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The Ontario Child Advocate (Advocate’s Office) is an independent office of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Our work is guided by the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), including the principles of non-discrimination; adherence to the best interests of the child; the right of all children to life, survival and development; and the right of children to participate..

In 2007, the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Act established the Advocate’s Office. The Act states the purpose of the office is:

  • To provide an independent voice for children and youth, including First Nations children and those with special needs, by partnering with them to bring issues forward;

  • To encourage communication and understanding between children and their families and the people who provide them with services;

  • To educate children, youth and their caregivers regarding the rights of children and youth; and

  • To conduct investigations about matters concerning a child or group of children under the care of a children’s aid society (CAS) or a residential licensee where the CAS is the placing agency and make recommendations.

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 Advocate’s Office may undertake reviews, make recommendations, and provide advice to governments, facilities, systems, agencies, or service providers. The Advocate's Office also provides education and information on the issue of advocacy and the rights of children.

Guided by the principles of the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the right to be heard, the Advocate’s Office strives to be an exemplar of meaningful child and youth participation in every aspect of its work.

Individual rights advocacy – This is the foundation of our work. We answer thousands of calls, emails and messages each year from young people, their families, caregivers and other members of their support network. We meet with young people to listen to their concerns and let them know they have the right to work with an advocate from our office when they feel the system is not working for them.

Systemic advocacy – When we see patterns or trends emerging in the calls we receive, we may decide to take a closer look at an issue through systemic advocacy. “Systemic” refers to the review of government legislation and guidelines, agency policies and the practices of organizations as they provide services to children and youth. When conducting systemic advocacy, we bring together young people who have direct knowledge and experience with the issue to share their ideas and recommendations for change at the policy, funding or service delivery level.

Community development – As we work with children and youth across the province, we begin to see linkages between their issues and needs. We then create a space where young people can come together to dialogue, share their experiences and work together to map out possible solutions to the issues and gaps that need to be addressed to meet their needs. In this process, young people become powerful self-advocates for improving services and resources in their communities. As an office, we ensure young people have access to the tools, skills and resources they need to mobilize change for themselves and for young people in their communities.

Investigations – The Advocate’s Office can investigate complaints from anyone who has a concern about a child, or a group of children and youth, receiving or accessing services from a children’s aid society (CAS), or from a residential licensee where a CAS is the placing agency. When all other complaint processes have been exhausted, we can assess complaints to determine when an investigation is warranted and, if so, lead individual and systemic investigations into matters including child deaths and critical injuries.

In our work with children and youth, we apply a rights-based lens that places us squarely by their side as involved, respected partners. We are here to serve young people, and their views are at the heart of everything we do.

The children and youth we are mandated to serve include those who are seeking or receiving services from the children’s services sector. Most of our work falls into one or more of the following mandate areas:

Child welfare – working alongside children who come into contact with Ontario’s children’s aid societies or child and family service agencies to ensure their safety and improve the quality of their lives in care.

First Nations – ensuring First Nations children and youth have equitable access to services and resources in Ontario.

Children’s mental health services – working with young people to ensure they are active participants in decisions tied to the delivery of mental health services and supports they may need.

Youth justice – partnering with young people to help them understand their rights in the justice system and ensure they receive effective and responsive care, support and treatment.

Special needs – elevating the voices of children and youth with disabilities to ensure their voices are heard, so they can participate fully in their communities and enjoy the same access to services, supports and resources as children without disabilities.

Provincial and Demonstration Schools – supporting child and youth attending Ontario’s schools for the Deaf, Blind and Deaf/Blind and severely learning disabled.

Holding cells – providing advocacy to youth who are being held in or transported to and from police and court holding cells.

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