Q+A | Yukon's child and youth advocate on why it's time to update her role

'I do think over the last several years, people are getting a broader understanding of what we do,' said Annette King, Yukon's child and youth advocate. A review is now underway into the territory's Child and Youth Advocate Act, which was passed 15 years ago.  (Archbould Photography - image credit)
'I do think over the last several years, people are getting a broader understanding of what we do,' said Annette King, Yukon's child and youth advocate. A review is now underway into the territory's Child and Youth Advocate Act, which was passed 15 years ago. (Archbould Photography - image credit)

Annette King admits that even after nine years as Yukon's child and youth advocate, she still finds many people don't quite understand what she does.

"I think everywhere we go and every time we meet with a different group, or even an individual client or family that comes to our office, we have to explain our role," she said.

"And I do think over the last several years, people are getting a broader understanding of what we do, as there's more experiences with our office, more reports that we've released publicly."

The advocate office was created by territorial legislation passed in 2009. Written into the Child and Youth Advocate Act was a requirement for the all-party Members' Services Board to establish a process to review the act, within five years.

Fifteen years later, that review is underway.

King spoke to CBC's Yukon Morning host Elyn Jones about the review, and some of the recommendations she's making to update the legislation.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Who have you heard from so far, in this review?

We've been talking about this review in my whole term, which is now nine years. So we provide a little bit of input on what we've heard to date, each year in our annual report.

And so at the beginning, what we've really focused on was our experiences to date, so what we were hearing from the people accessing our services and the service providers that we'd be working with. And we'd be like, "OK, so if the act was amended, we'd want to really look at this or look at this."

And then we worked really closely with youth advisors. So we contracted youth advisory groups. We've had a few different iterations of youth leading the way to review our legislation. They created a youth-friendly version of the legislation so that it made a little bit more sense. We connected really closely with the territorial youth collective as the territorial youth strategy was being developed.

Then also we've stayed connected to service providers and First Nation governments throughout the years. Over the last year, I've been really targeting those conversations because I want to make sure that the First Nations governance, as it is intended to be, you know, in parallel to the Yukon government, that that is definitely represented in our legislation. And those conversations have been really deep and meaningful.

One of the things that you're asking for is a mechanism to review deaths of children. Why is that so important?

When this act came into place in 2009, it was a small little act. And I think that's partly why the review in five years was built into it, it was like, "let's just start here, let's really get things so that young people have a voice in government services, and then we'll look at building it from there."

Every other child advocate in the country — and there are 12 — have a child death review mandate. And so it's one of those questions that we've been asking over all of the years to anybody that we talked to about the legislation: how do you see that working?

And we've had some great conversations with the coroner and with the death review investigators across the country. We've really looked at what could be a model for the Yukon. And so that's kind of what we're trying to develop.

You're also calling for legal representation for children and youth, and better information-sharing. Tell us more about that.

So when a child needs legal representation, it's usually three different ways.

A youth over 12 that's been charged with a crime would need a lawyer for the criminal investigation. That is already in place really well, through legal aid — every young person who's been accused of a crime has access to legal representation there.

In family law, there's two areas that we want to make sure young people of all ages have legal representation to make sure their views and rights are upheld in court. And that is, if there's a court matter regarding the Child and Family Services Act — so their placement, or if their custody is being changed as a result of being in that system — we want to make sure young people are represented in that system. Our office can represent young people in the decision-making and in the case planning. But when it goes to court, we don't have a role. And we want to make sure that that happens.

And the other one is, we get so many calls regarding child custody matters and high-conflict custody matters where a parent will say, "my child needs a view in this process. How do I make sure that happens?" Our office isn't... we don't have child lawyers that go to court. We actually have a clause in our legislation now that says we can't interfere and impede with the court process. So we're trying to create that access for young people to have legal representation in those big matters where the adults have the, you know, the applicant, the respondent, the court decisions — but the child's voice matters in these things that impact their lives.

When will you be presenting your recommendations?

That's really up to the Legislative Assembly. I report to an all-party committee, so all three parties are represented on that. They've asked me to provide a submission to them of what we're recommending.

I provide recommendations to them every year, but this one will be more fulsome. And we're hoping that we do some more targeted interviews over the summer and get that to them as soon as possible.

I think we're at a point now where we've had so many conversations — and since I'm talking publicly, I want to thank everybody who's contributed. We've had even a sort of outline of what we're looking at on our website for the last several months. We just want to make sure we're getting it right, or that we're not missing other things. So we're continuing these conversations.

Over the last year, I've been doing most of them myself. Like, I just wanna hear it myself 'cause I've been so in this act — like I'm in it, right? And I know what's going on.

I've heard all the different stories and I'm putting them all together. And it's been a fascinating process. And I really hope that we'll be able to just advocate even more effectively for children in the Yukon.

Can people still have their say?

Absolutely. Yeah, this is not even close to done.

On our website, we've got it right on the home page. And also on our website there's an e-mail address that people can just click. We have Facebook, Instagram. Or they can just call our office and set up a time to chat.

I'm not huge into the surveys because like you said, what is this act? And unless you're in it, you don't really understand what the questions are. So what we've done is we've identified six areas of conversation, so six themes, and we've put like, one-pages on what our experiences are in that, and there's some key questions.

So if somebody's really into writing a survey-type of answer to that, we are thrilled to have that. We've already had a few. I find those are good guides to creating the conversation.

So, look at the themes and then call me and let's sit down and talk about it, if you have lots to say about it.