06/18/2014 08:54 EDT | Updated 08/18/2014 05:59 EDT

Newfoundland and Labrador child advocate wants better reporting on deaths, abuse

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The children and youth advocate in Newfoundland and Labrador wants legislation requiring that she be told of deaths or critical incidents involving kids who were supposed to get protective care.

Carol Chafe announced Wednesday that she's reviewing child welfare services offered in four cases on top of two other investigations launched in January 2013. In all, the six files include three cases involving the deaths of four children — tragedies that should be automatically reported to her, she said.

"It has become apparent that the current mechanisms to inform my office of a critical incident or death of a child or youth are simply not adequate," she said in a statement.

Chafe would not discuss in an interview the causes of death, dates, locations or other specifics for privacy reasons. She said they occurred between 2010 and late last year, involving victims aged from a few months to early teens. Two children died in one case while two other cases each included one death.

A lack of mandatory reporting means Chafe must rely on media reports or calls from concerned family members or anonymous tips, she said.

She is urging the government to follow provinces such as B.C. and Alberta. Both require government departments and agencies to inform the child and youth advocate of any deaths or major complaints such as sexual abuse involving kids receiving child welfare services, she said.

"This immediate notification mechanism ... will allow my office to mobilize quickly to investigate, produce recommendations and ultimately prevent further harm."

Chafe said in an interview that despite recently improved social services, training and staffing, there is a steady increase in cases of physical, sexual, psychological and emotional abuse in the province.

"I just want to see changes continue to be made," she said, adding that good work has been done here and across Canada. "But there are still so many things that can be improved on.

"There should never be one child or youth that suffers a critical incident or, unfortunately, loses their life."

Chafe said she has informed the departments of health, education, justice and child, youth and family services as well as three of the province's four health boards and the police of her latest reviews.

She will assess the extent to which services met the children's needs and upheld their rights, or failed them.

Minister Clyde Jackman, who took on the child and family services post in a cabinet shuffle May 1, cited "major gains" since the department was created more than four years ago.

"Risk management assessments were put in place in 2013 and procedures and guidelines were implemented in 2012," he said in an interview.

Still, Jackman said he hopes to meet with Chafe soon to discuss possible changes.

"If there are other jurisdictions that have things in place that can make the system better, I'm all for looking at it," he said.

"I'm a parent. I'm a grandparent. I want to do for all children what I would do for my own children and grandchildren."

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