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Short-Changing the Child Advocate
November 28, 2014 permalink
The government of Ontario is expanding the oversight powers of the provincial ombudsman, André Marin, over several areas, not including children's aid societies. Instead, bill 8 is giving that authority to the provincial child advocate. But according the the current advocate, Irwin Elman, the powers in the proposed bill are inadequate for the protection of all of Ontario's children. Quoting the Toronto Star: "Under the proposed legislation, the advocate would only have the right to compel information during a formal investigation, and then only in cases involving Children’s Aid. In all other areas of his mandate, the advocate would continue to have no more right to information than what is currently available to the general public under Access to Information laws and through the media, Elman notes."
Link to the text of the bill Bill 8, Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014, or read a local copy (pdf). The parts of interest in child protection are:
The Toronto Star outlines the dispute.
Ontario’s Child Advocate demands more power to probe abuse
Proposed new investigative powers fall short of protecting the province’s most vulnerable children and youth, says Irwin Elman.
Ontario’s official child advocate says proposed legislation giving him ombudsman-like authority to investigate Children’s Aid Societies falls short of protecting all of the province’s most vulnerable kids.
“All of the children and youth in (my) mandate are equally vulnerable . . . not just those who have been placed in the care of a Children’s Aid Society,” Irwin Elman says in his submission to the standing committee reviewing the Kathleen Wynne government’s sweeping new accountability law.
Those in Elman’s mandate currently left out of the legislation include young people involved with youth justice, mental health, developmental services, children’s treatment centres, residential schools for deaf, blind and severely disabled children, as well as First Nations children and those with special needs.
The advocate’s office also needs the power to compel information from all relevant sources when a young person makes a complaint, including the authority to question government or agency staff and the right to enter related premises, Elman says in his submission to be delivered Wednesday.
Under the proposed legislation, the advocate would only have the right to compel information during a formal investigation, and then only in cases involving Children’s Aid. In all other areas of his mandate, the advocate would continue to have no more right to information than what is currently available to the general public under Access to Information laws and through the media, Elman notes.
“The ability to require governments, service providers, institutions and public bodies to provide information is a critical component of the effective and independent discharge of the mandate of the provincial advocate,” he says.
“By granting these significant powers, the legislature will enable the provincial advocate to better protect children and youth and to hold institutions to account,” he adds.
Elman illustrates “the gravity of the situation” by highlighting the cases of several children under his mandate that he has been powerless to help, including a 10-year-old boy in a group home who was put in physical restraints 108 times in 13-months without generating any concern from government or Children’s Aid officials.
Likewise, he has been unable obtain any information about the sexual assault of a 12-year-old autistic boy in a children’s mental health facility, beyond what was reported in the media last year. Nor was he able to get a briefing from the provincial Coroner or Children’s Aid officials about a recently adopted foster child who was found dead in the car of his adoptive father last July.
Elman, the province’s first independent advocate for children and youth, has been pushing for more access to information about children in his mandate, especially those who die in care, since he was first appointed in 2009.
Elman is also seeking whistleblower protection for employees of service providers who report concerns.
Without the changes, the provincial advocate would be the only officer of the legislature — and the only child and youth advocate in Canada — lacking these powers, Elman argues.
“As a general rule, the status, rights and privileges of legislative officers ought to be equal,” he says.
Ontario’s ombudsman, auditor general, chief electoral officer and commissioners for information and privacy, environment, integrity and French language services all have powers to investigate anything within their mandates and to compel disclosure of any relevant information, Elman notes.
The proposed amendments would put Ontario’s child advocate on an equal footing with the other independent officers of the legislature as well as other advocate offices across Canada, Elman says.
The changes would enable him to “better protect children and youth, hold institutions to account, and more powerfully elevate the voices of young people in the province,” he adds.
In its submission Monday, the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, which represents 44 of the province’s 46 societies, also urged the government to broaden the advocate’s investigative powers and to give him the same authority to compel information as the ombudsman.
Source: Toronto Star
Mr Elman himself posted to Facebook:
The caution in my optimism was well served. I am entirely disappointed in potential Amendments to Bill 8 the government is considering.
They continue to resist granting my Office access to information including deaths of children other than those connected to a CAS and no other investigatory powers other than what is proposed.
They continue to sit with systems on this issue and not with children
Source: Facebook, Irwin Elman
There is more detail in Elman's press release:
Bill 8 must provide the same protection to all vulnerable children and youth in Ontario, says Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
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
For further information: Media Contact: Eva Lannon & Associates, firstname.lastname@example.org or 416.300.9721
Neil Haskett has issued a call to arms on Facebook:
**Before making any other posts** We've got a troubling post from the Child Advocate, Irwin Elman that after a meeting with the MCYS, the Liberals do not intend to make any amendments to Bill 8. This means there will be no accountability of CAS!!
Until Monday please make this a priority for all the great families being torn apart and more importantly, the safety of kids in care.
We hate to play hardball on the wall but many of us have spent 7 days a week here for over 8 years and this is our last chance for a very long time.
If necessary, the wall will be locked from any further posts.
Please email the Minster, (Hon Tracy MacCharles) and the Liberals below demanding they accept the proposed changes to CAS by the Child Advocate and the Ombudsman.
Hon, Tracy MacCharles
Ministry of Children and Youth Services
56 Wellesley Street West
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2S3
Grant Crack, MPP
Chair, Standing Committee on General Government
Joe Dickson, MPP
Vice-Chair, Standing Committee on General Government
Source: Facebook, Stop the CAS ...
Addendum: In a 140 minute session on December 2 the government with the support of the Liberal party enacted the legislation as proposed. The ombudsman will not get authority to look at children's aid societies and the child advocate's authority remains severely restricted.