Child Advocate wins battle for mandatory reporting of deaths, critical injuries

The Newfoundland and Labrador government announced changes to its Child and Youth Advocate legislation on Tuesday.

Opposition says changes are welcome, but do not go far enough

Jackie Lake Kavanagh, Newfoundland and Labrador's child and youth advocate, says the changes will help protect the 'most vulnerable children.' (CBC)

Two departments of the Newfoundland and Labrador government are being told to report all child deaths and critical injuries to the province's child and youth advocate.

The advocate's office has lobbied for years to have mandatory reporting, saying it now waits too long to find out, and sometimes hears about deaths through the media.

On Tuesday, the government announced it will amend the Child and Youth Advocate Act as it applies to the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development and the Department of Justice and Public Safety.

Minister of Children, Seniors and Social Development Lisa Dempster is flanked by officials as she announces legislative changes Tuesday. (CBC)

The mandatory reporting of deaths and injuries applies to children receiving services from those departments — within the past year.

It will apply to children and youth in care, protective intervention, kinship, youth services, and youth corrections programs, as well as children and youth at the Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Centre, or temporarily housed in correctional holding facilities.

"This has been a long time coming," said Jackie Lake Kavanagh, the current child and youth advocate, who called the move a "significant development."

Children in care may not have families to support them or be an advocate, she said, so they need increased oversight to protect their rights.

Watered down

The Progressive Conservatives, meanwhile, said the mandatory reporting should apply to other government departments such as education and health, and include serious as well as critical incidents.

"We are extremely disappointed that the legislation has been watered down so much,"  said Tracey Perry, MHA for Fortune Bay-Cape La Hune.

Tracey Perry, the PC member for Fortune Bay-Cape La Hune, says the legislation does not go far enough. (CBC)

"We feel all kids are deserving of protection and that potential for injury is very important," she said.

"If you have a group of children on a school bus and the driver is impaired, that doesn't necessarily have to be reported because it's the Department of Education, but there is potential for very serious injury to children."

But Lake Kavanagh said the changes announced apply to the province's "most vulnerable" children, and is an improvement on the current system which relies on "ad hoc" reporting or complaints.

"We will have the information from the outset. We will be able to monitor trends. We will be able to ask questions," she said.

If gaps are identified, Lake-Kavanagh said, she will ask for further changes.