Nova Scotia needs a dedicated child advocate after the deaths of at least 11 children under provincial care since 2004, including a 16-year-old girl found dead in a Halifax home over the weekend, the opposition Tories say.
"It's a fair idea. Why not give it a try," said Chris d'Entremont, the Progressive Conservative house leader.
He said the latest death, along with incidents of violence in youth group homes, show the province needs an independent and transparent system of oversight.
- Nova Scotia has seen at least 11 children die in care since 2004
- Halifax police investigate death of girl in provincial care
Even an Ombudsman's July 2014 recommendation calling for a dedicated team of bureaucrats to review deaths hasn't been completed, he said.
"These were pretty simple things to do. Just to say we're looking at it or thinking about it, I don't think is acceptable,
especially in light of a child in care passing away," said d'Entremont, member of the legislature for Argyle-Barrington.
11 children died in care
He said Nova Scotia should have a dedicated child advocate, as in most other Canadian provinces.
The opposition member was responding to the latest death of a young woman, who the Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman confirmed was in the care of the province at the time of her death.
According to documents obtained by CBC News through freedom of information laws, 10 children in care in the province died between 2004 and the end of 2014.
Four were killed as a result of motor vehicle accidents, two took their own lives, one died from natural causes and two were cases where the children were taken into care as a result of injuries that became fatal.
Kelly Regan, the acting minister of Community Services, told reporters Thursday she still couldn't confirm if the teenager in the latest death was in care, citing "privacy concerns."
She also wouldn't clearly indicate what form of review was underway, saying only that there is a committee of officials that look at these cases internally.
"There is a permanent government officials committee that meets regularly to look into issues of this nature," she said after cabinet.
Opposition wants transparency
D'Entremont said the province's response to this and earlier deaths of children has to be more open, so long as parents are the first to be informed.
"I think they should be transparent ... why not tell us what's going on in child protection in this province," he said.
"The department does difficult work. If there are successes, we should know about it. And if something is going wrong, we should know about it so that we can fix it."
The Canadian Press published an analysis last summer of a database of incidents at youth group homes that showed a recent increase in weapons incidents.
Government records said weapons incidents ranging from possession of pellet guns to threats with knives had increased between 2012 and 2014, prompting children's advocates to urge improved access to mental health care and increased staffing.
The records also say there were 24 cases of serious injuries of children in care — with seven instances listed as being due to fights — since Jan. 1, 2012, though the province said at the time that none of the injuries led to hospitalization.
Group home incidents
The 18 residential centres covered in the records care for about 150 of the province's children, from 10 years old to older teenagers.
At the time of the story, Community Services officials acknowledged that there was difficulty in accessing mental health care in a timely fashion for the residents.
Staff at the Comhla Cruinn youth group home in Sydney, N.S., have also recently stated they are struggling to control behavioural problems at their home.
The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union went public with allegations of drug use, sexual activity and violence by the young residents, prompting the province to say it would conduct an internal investigation into the allegations.