The minister responsible for the Child, Youth and Family Services department in Newfoundland and Labrador says he wants to meet with the province's child and youth advocate to discuss the number of deaths of children receiving government services.
Sandy Collins said he's open to discussing the legislative change being sought by advocate Carol Chafe, in response to a CBC News report that 26 youth under the age of 18 have died since the formation of the provincial department in 2009 — a number which surprised the new minister.
- Opposition parties call for government action on child deaths
- 26 children died while under province's protection since 2009
"I'm only a young man, I have a young family. Any time you hear about the death of a child it's concerning, you feel it in the pit of your stomach. That was my initial reaction, I have to be honest," said Collins.
On Tuesday, Chafe said she knew about six of those deaths, but only found out about the other 20 when approached by CBC News. She wants to change the legislation so she is notified of any death or critical incident involving a child receiving government services.
'We shouldn't assume anything, we shouldn't jump to conclusions here.'- Minister Sandy Collins
Collins, who has been minister of the department for about three weeks, said he's open to discussing any possible legislative change with Chafe, and has been in touch to set up a meeting with her.
"Understanding that I haven't had an opportunity before this to meet with the advocate, I have asked my staff to set up a meeting as soon as possible. I'd like to certainly discuss this with her — it's a very serious matter," he said.
Collins added there is also a meeting in the works between the advocate and the Child Death Review Committee, which is set to be in place next month.
"I want to meet with her myself, I want to make sure we're all on the same page, because I think at the end of the day we all have the same questions, the same concerns, because we don't take this lightly. One child is too many, and 26, there's obviously concerns," said Collins.
'Shouldn't jump to conclusions'
In the documents obtained by CBC News through an Access to Information request, much of the detail of 10 case files were blacked out, with government saying the information is redacted to protect the children and families involved.
Collins said while details of the deaths are not publicly available, Chafe has access to the full reports through her position and will be able to better assess the situations that led to the deaths.
He added that speculation on the nature of the deaths, without that information, isn't constructive.
"We shouldn't assume anything, we shouldn't jump to conclusions here. While the stats are startling, and I've got to be honest, when I heard them myself I was very concerned, you have to look further than that," said Collins.
Collins said making any change to the existing legislation would involve other departments, including Justice and Health and Community Services.
"It's great where we are, but I know there's room to move and room to improve," said Collins.
"Recommendations have been adopted, improvements have been made, and I am not going to sit here and say that there's no improvements left to be made because that would be a foolhardy statement, but we're moving in the right direction."
Collins said the topic will be discussed in the House of Assembly in future. Any legislative change will need the support of the Progressive Conservative caucus.