Nfld. & Labrador

Child, youth concerns in Labrador at forefront in advocate's report

Just two weeks before leaving as the province's child and youth advocate, Carol Chafe gave a grim warning of what's to come if issues surrounding child protection in Labrador aren't rectified.

Labrador region's issues identified in report on deceased infant Matthew Rich and sibling

Carol Chafe, Newfoundland and Labrador's Child and Youth Advocate, says it's not the first time she has made recommendations to improve child protection in Labrador. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Just two weeks before leaving as the province's child and youth advocate, Carol Chafe gave a grim warning of what's to come if issues surrounding child protection in Labrador aren't rectified.

"This is not the first report I've given in Labrador relating to a child harmed or dying and it certainly won't be the last," Chafe told reporters Wednesday.

Chafe was speaking after an investigation into the care of Matthew Rich — the Sheshatshiu infant who died of a head injury in 2013 — and his older brother. 

She noted a lack of communication and information sharing as well as a failure by several government departments and the RCMP to report child protection concerns. 

Baby Matthew Rich died Oct. 15, 2013, in the Happy Valley-Goose Bay hospital. (Facebook)

"I've always said it shouldn't matter where a child or youth lives; wherever you're in this province, you should be receiving the same standard. It shouldn't matter where you live, it shouldn't matter what social worker you have … but it's just not happening yet."

Chafe said the issue cannot be resolved with just resources, adding there is a struggle to attract and retain seasoned social workers. 

Guidance needed

"It's not only hung on the number of resources, it's just this thinking, this culture and the old way of practising, and there just has to be better monitoring and better mentoring."

Chafe said many people who take social work jobs in Labrador are often young and inexperienced.

"You're not getting people to stay there and mentor, let alone work there," she said.

Darlene Neville served as the province's child and youth advocate before Carol Chafe, and identified a serious shortage of foster homes in the region. (CBC)

Chafe's concerns are not new ones, and were raised by the first child advocate, Lloyd Wicks, 14 years ago. 

When he was in the position, he took the unusual step of launching an investigation before the RCMP finished its own investigation into the torture and beating of a 13-year-old Innu girl. 

She was found near her mother's house, on the outskirts of Natuashish, with two broken arms and a shattered face. Her legs had been repeatedly shot with a pellet gun.

Wicks called on the federal and provincial governments to take emergency action.

Just six years ago, then-advocate Darlene Neville noted problems with access to mental health and addictions counsellors and noted a severe shortage of foster homes in the area. 

Children, Seniors and Social Development Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh says strides have been made to address workload concerns.

The highest workload for a social worker is 37 cases. Her goal is to reduce that to 20.

Gambin-Walsh said work is already underway on some recommendations that had already been identified by Auditor General Terry Paddon.

With files from Cecil Haire

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