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Frequently Asked Questions

ABOUT THE ONTARIO CHILD ADVOCATE

1. What is the Ontario Child Advocate?

The Ontario Child Advocate (the Advocate's Office) is an independent voice for Ontario's children and youth who are either “in care” or on the margins of government care in the following areas of its mandate: 

  • Child welfare
  • Youth in custody or detention in the youth justice system
  • Children's mental health services
  • Students of provincial and demonstration schools
  • First Nations children and youth
  • Children and youth with special needs
  • Youth in police or court holding cells or being transported to and from court holding cells 

Reporting directly to the Legislature of Ontario, the Ontario Child Advocate partners with children and youth to elevate their voices and promote action on their issues. 

Advocacy, as outlined in the Act, is defined as "promoting the views and preferences of children and youth." This means that Advocates take instructions directly from the young person (unless they are deemed incapable). 

In response to a request, a complaint, or on its own initiative, the Ontario Child Advocate acts on behalf of concerns of individuals or groups of children or youth and can undertake reviews, make recommendations, and provide advice to governments, facilities, systems, agencies, or service providers. 

The Ontario Child Advocate can also investigate (individual and systemic) complaints concerning a child or a group of children receiving services from a children’s aid society (CAS) or a residential licensee where a CAS is the placing agency, and make recommendations to improve services.

2. What is the purpose of the Ontario Child Advocate?

As outlined in its Act, the role of the Ontario Child Advocate is: 

  • To provide an independent voice for children and youth, including First Nations children and youth and children with special needs, by partnering with them to bring issues forward; 
  • To encourage communication and understanding between children and families and those who provide them with services under the province’s care systems; 
  • To educate children, youth and their caregivers regarding the rights of children and youth; and 
  • Investigate (individual and systemic) complaints concerning a child or group of children under the care of the CAS or a residential licensee whereby the CAS is the placing agency.

3. What is advocacy, and what does it look like?

Advocacy, as defined under the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Act, 2007, means “promoting the views and preferences of children and youth,” and “partnering with them to bring [their] issues forward.”

This means that, when working with a young person, advocates will take instructions directly from the young person when identifying an issue, and will work with them to promote action on their issues.

4. Who is the Advocate?

In October 2007, the Advocate's Office was established with the passage of Bill 165 by the Legislature of Ontario. On July 14, 2008, an all-party panel of the Legislature appointed Irwin Elman for a five-year term to provide leadership to the new Office – the first of its kind in Ontario. Elman was later re-appointed for a second five-year term in office. 

Prior to becoming the Advocate, Irwin was the Manager of the Pape Adolescent Resource Centre in Toronto (PARC) for more than 20 years. Later, he served as the Director of Client Service at Central Toronto Youth Services, an innovative children’s mental health centre. 

M. Elman is the current Chair of the Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates (CCCYA) – an alliance of ten, provincially-appointed children's advocates from across the country.

M. Elman has a Masters of Education and a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Arts Degree (Honours) from Carleton University. He currently resides in Toronto, Ontario with his wife and two young sons.

5. How are the Advocate's powers different from the Ombudsman's?

The Advocate and the Ombudsman are both independent Officers of the Legislature.  

The Ombudsman’s role is to investigate public complaints made against government services and to identify systemic issues. The Ombudsman’s powers will now be expanded to include municipalities, universities and school boards. 

As outlined in the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Act, 2007, the  Advocate’s role is to advocate on behalf of all children and youth who currently receive or are trying to access government services in the province’s care system. 

The Advocate’s Office can also conduct investigations and make recommendations to improve children’s aid society services and services provided by residential licensees where a children’s aid society is the placing agency. We are committed to carrying out fair, thorough and transparent investigations with the goal of ensuring young people feel heard, empowered and protected.

Contacting the Ontario Child Advocate for advocacy services

1. Who can contact the Ontario Child Advocate for advocacy services?

Any child or youth who is currently seeking or receiving services from the province’s care systems has a right to contact the Advocate’s Office. 

This includes children and youth seeking or receiving services in some way from the: 

  • Child welfare system
  • Children and youth involved in some way with a children’s aid society
  • Youth justice system (children and youth in conflict with the law or at risk of being in conflict with the law)
  • Children’s mental health system

 Under our Act, Advocates also receive and respond to concerns from: 

  • Children and youth with “special needs,” as defined under the Child and Family Services Act
  • First Nations children and youth
  • Students of Ontario’s Provincial Schools, Demonstration Schools, and Schools for the Deaf, Blind and Deaf/Blind.

If you are a child or youth with a concern about your experiences with a service provider or feel that your rights may have been violated, or you need information on how to access a service in the province’s care systems, please call the Advocate’s Office at: 416-325-5669 or 1-800-263-2814 (toll-free).

2. How do I know if I should contact the Office for advocacy services?

As a young person, you can always contact the Advocate’s Office. Whether you have a question about your rights, an issue or concern about how you are being treated, or you are unsure or disagree with a decision being made about your care, you may contact the Office.  We may be able to help or refer you to the appropriate parties or resource.

If we are able to help or assist you, here is what you can expect.

3. How long will it take before I hear back from the Advocate’s Office?

If you are a young person, we are committed to responding to your call or inquiry within 24 hours or during the next weekday.

We cannot provide immediate crisis response. If you need someone to talk to right away and our office is closed, you have options: 

Kids Help Phone is for young people 18 and under: 1-800-668-6868 

If you are over 18, call 311 and ask to be directed to the crisis line in your community.

4. I am a youth with a concern. Will contacting the Advocate’s Office get me into trouble or lead to a withdrawal of services or care?

Under the law, every child or youth seeking or receiving services under the Child and Family Services Act, 1990, must be informed about the Advocate’s Office. They also have the legal right to speak privately, and without delay, with an advocate about their experience and any concerns they may have with the province’s care systems. 

If you are concerned about getting in trouble for calling the Advocate’s Office, or experience retaliation for doing so, it is important to alert an Advocate.

5. Can a parent, caregiver or another adult call the Office with a concern about a child?

If you are an adult with a concern about a child or youth who is seeking or receiving services from the province’s care systems, you can contact the Advocate’s Office. 

It is important to understand that the Advocate’s Office takes a client-directed, rights-based approach to advocacy. This means that Advocates take instructions directly from the young person. Therefore, it is critical that Advocates hear directly from the young person about their concerns and work with them to promote action on their issue.

6. Can a friend or family member accompany me to meet with an advocate?

You are always welcome to bring a trusted person with you to meet with an Advocate or to have someone with you on the phone call.

7. Do I need to disclose my name and other personal information?

When speaking with an Advocate, you will be asked to share your name and other personal information. This information is necessary so the Advocate can address your complaint. This information will not be shared or disclosed without your consent. If you wish to remain anonymous, you may choose to do so, but this may limit our ability to act on your behalf.

CONTACTING THE ONTARIO CHILD ADVOCATE FOR INVESTIGATIONS

1. What are the investigative powers granted to the Ontario Child Advocate?

The Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014 was introduced by the provincial government and passed into law in December 2014. Among other legislative changes, this expanded the Ontario Child Advocate’s mandate to “conduct investigations and make recommendations to improve children’s aid society services and services provided by residential licensees where a children’s aid society is the placing agency.” This does not permit the Office to investigate other areas of its mandate (e.g. youth justice, children’s mental health etc.).

Following the completion of each investigation, the Office will publish a public report outlining its findings and recommendations to improve children’s aid society services in order to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children in care. 

We are committed to carrying out fair, thorough and transparent investigations with the goal of ensuring young people feel heard, empowered and protected.

2. Who can contact the Ontario Child Advocate for an investigation?

Anyone who has a concern about a child or a group of children receiving services from a children’s aid society, or about a children’s residence where the young person has been placed by a children’s aid society, may request an investigation if the issue remains unresolved after existing complaint procedures have been exhausted. Examples of such complaint procedures include: 

  • For Children’s Aid Societies:
    • The internal complaints process at their local Children’s Aid Society OR the Child and Family Services Review Board 
  • For children’s residences:
    • The internal complaints process at the children’s residence OR the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.
    • Once you have attempted to resolve the issue through existing complaint procedures, you may be able to request an investigation from the Investigative Unit.

3. How do I know if I should contact the Investigative Unit?

Anyone who has a concern about a child or a group of children receiving services from a children’s aid society, or about a children’s residence where the young person has been placed by a Children’s Aid Society, may request an investigation if, after existing complaint procedures have been exhausted, the issue remains unresolved. 

If you are a child or youth, an Advocate will work with you to raise your complaint with the existing internal complaints processes. They will work with you to determine the best course of action and support you at every stage. Please call the Office at: 1-800-263-2841 (toll-free) or 416-325-5669. 

If you are an adult, staff at the Investigative Unit will assist all adult callers in submitting documentation for complaint systems. 

It is important to understand that the Office’s investigative powers could be invoked by concerned individuals once all other complaint procedures have been exhausted. This means that a matter that is eligible for review by an existing complaints process (e.g. through the local CAS’s internal complaint process or the Child and Family Services Review Board (CFSRB), or through the internal complaints process at the children’s residence or the Ministry of Children and Youth Services) must be resolved through those means first. In some areas, a decision made by the CFSRB is binding. 

Please call the Office’s main number at 1-800-263-2841 (toll-free) or 416-325-5669 and we will direct your call to the most appropriate area to discuss your individual concern.

4. What does the Investigative Unit mean for children in care?

The Investigative Unit exists to help and promote the best interests and well-being of children. 

The Ontario Child Advocate has the authority to investigate any matter concerning a child or group of children about the services they receive from a Children’s Aid Society or a residential licensee where a CAS is the placing agency. This includes systemic investigations into child deaths. Following the investigation, the Office will release a public report that may identify systemic recommendations that will lead to better outcomes for all children or youth in care.

5. What kind of investigations could come to the Office’s attention?

Any individual or systemic matter concerning a child or group of children under the care of a CAS or a residential licensee where a CAS is the placing agency can be brought to the Office’s attention.

Investigations by the Ontario Child Advocate can only be initiated as a “last resort.” An individual must exhaust all other complaint procedures before a request for an investigation can be made (see question 3 “How do I know if I should contact the Investigative Unit?” above).

6. Can the public access a copy of the investigations report?

Following the completion of each investigation, the Ontario Child Advocate will release a public report (available on the Office’s website) summarizing its findings and recommendations to improve Children’s Aid Society services.