Nunatsiaq Online
LETTERS: Nunavut June 15, 2012 - 6:40 am

Is Nunavut child advocate office an empty gesture?

"The creation of more expensive headquarters bureaucracy will do nothing to ease the suffering of children"

NUNATSIAQ NEWS

I read in the last edition of your newspaper that the Government of Nunavut has introduced legislation to create a child advocate office of the child advocate to provide oversight for the problem of children at risk in the territory, and report on its findings directly to the Legislative Assembly.

The premier commented publicly on the need for the legislation by stating, “This is the act that a lot of members of the public wanted to see to ensure that youth and children are in a safe environment.”

The problem with the premier’s statement is that I remember the last election campaign and I do not recall any significant discussion between candidates and voters as to whether the creation of such a costly office would be an effective response to the issue of at risk children, or a proper use of scarce government resources.

Perhaps this is a shortcoming of our consensus-style government, where citizens have no idea what they are voting for, and then elected officials proceed to tell us, after the fact, what policy initiatives we want from our government.

If the premier or the minister of Health and Social Services had actually engaged the public on this issue in the last election, they would have heard from the vast majority that the creation of more expensive headquarters bureaucracy will do nothing to ease the suffering of children in our communities.

Instead, what is needed is greater attention paid to, and investment in, front-line services which actually help youth who may be caught in an abusive home environment or get into trouble with the law.

In that respect I note from previous stories in your paper that many social worker and probation officer positions across Nunavut — who are tasked with actually dealing with youth who are at risk — remain unfilled.

Since the vacancy rate has roughly remained constant since division, there is little hope that positions will be filled in the foreseeable future. As most of your readers have already commented online, a $2-million to $4-million a year office of a child advocate will not get qualified bodies into these positions, and the needs of our children will continue to go unattended.

A small minority of commenters in support of the legislation have said that the office would be useful in providing informed criticism of the child welfare system in Nunavut and suggesting thoughtful initiatives for change.

The problem with that idea is that it assumes this government is willing or capable of implementing improvements recommended by outside parties and agencies. A wise person once said that a good way to predict the future is to look at the past.

Following that adage, one can only concluded that any recommendations coming from an office of the child advocate would fall on deaf ears.

Why do I say this? Three examples immediately come to mind:

• Access to information and privacy: Year after year, the Access to Information and Privacy Commissioner has come to our Legislative A Assembly highlighting areas of concern and recommending changes to our access to information and protection of privacy regime in Nunavut. For the most part, her recommendations have not been acted upon.

• Justice: Some time ago, the Department of Justice hired a consulting firm to review the Family Abuse Intervention Act. The consultant produced a comprehensive report which revealed some alarming problems with the program, notably that community justice outreach workers had little training and were left in their hamlet offices with little to do. To date the Department of Justice has not produced or implemented a plan of action to deal with those issues.

• Human Resources: Many years ago, the Government of Nunavut promised a new Public Service Act. This seemed to make sense given that the government is the territory’s largest employer. Consultants were hired, money was spent and endless meetings were held. At the end of the day, the territory remains without new legislation.

In conclusion, I call upon the premier and the minister of health and social services to take back this expensive and ineffective legislation. It’s time to get back to basics.

(Name withheld by request)
Iqaluit

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