The organization representing the province’s social workers has launched a campaign demanding the candidates vying to be Nova Scotia’s next premier commit to creating a “desperately needed” child and youth advocate office.
“We would ideally like to see more robust policy options coming out of these three men wanting to be premier,” Alec Stratford, executive director of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers (NSCSW), said in an interview.
“But ultimately, we would like and desperately need them to commit to creating a child youth advocate office so that children and youth have a voice in the political decision making that impacts them.”
The NSCSW has long advocated for the creation of a provincial child and youth advocate office. An independent child and youth advocate provides a formal system for vulnerable children and youth to influence the policies that directly impact them.
“Children and youth do not have a political voice, and therefore the policies and the systems that benefit them are not are not being created or are not being put out there,” Stratford said.
“So this is really about trying to balance the system in a way that impacts children and youth in a far better way.”
Nova Scotia and Ontario are the only provinces that don’t have a child and youth advocate office. Ontario did have one until 2019, when Premier Doug Fold eliminated it by folding it into their ombudsman’s office.
In September, a spokesperson with the Department of Justice told the Halifax Examiner that in Nova Scotia, the Office of the Ombudsman fulfils many of the roles undertaken by Child and Youth Advocates in other jurisdictions. The spokesperson also said the Ombudsman is available to assist any children or youth in care who believe their rights are not being respected.
But Stratford said it’s not the same and it’s not enough.
“When we look at the difference between the ombudsman’s office and child youth advocate offices in other provinces, it’s the systemic advocacy and the policy advocacy that makes the difference,” Stratford said.
“These offices in other provinces report directly to the Legislative Assembly, not to a minister, not to a department. And so that public voice gets out there and enters the political discourse to create the change that needs to happen.”
Stratford said the cases of Fatouma and Abdoul Adbi starkly highlight why the province needs an independent child and youth advocate.
In September, the Halifax Examiner published two stories about the Abdi siblings. The first was about the lawsuit filed by the pair against the province of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children. It alleged repeated incidents of childhood abuse while they were children and wards of the province.
In a second story, Fatouma Abdi recounted her personal story of horrific abuse and a system that failed her and her brother at all levels.
“There are lots of unanswered questions there, obviously lots of treatment that was not in the best interest of that family,” Stratford said.
“A child and youth advocate office, at this point in time in any other province, would have done a thorough investigation and made thorough policy recommendations and documented that story very publicly with the policy alternatives that need to be put forward.”
On Tuesday, the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers launched its online campaign asking Nova Scotians–particularly Liberal Party members–to email and tweet the three Liberal leadership candidates to demand they commit to making a child and youth advocate office a priority.
Stratford said the report showing that 41,370 children in Nova Scotia live in poverty issued last month by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia is yet another reason to usher in a “long overdue” independent advocate for the province’s children and youth.
“We know that poverty itself is a root cause of many, many issues and…we have not seen any of these three men talk substantially about child and family poverty, put forward any kind of policy or platform on what they’re going to do to alleviate it or to handle it or to tackle it,” Stratford said.
“We know that a child youth advocate office is a bare minimum policy that would have a substantial impact here. It is a no brainer to many of us that this is long overdue in Nova Scotia.”
The Halifax Examiner reached out early Tuesday afternoon to all three Liberal leadership candidates hoping to replace Premier Stephen McNeil. We asked Randy Delorey, Labi Kousoulis, and Iain Rankin about their plans to tackle and alleviate child poverty in Nova Scotia. We also asked whether the issue of a child and youth advocate office was on their radar and if tabling legislation to create one was a priority.
We’ll publish their replies if/when they’re received.
The new premier will be selected by Liberal Party delegates during the Nova Scotia Liberal Party’s leadership election on Feb. 6.