PROTECTING OUR CHILDREN

At the heart of the Law Commission's report is a concern for the safety and well being of Canadian children, especially those who have suffered from institutional abuse as well as those who run a high risk of entering institutional care at some point during their vulnerable years. The Commission stresses the importance of preventing child victimization, and proposes strategies such as public education programs and child-sensitive protocols that may help prevent future abuse of children. The Government of Canada fully shares this commitment.

A Strong Commitment to Canada's Children

The Government is committed to the well-being of Canada's children and youth. As a result, it has undertaken, often in partnership with provincial and territorial governments, a number of child- and family-oriented initiatives to work towards the goal of ensuring that children have the best opportunity to develop their potential. Many of these initiatives focus on the needs of children and families at risk, combining prevention measures with elements of intervention, education and information. Together, these initiatives help decrease the number of children who are at risk of entering institutional care later in life.

The values and principles at the heart of these prevention strategies affirm the developmental needs and well being of children, and make the best interests of the child their primary consideration. This child-centred approach is consistent with the Law Commission's recommendation that prevention strategies and frameworks should be built on the values and principles contained in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Moreover, the Government introduced in March 2001 Bill C-15, the Criminal Law Amendment Act, to better protect children from sexual exploitation. This legislation modernizes the existing child pornography Criminal Code offences to respond effectively to new technologies. People who prey on the vulnerabilities of children will not be allowed to hide in the anonymous forum of the Internet. These amendments also fulfill Canada's commitment to the United Nations to make it a crime to export child pornography.

Current Initiatives for Children and Youth

The Government of Canada shares the Law Commission's belief in the importance of public education programs, protocols and other strategies for the prevention of child abuse. Working with our provincial and territorial partners, we have put into place a number of initiatives that help achieve these objective.

Healthy Development

The Government of Canada recognizes that the early years are critical for childhood development, that they lay the basis for a child's physical, emotional, social and intellectual health later in life. The Speech from the Throne reinforces this recognition by making a commitment to securing a good start in life for children, with a particular commitment made to helping secure a better future for Aboriginal children. The Government states its intention to work with First Nations to improve and expand the early childhood development programs and services available in their communities.

To date, the Government has taken a number of preventive measures to promote a healthy start that will help keep all children safe from potentially dangerous situations later on.

The National Children's Agenda (NCA) is a federal-provincial-territorial initiative with a central focus on early childhood development, based on the firm belief that a healthy start in the first years of childhood is a strong foundation for a better life. As a first step in the development of the NCA, the federal, territorial and provincial governments (with the exception of Quebec) articulated a shared vision for children, based on four goals: that children may be physically and emotionally healthy; successful at learning; socially engaged and responsible; and safe and secure. The NCA also promotes measures to improve protection from abuse, neglect, exploitation and dangerous environments which are key to ensuring the safety and security of children, with an emphasis on prevention.

On September 11, 2000, after identifying early childhood development as a priority under the NCA, federal, provincial and territorial governments concluded an Early Childhood Development agreement. With a total federal government investment of $2.2 billion over five years, starting in 2001, provincial and territorial governments will use this increased funding to promote healthy pregnancy, birth and infancy; improve parenting and family supports; strengthen early childhood development, learning and care; and strengthen community supports. In this manner, we can help children achieve their fullest potential and families can support their children within strong communities.

Also part of the NCA initiative is the October 5, 2000, announcement by the Government of Canada of the creation of five Centres of Excellence for Children's Well Being ($20 million over five years). As part of the federal contribution to the NCA, the centres' mandate is to enhance our understanding of, and responsiveness to, the physical and mental health needs of children and youth, and the critical factors for their healthy development. Each Centre of Excellence will address an issue of national significance (e.g. services delivered through the child welfare system) by identifying and linking together expertise, from parents, community groups, non-governmental organizations, service providers and researchers. The practical result of the Centres' work will be the production of information that can be used by all those who work with children.

Health Canada has implemented a number of initiatives aimed at, among other things, keeping children with their families, wherever appropriate, and out of institutional care. The services offered under the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program community-based projects, funded by Health Canada ($37.7 million per year) and co-managed with the provinces and territories, contribute to the healthy development of children and positive parenting skills. As well, young Aboriginal children and their families in urban and northern communities, including children living in First Nations communities on reserve, are provided with an early intervention program under the federally funded ($47.5 million per year) Aboriginal Head Start Program. This initiative provides critical development services to young Aboriginal children in their formative years by meeting their social, health, nutritional and psychological needs.

In the Speech from the Throne, the Government made a commitment to significantly expand the Aboriginal Head Start Program to better prepare more Aboriginal children for school and help those with special needs. The Government will also co-operate with Aboriginal communities, provinces and territories on the measures required to reduce the number of Aboriginal newborns affected by fetal alcohol syndrome.

The First Nations and Inuit component of the Brighter Futures Initiative ($50 million per year) provides funds for mental health and child development initiatives. These include ongoing support and assistance in running children's programs that are based, designed and implemented in the community. The program incorporates elements that may help redress some of the damage caused by the legacy of residential schools. It also promotes optimal health and social development for young children by supporting early childhood development opportunities such as after-school reinforcement.

Health Canada's Community Action Program for Children ($52.9 million per year) complements these initiatives by providing long-term funding to community groups to establish and deliver services that respond to the developmental needs of children from birth to six years of age who are living in conditions of risk, including those who are abused and neglected.

Dealing with Family Violence

The Family Violence Initiative, with the participation of 13 federal departments ($7 million per year), strives to reduce the incidence of family violence, including child abuse. It stresses prevention based on better public education and awareness of the problem, as well as supporting research to identify effective community intervention. Overall, the Family Violence Initiative enables the Government of Canada to provide coordinated and strategic policies and programs on family violence issues that also include institutional child abuse.

The development of knowledge and the dissemination of information to professionals working in the health, social service, education and criminal justice systems are crucial to the task of identifying and preventing child abuse. The National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, which operates on behalf of all federal government departments participating in the family Violence Initiative and located within Health Canada, is a national resource centre that collects, synthesises and disseminates information about the nature of various forms of family violence, child abuse (including institutional child abuse) and best practices to prevent the problem. Its resources are made available to practitioners and the general public at National Clearinghouse on Family Violence .

As a member of the Family Violence Initiative, the Department of Justice funds projects on child sexual abuse and conducts research to acquire a better understanding of this issue. These activities help inform the development of Justice Canada's legislation, policy and programs. As well, the Department has produced publications such as The Secret of the Silver Horse, a storybook that encourages children to inform someone if they are being sexually abused.

Research and Information for Prevention

In addition to the research and education components contributing to the prevention goals of the above-mentioned initiatives, Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) undertakes research and makes information available on the effectiveness of systemic responses to child abuse and neglect. Data analysis from this research will enable policy makers to develop more effective child welfare policies and programs.

Another HRDC initiative develops information products on child welfare. These products are meant to inform researchers, raise public awareness of child abuse, and assist service providers in program and policy development. They also provide public access to a centralised clearinghouse for information and statistics related to child protection services and programs. This information can be found at www.hrdc-drhc.gc.ca/socpol/home.shtml.

Acquiring a better understanding of the nature and extent of child abuse and neglect in Canada is a key goal of Health Canada's Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect. The main objectives of the study are to develop information on and monitor trends in the reporting of abuse and neglect, to improve our understanding of the forms and severity of abuse, to assist in the targeting of resources for children at risk of abuse, and to collect information to help develop programs and policies for these children. The information gathered from the study will be used to increase public awareness of the problem, to inform professionals working in the field, to strengthen understanding and knowledge of child abuse, and to help set priorities for prevention and intervention. It is important to note that the study is based on close working relationships with the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, including native and non-governmental organizations.

Youth at risk, including those who have been in the care of child welfare authorities, also receive support through the federal government's Crime Prevention Partnership Program. This program has helped the National Youth in Care Network develop "Tools for Change", a project that provides youths in and from child welfare care with the information and tools they need to make positive changes in their lives. This resource kit, developed by youths who have themselves been in the care of child welfare authorities, also provides useful information for volunteers and professionals in the field.

Addressing Crime and Victimization

The National Strategy on Community Safety and Crime Prevention initiative ($32 million per year), under the auspices of the Department of Justice Canada and the Solicitor General of Canada, also contributes to the intervention and prevention of child abuse in institutional and domestic settings. It promotes a balanced approach to reducing crime and victimization by focusing primarily on crime prevention through social development and on the risk factors which contribute to crime and victimization, including child abuse and neglect. The Strategy's top four priorities are children, youth, women's personal security and Aboriginal communities.

The Strategy supports efforts to design and implement solutions to prevent crime and victimization. In this way, it can support Aboriginal communities to find community-driven approaches to prevent crime and victimization, for example, communities recovering from the legacy of residential schools that wish to implement preventive approaches. The National Crime Prevention Centre of Justice Canada, which is implementing the Strategy, actively explores opportunities to collaborate on these and other projects, seeking ways to help its partners prevent child abuse and neglect.

The Kwanlin Dun First Nations Healthy Families Program is a good example of projects that provide measures for protecting children and preventing harm, helping to prevent later involvement in the criminal justice system. This program was developed by the Kwanlin Dun First Nations community and focuses on children up to six years of age who have witnessed violence in the home. Parents participating in the program are provided with culturally appropriate support to reduce the incidence of child abuse or neglect, and domestic violence. The project emphasises the development of practical skills for parents, including primary infant care, access to information, referral to existing programs and services, and strengthening the network of support around the infant and the parents.

Screening of People Working with Children

Protecting our children obliges us to impose the highest standards on those who have contact with them through their work or through volunteer activities. Volunteer screening is an important tool in striving towards this goal. To this end, the Government of Canada supports the work of non-governmental organizations that work diligently and expertly to protect children.

In 1994, the Department of the Solicitor General developed and implemented a National Screening System in consultation with provincial and territorial governments and organizations responsible for the care and protection of children. This system screens prospective volunteers and employees who wish to work with children in positions of authority. It includes the use of criminal record checks conducted by the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) and can also help organizations screen out known convicted sex offenders.

The protection of children from dangerous persons seeking to work with them was the focus of recent amendments to the Criminal Records Act. The new provisions, which came into force on August 1, 2000, enhance the ability of police to thoroughly explore the criminal background of such persons. Police can now flag the records of pardoned sex offenders on the CPIC registry to allow the unsealing of such records in regard to applications for child-sensitive positions. This makes the screening process more reliable and better protects communities from convicted sex offenders.

Voluntary organizations that carefully screen people in positions of trust can significantly reduce the possibility that harm will come to those in their care. The Departments of the Solicitor General and Justice have provided funding to Volunteer Canada, an organization devoted to promoting volunteerism, for its National Education Campaign on Screening. The campaign provides organizations with strategies on how to screen out sexual abusers from occupying staff positions of trust or authority over children.

The National Education Campaign also includes the Safe Steps Volunteer Screening Program. Safe Steps focuses on the development of screening resources and the creation of a network of trainers to deliver screening workshops across Canada. Materials such as handbooks, videos and training curricula are also available to the voluntary organizations.

Overall, the National Education Campaign on Screening promotes a proactive way to deal with the problem of violence against children and the vulnerable, as well as helping protect them from potential abuse. The Department of Justice and the Solicitor General will continue to provide support for the National Education Campaign on Screening for its public education initiative and to encourage screening at the provincial level.

International Action

The Government of Canada's efforts to prevent and protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation extend beyond our borders.

The protection of children was a key consideration when Canada signed the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, in December 2000. The Protocol defines the offence of 'trafficking in persons' and requires State parties to criminalize this heinous activity. As well, it provides for international information exchange and co-operation among State parties concerning the problem, including a requirement to provide training for law enforcement personnel which takes into account child- and gender-sensitive issues. Finally, the Protocol contains provisions relating to victim and witness assistance and protection.

Canada is now actively involved in the planning of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children which will take place between September 19-21, 2001 in New York to review the achievement of the goals of the 1990 World Summit for Children, as well as to agree on new commitments and a new "global agenda" for the next decade. Complex issues related to the survival, development and protection of children will be addressed.

We are also consulting with our provincial and territorial partners to review the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, adopted on May 25, 2000 by the United Nations General Assembly, with a view to enabling Canada to sign the instrument in the near future. Once ratified, the Optional Protocol will require parties to ensure that the offences of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography are addressed under domestic criminal or penal law. The Protocol further provides for protective rehabilitative measures for child victims, as well as public and professional information, education and training about these practices.

Our commitment to better protect children from sexual exploitation has recently been demonstrated by the introduction on March 14, 2001 of Bill C-15, the Criminal Law Amendment Act. Among other things, this legislation modernizes the existing child pornography Criminal Code offences to respond effectively to new technologies such as the Internet. Exporting child pornography using these means will no longer go unsanctioned.

With the introduction of Bill C-15, we have already taken steps to fulfill the child pornography obligations of the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. By adhering to the remaining standards of the Protocol, Canada will continue to clearly demonstrate its commitment towards children at the international level.

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