Newfoundland and Labrador's children and youth advocate says four children in three cases died while they were either in care or their families were receiving government services, and about 20 others endured serious abuse.
'I would think that one is a high number' - Carol Chafe
Carol Chafe, who is seeking a change to provincial law that would force departments and agencies to notify her office of deaths, said she found the series of unrelated deaths alarming.
"I would think that one is a high number," she said in an interview Wednesday.
"But, yes, the four that I am finding, all within a short period of time ... that's just the four that I know of. I'm very worried. Very worried."
Chafe said she cannot comment on details of the cases as they are under investigation, and also to not identify families.
She did add, though, that some themes have emerged in the various cases. "It wasn't that [the children] were taken and put in other places, it was more that they were still in situations that they shouldn't have remained in," she told CBC News.
Physical, emotional, sexual abuse
Chafe also said her office is handling several serious cases, including two incidents of "children who endured very serious physical, emotional and sexual abuse, of multiple children in the families, and unfortunately it went on for long periods of time."
Another case involved three children "who were very traumatically removed from their parents. They were of a new Canadian family from another culture, and it had a very long-lasting effect."
She said there were four new investigations launched in May involving children who were receiving services from government departments and agencies. That's in addition to two ongoing investigations that began in January 2013.
'We can and must do better.' - Carol Chafe
Chafe said the purpose of these investigations is to determine whether the services that were delivered met the needs of the children and youth, and if their rights were upheld.
But she said in three of those six cases, the children involved have died.
"The systems currently in place in this province to protect children and youth continue to have significant gaps which place children at risk," Chafe said in a written statement released Wednesday.
"If significant changes are not made, we run the risk of witnessing another generation of our children who will grow up with mental health issues and addictions, and who will be subject to the continuing cycle of abuse."
Chafe said she continuously calls on the province's departments and agencies to work from a rights-based perspective, so that children and youth can receive quality health, education, justice, and protection services.
"I acknowledge the hard working staff in government departments and agencies who are doing their very best to provide crucial supports and services to our children and youth. However, we can and must do better," she said.
Seeking legislative change
Chafe said that her office was not properly notified when a critical incident or death of a child or youth has occurred.
"It has become apparent that the current mechanisms to inform my office of a critical incident or death of a child or youth are simply not adequate," she said.
She said she will be seeking legislative change to require mandatory reporting by departments and agencies when a child or youth receiving services "dies or is involved in a critical incident."
"This immediate notification mechanism — similar to that which already exists in other provinces in Canada — will allow my office to mobilize quickly to investigate, produce recommendations, and to ultimately prevent further harm," she said.
Chafe said all government departments and agencies need to collaborate to not only provide temporary solutions, but to build communities where children and youth in the province can thrive.
Meanwhile, Chafe said that she remains worried about gaps in the network of services that are offered to families in need or in crisis.
"This is not in every case," she said.
"There are lots of people doing the good work every day, but it's not happening in a standard way throughout the province. We're not having good assessments, they're not being done in a timely manner, they're not being done when it comes to the correct conclusion and decision as to what should happen for that child."