Child and Youth Advocate Annette King says there must be a better way to protect children and privacy in cases of sexual abuse in Yukon schools.
“How we respond is how we guide the healing for the children and families,” said King.
King leads the arms-length organization, the Child and Youth Advocate Office, which announced Aug. 3 they plan to conduct “a review on safety and supports at Hidden Valley Elementary following the conviction of a former Educational Assistant at the school.”
The announcement followed an incident at Hidden Valley where parents were never informed that an educational assistant had been convicted of sexually abusing a student.
Parents, including those who had children with special needs who had been in contact with the predator, were never spoken to by RCMP or informed of the situation. Instead they learned about the incident a year later in media reports after the father of the victim filed a lawsuit against the government. The name of the abuser and child is protected under a publication ban.
The News has spoken to numerous parents who said they feel betrayed and devastated, particularly those who have special needs children that may have been at risk.
The RCMP has confirmed they are now investigating more cases.
“Secrecy is often part of abuse. And so it should not be part of the response,” said King. “These services need to come together to help these families right now that are really struggling. That’s why we launched a systemic review, because if in the course of individual advocacy, we see a policy or systemic issue that requires attention, we can launch that review, and provide advice to the department.”
Education Minister Jeanie McLean, responding to a July 29 letter from King on Aug. 5, said they “share the position that the safety and protection of all students is paramount and acknowledge the real and serious concerns of families related to this matter.”
McLean said the department is working on bringing in supports for families in the new school year.
She also said the Child and Youth Advocate Office doesn’t have the legal authority to conduct a review.
“It is the view of the Government of Yukon Department of Education that the Child and Youth Advocate Office (YCAO) does not have the statutory authority in accordance with the Child and Youth Advocate Act to conduct such a systemic review as outlined in your letter and, therefore, are not in support of it advancing,” she wrote.
The government is currently named in a lawsuit by the father of the original victim in the case. McLean wrote that “timing for a review is problematic as it could impact these legal proceedings by revealing aspects of the evidence.”
“There are things in our act that need more legal authority. I can tell you what those are. But to run a systemic review is not one of them. I have that authority,” she said. “So I will communicate that and I’ll be talking with the department.”
King is set to meet with McLean later this week to discuss the issue.
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org