACY based on such redacted material will be severely impaired due to the redaction. I think the redactions could falsely cover up and hide otherwise obvious vital investigative links.
It appears to me PACY has knowingly created the possibility of such a severe impairment arising via agreeing to this clause in the Memorandum. I believe PACY has willingly signed a Memorandum that as I see it codifies PACY only being entitled to receiving redacted information from the OCC.
As I have brought this to PACY’s attention I believe that if the PACY does in the future err and the error is in part due to PACY receiving only redacted information, I think PACY should assert due to PACY willingly signing a memorandum PACY would receive redacted information, about children, PACY knew they were self-limiting their avenues for investigation and PACY was aware thios could cause negative implications to arise.
I think PACY should also assert they knew such redactions could impede PACY’s ability to assist children by limiting PACY’s ability to form and see potential and perhaps vital links across different children, siblings and time periods. I think by PACY signing off on self-limiting their data available to them and as I see it PACY’s ability to do its duty I think there may be grave future negative repercussions for children and perhaps their extended families for if the Advocate for children is impeded from advocating for children who will?
Please email me the names of those who prepared this Memorandum of Understanding and the date it came into effect. If PACY believes the public does not have the right to know which civil servants were involved with creating such a Memorandum please tell me this.
Please also tell me PACY’s policy of undertaking an investigation if a parent phones in and refuses to tell PACY their name and other identifying information and also refuses to tell PACY the name and other identifying information of the child they want the office to Advocate for.
I felt it my duty to provide you with my point of view of this public Memorandum in the hopes it will assist PACY. I think this clause in the Memorandum is the dangerous ground work from which potential future negative ramifications might flow.
Please send your answer to my questions to my email address of firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: email copy