Child and youth advocate Annette King speaks to media on April 26, 2019. King has launched an independent review of barriers to school attendance in the territory after handling dozens of cases involving children and youth missing school. (Julien Gignac/Yukon News file)

Updated: Yukon child and youth advocate launches review of school attendance

Annette King announced the start of the review, which will examine attendance barriers, on Jan. 24

The Yukon child and youth advocate has launched an independent review of barriers to school attendance in the territory after handling dozens of cases involving children and youth missing school.

Annette King announced the review in a press release Jan. 24, the same day it was officially launched.

“Many Yukon children are missing school far more than they should,” she said in the press release. “They have a right to attend school and receive educational programs that help them reach their full potential … This is a complex issue without a simple resolution.”

While children will be at the centre of the review, the press release says King and her office will also be working with families, communities, teachers, school councils, First Nation governments and the Yukon government.

“The key is to listen to children and to fully identify the reasons for the problem and then find solutions,” King said in the release.

The review has the support of the Yukon’s Department of Education. In a letter to King dated Jan. 24, Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, acknowledging a letter from King about her intent to launch the review, requested she conduct it under section 15 of the Child and Youth Advocate Act.

That section allows McPhee to provide King “additional authorities” to “engage with the public, key external partners in education and Yukon First Nations as part of this review.”

McPhee also wrote that her department will “fully cooperate” with King’s office.

“I look forward to learning more from this review about students’ perspectives and experiences in relation to attendance at school, and how we can further work with Yukon families, school communities, Yukon First Nations and education partners to addressing barriers and supporting students in attending school and engaging in their learning,” she wrote.

In an interview Jan. 28, King told the News her office gradually became aware of the issue of school attendance as it’s worked on individual advocacy cases over the years, noting that she’d also spoken out about the problem at the beginning of the school year.

Her office currently has more than 60 open advocacy issues related to the Department of Education, she said, although not all the files are related to attendance — they also touch on behavioural and education support (or the lack thereof) and safety at school, some of which may also overlap with attendance issues.

The press release says her office has “identified over 100 children and youth who have had issues with missing school,” with reasons including suspensions, personal challenges or not having a school program to attend at all.

While she’s previously flagged the issue with the Department of Education, King said in the interview that the review will formalize the process as well as give her the opportunity to look into the full extent of the problem rather than just individual cases.

She said she’s planning on providing a formal report in a year but that the timeline for the actual review process and accompanying work as “fluid,” with some of the work on existing individual cases having been ongoing for months already.

“The review, I think, will be a process as well as a outcome,” she said. “… I’m hoping that the process will actually help resolve some of the issues for the kids that are struggling today.”

King added that while her office will be doing extensive public outreach and providing public updates on its findings, the privacy of individual students is of “utmost importance” and identifying details will be kept confidential.

In an email Jan. 29, Department of Education spokesperson Susie Ross noted that the department already has several initiatives underway to address school attendance, including joint education action plans with Yukon First Nations and a program that funds school and community-based projects aimed to improve attendance.

However, the department also acknowledges “that we need to do more work to improve how we track and report on student attendance, including to understand the root causes for attendance issues.”

“We share the Child and Youth Advocate’s concerns about student attendance, and root causes affecting student outcomes,” Ross wrote.

“… We continue to work with the Child and Youth Advocate, and students, educators, families, School Councils, and Yukon First Nations governments to ensure students have all of the supports they need to succeed at school, including attending school.”

Anyone with concerns about individual children or youth who are receiving services from the Yukon government, including education, can contact the child and youth advocate office at 867-456-5575.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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