The province failed a 12-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted by her stepfather, and given an abortion in 2011 without the proper counselling and screening for abuse, says Newfoundland and Labrador child and youth advocate Jacqueline Lake Kavanagh.

"[I am] saddened and shocked by what happened to this little girl," Lake Kavanagh said as her office released an investigative report Wednesday focusing on the case.

'A child who presents at a community agency or regional health authority to terminate a pregnancy should not be treated as an adult.' - Jacqueline Lake Kavanagh

According to the report, the girl's family moved from another province to Newfoundland and Labrador for a period of five months.

The girl was sexually assaulted by her stepfather — who she believed was actually her biological father — and became pregnant.

When the stepfather brought the 12-year-old to Planned Parenthood for an abortion, the girl told a doctor she had consensual sex with her teenage boyfriend.

Lake Kavanagh said the investigation found that the stepfather's guardianship was not verified and the age of the boyfriend was not questioned.

At Planned Parenthood the girl and her stepfather were referred to Eastern Health. No screening for abuse occurred at the hospital, and there was no referral for counselling services before or after the abortion.

The procedure was performed despite two portions of the consent form being left blank, including the legal capacity of the stepfather.

Following the abortion, the girl was discharged from the hospital with her stepfather.

Convicted in another province

Lake Kavanagh's report said the girl complained about her stepfather two years later, after the family moved to another province.

The girl told authorities the man had assaulted her for 26 months, and she had a second abortion.

He was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in jail for assaulting her and others.

Lake Kavanagh said alarms should go off when a 12-year-old goes to a hospital looking for an abortion, but that didn't happen in this case.

"The child and youth advocate is unequivocal that a child who presents at a community agency or regional health authority to terminate a pregnancy should not be treated as an adult," she said.

"A collective effort is required to do better for and by these children. Some of this work has already begun and where brand new efforts are required, they should be undertaken without delay," Lake Kavanagh said.

Her investigation found that in addition to the girl's story, her siblings were also the focus of multiple separate reports to the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development regarding supervision and safety concerns.

Investigative report

The investigative report identified several areas for improvement and makes seven recommendations.

For the health care system: "The need for child-focused screening and coordination of services; the need for improved knowledge among health care professionals on relevant protection legislation; the need for a review of policies and practices on consent for minors." 

And for the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development: "The need for appropriate protective intervention and follow up."

Government, health authority responds

Minister of Children, Seniors and Social Development Lisa Dempster said the government accepts all recommendations put forward in the report and "welcomes every opportunity" for performance improvement.

"It is important to note that a considerable amount of progress has been made since 2011 when this matter occurred," Dempster told CBC News in an emailed statement.

She went on to outline "significant gains" made by the department with respect to file reviews, documentation and caseload management.

"At the end of the day, we all share the same goal — namely the best interests of children and youth in our province."


Eastern Health says it's reaching out to its partners to improve communication and collaboration surrounding therapeutic abortion services for youth. (CBC)

CBC News requested an interview with Eastern Health. The authority responded with an emailed statement saying it "is deeply saddened by the experience described in the report" and "welcomes recommendations."

"We acknowledge our role in this situation and the impact it had on the child involved," said Media Relations Manager Tracey Boland. 

Eastern Health said the report demonstrates a need for more diligence "at all points of contact" when dealing with children and youth undergoing therapeutic abortions, and that it's committed to working with the office of the child and youth advocate.

With files from Mark Quinn