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‘I’ve seen a lot of children who were put at risk,’ said Andy Nieman, who was Yukon’s Child and Youth Advocate from 2009 to 2015. (CBC)

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Yukon’s former Child and Youth Advocate says the situation facing the territorial government on child protection is serious, and needs immediate attention.

Andy Nieman was the territory’s first child advocate, from 2009 to 2015. He’s been watching in recent weeks as both youth and government whistleblowers have publicly come forward to allege mistreatment in government-run youth group homes . Other whistleblowers have said there’s a failure when it comes to the issue of larger child protection.

Nieman is doubtful that an independent review by the current Child and Youth Advocate will lead to any significant change, not because of any ineptitude or indifference on the current advocate’s behalf, but because of the weakness in the legislation that governs the office. Young people speak out about violence, mistreatment at Yukon group homes

He says when he was in the role, many children came to his office asking to be taken into care.

"They’ve come to the office, and said, ‘you know, my home is not safe, I don’t feel safe there, there’s a lot of drinking, partying and all this. I’d rather be in care so I can go to school and get my needs met,’" Nieman explained.

"But then it comes back down again to the social worker, saying, ‘well, I don’t really deem that as being unsafe’ — so there’s too much of the decision left at the discretion of the social worker. So that area of the [Child and Family Services] Act needs to be fine-tuned."

Nieman says in one case, a teenage girl was pleading to be taken into care. He said his office advocated for her, but the Family and Children’s Services would not take her in.

"Simply would not. That young female wound up attempting suicide and wound up at the hospital … and it wasn’t until after that, that they finally put her into care. So that’s not an isolated incident, it’s happened before, a number of times, yeah. So that’s my experience as a child and youth advocate."

Nieman says the Child and Family Services Act needs to be "fine-tuned," and he suggests a point system for determining when a child should be taken into care. Yukon group home staff ‘burnt-out’ and often working alone, says former worker

"That way, it’s not left up to the discretion of the social worker to say, ‘that’s safe, that’s not safe.’ There needs to be a benchmark standard," he said.

"I’ve seen a lot of children who were put at risk, and simply I was not able to make that decision for them." ‘You’re putting the child at risk’

Nieman has deep concerns if youth have been locked out of group homes in winter or told to leave a group home, with nowhere else to go.

"If that’s what has happened, those are the facts, then that’s illegal and unethical. You’re putting the child at risk. Because you have to treat those children….as if they were your own. And this is their home."

Nieman says if a youth is drunk or disruptive, workers must provide alternative arrangements for their care, such as calling the RCMP."You don’t just close the door and say, ‘see ya later.’"Nieman says ultimately it’s up to senior government officials, including the social services minister, to "act and get to the bottom of it.""If children are under my care, then I need to look at what action is needed immediately because as long as I’m blaming others, blaming this, blaming that, then nothing […]

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