N.S. commitment to create Child and Youth Commission welcomed but ‘long overdue’

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N.S. commits to creating child and youth commission
The provincial government has committed to creating a child and youth commission – becoming the last province in Canada to establish a dedicated post for young people. The hope is to give a voice to children in the province’s care. The College of Social Workers applauds the move, saying it’s long overdue. Callum Smith reports – Apr 5, 2022

Now that the provincial government has firmly committed to creating a Child and Youth Commission, the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers hopes young people will have a louder voice leading to policy changes in the future.

“Advocate offices are able to put forward those real stories of how we built our system to oftentimes…disenfranchise and marginalize already vulnerable groups,” says Alec Stratford, the college’s executive director. “Gradually over time, what we hope to see is that children and youth become prioritized in the public and political decision making in this province.”

Stratford says the province will become the last in Canada to create a standalone “crucial” office for child and youth issues, often relating to critical injury or death. Currently, children and youth could file complaints with the ombudsman.

“It’s long overdue,” he says.

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Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane says the commission, which was a recommendation from the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children Restorative Inquiry, will be independent from government and guided by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“[The commission] will include all authorities and powers that a youth advocate would have,” she told Global News. “But at the same time, it will actually expand greatly on those powers and authorities and have accountability as well, which is very important.”

“It’s absolutely important. This is something that I’ve been looking for since 2013 when I came into government, knowing that our children and our youth needed a real direct line… to have a voice to speak on their behalf,” MacFarlane says.

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MacFarlane wants a proactive and restorative office and will engage stakeholders.

An example of the benefit of a Child and Youth Advocate can be found in New Brunswick.

The former Child and Youth Advocate documented the story of Lexi Daken, a 16-year-old girl who committed suicide after being sent home from an ER, despite needing urgent mental health care.

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Then-advocate Norm Bossé found the death was preventabl and shared recommendations to help prevent similar deaths.

He’s also examined some horrific cases of child neglect.

That’s all part of the reason Stratford is optimistic, because he hopes it will lead to policy changes holding government accountable, and a better quality of life for children and youth.

He worries about existing legislation that allows the Department of Community Services decide what information gets released to the public about injury or deaths of children and youth within the province’s care. But MacFarlane says that’s being considered as legislation is drafted.

“That will be something that is addressed in this piece of legislation as well,” she says.

“We want all voices to be included. We have to get this right. Our children and youth deserve it.”

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