Monday 16 May 1994

Children at risk

Ontario Coalition for Children and Youth

Zenia Wadhwani, project coordinator

Chung Tang, assistant project coordinator

Louise Sas


*Chair / Président: Beer, Charles (York-Mackenzie L)

*Vice-Chair / Vice-Président: Eddy, Ron (Brant-Haldimand L)

Carter, Jenny (Peterborough ND)

Cunningham, Dianne (London North/-Nord PC)

*Hope, Randy R. (Chatham-Kent ND)

*Martin, Tony (Sault Ste Marie ND)

McGuinty, Dalton (Ottawa South/-Sud L)

*O'Connor, Larry (Durham-York ND)

*O'Neill, Yvonne (Ottawa-Rideau L)

Owens, Stephen (Scarborough Centre ND)

*Rizzo, Tony (Oakwood ND)

Wilson, Jim (Simcoe West/-Ouest PC)

*In attendance / présents

Substitutions present/ Membres remplaçants présents:

Jackson, Cameron (Burlington South/-Sud PC) for Mr Jim Wilson

Murdock, Sharon (Sudbury ND) for Ms Carter

Clerk / Greffier: Arnott, Doug

Staff / Personnel: Boucher, Joanne, research officer, Legislative Research Service

The committee met at 1628 in room 228.


Consideration of a matter designated pursuant to standing order 125 relating to children "at risk."

The Chair (Mr Charles Beer): Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. The standing committee on social development is in session, dealing with standing order 125, a designated matter referred to us regarding children at risk. I will read the charge to the committee:

"That the committee meet for a period of 12 hours to investigate protection of children, specifically those at risk. The hearings would focus on the population of children at risk, the services available to them and their families and recommendations to improve the continuum of services from preventive programs to agencies of last resort. By `children at risk,' the committee means children in need of protection under the Child and Family Services Act, children affected by inadequate living conditions and child poverty and children suffering physical and sexual abuse."

Before we go to any opening comments members would like to make, and I'll call first on Ms O'Neill who brought this standing order 125 to the committee, I'll note that we will be hearing from the Ontario Coalition for Children and Youth and from Dr Louise Sas. We may also have to go up at various points to vote. They may work it out and have a stacked vote at 5:45, but at the moment we would be going up at 5 o'clock for a vote. With that, I turn to Ms O'Neill, if you would just start us off and set out the reasons for these hearings.

Mrs Yvonne O'Neill (Ottawa-Rideau): This set of hearings has been a long time in coming, it seems to me. I am very happy that we are to begin today.

It's often said that our children are our best hope for the future. Many of today's children, however, face challenges in their daily lives which put their future, and thus our future, at risk. More and more, we hear disturbing statistics: There are serious shortages of mental health services for children; one in six children in Ontario live in poverty; 40% of those who are part of the social assistance system are children; three quarters of the food given out by food banks in the greater Toronto area goes to families with children; suicide and homicide rates are three to four times higher for children living in poverty than children from high-income homes; child abuse continues to present itself as a serious social problem; last summer there were 10,000 homeless young people in Metro Toronto; wards of the children's aid society are found to experience significant delays in their progression through their school life; finally, children who are environmentally disadvantaged in one sociodemographic area are at a great risk of being disadvantaged in another.

Although these disturbing facts go on and on, they have very limited official response. Efforts to help are often ad hoc, depend heavily on volunteers, and struggle to survive. Throughout 1993 and on into 1994, there have been significant cuts, and indeed goals continue to be presented that would decrease government funding to a wide variety of children's services. Because of these cutbacks, children's protection agencies such as children's aid societies and children's mental health centres have been forced to make very difficult choices which may further jeopardize the care and rehabilitation of children who are already in high-risk situations.

Many of Ontario's young people are living in desperate conditions. They cannot focus on their education or their prospects for the future. If you are homeless and young, you can't find a job because you don't have an address. You're often caught in a bewildering maze of inadequate services which you can't access because you are either too young or too old. You can't access training programs because the waiting lists are too long. And if you are a member of a minority, if you have a disability, if you are a refugee or indeed if you are a youth with AIDS, the "can't" list is even longer.

We as a province and as legislators must address these issues and we have chosen to do so by inviting people who are experts in this field to share with us their perception of the extent of the problem and to present possible short- and long-term solutions.

This is a complex problem and it won't be solved by a simplistic Band-Aid response. The solutions will only emerge from a coordinated approach which includes all of those with a stake in the healthy development of the next generation, and that means most of us, you and I.

Government cannot and should not be the sole decision-maker in terms of what those solutions must be. We must encourage children and youth -- and today we're doing that -- and their families and their community agencies, recreation and service clubs, schools and businesses, to work together in an integrated way to develop creative solutions to make lives better.

If I might quote from the report of the Premier's Council on Health, Wellbeing and Social Justice, Yours, Mine and Ours, just recently presented:

"We have designed most of our services to kick in when problems become apparent. We have mainly invested in crisis care or aftercare...this kind of intervention is having little impact on improving the overall healthy development of the child and youth population of Ontario. It tends to stigmatize those who receive care. It is also very expensive."

As the report goes on to say, "Our society cannot afford to lose the generation growing up now or the children who will be born tomorrow. The prosperity and social stability of society depend on its ability to pass on to new generations the responsibilities of adulthood."

All children and youth must be valued for who they are now as well as who they will become as adults. Parents and those who take on parental responsibilities have the primary role in raising healthy children and youth. They must be supported by their communities in that role. I trust our work in this committee will complement their efforts.

Mr Cameron Jackson (Burlington South): I simply wish to state that my colleague Ms O'Neill has summed up, I believe on behalf of all committee members, our interest in and support for the time we will spend on this issue. I also understand that by yielding my time I will free up additional time for presentations that were unable to make our short list. So I endorse everything that has been said as an opening statement, which I believe could be embraced by all three political parties here, and I look forward to listening, learning and contributing to the process of reform in this critical area.

Mr Randy R. Hope (Chatham-Kent): As we look at the problem of children at risk, and I know a number of us through our own communities and in government try to deal with problems in our communities, it's important that we as legislators understand where community groups are coming from but also to reorganize ourselves from a community point of view in order to prevent having children at risk. I look forward, along with Mr Jackson, to listening to the people from the community. I thought it was a very good report from the Premier's Council, to try to address some issues dealing with children. I look forward to the presentations that will be made here today and to the 12 hours allotted to this process, to hear what the communities have to say and how we can take more proactive approaches in solving our problems instead of bickering about them.


The Chair: With that, we'll call our first presenters, from the Ontario Coalition for Children and Youth. I just ask Mr Hope if members of the committee could have copies of that children's services document. It would be useful background.

Welcome to the committee. If you would be good enough to introduce yourselves not only to the committee members but also for the purposes of Hansard, please go ahead with your presentation. Let me say that we have an hour. We may get called away to vote at 5, we may not, but if the bells start ringing, don't take it personally. It just means we have to go up and vote and then we'll come back and continue with your presentation.

Ms Zenia Wadhwani: My name is Zenia Wadhwani and this is my assistant Chung Tang. We're both with the Ontario Coalition for Children and Youth, and we're here to talk to you today about what we call the Young Voices Report. This was commissioned by the Premier's Council on Health, Wellbeing and Social Justice.

Mr Chung Tang: I thought I'd start by talking a little about the coalition. The coalition's mandate is to ensure that the voices of children and youth are heard by policymakers, a community development approach to build involvement from the bottom up, and youth led and supported by a number of individuals and organizations. The coalition is also committed to developing and supporting the leadership and participation skills of children and youth.

Our purpose is to empower children and youth to have a direct voice in decision-making on issues that concern and affect them, and to promote the rights of children and youth and their entitlement to healthy development as a matter of highest priority for public policies, programs and resources.

Ms Wadhwani: Basically, we went around Ontario to speak to children and youth about their issues and their concerns. We spoke to children as young as two years of age. How we classified "children" and "youth" is that those under the age of 12 were considered children and those 13 and above were considered youths.

When we were speaking to children, it was difficult to ask them, "What are your issues and what are your concerns?" so instead we asked them to illustrate for us their issues and concerns. So we asked them to draw what makes you happy, what makes you sad, what scares you, and we got a variety of responses and it worked very well for us. After their illustrations, we also discussed with them what they liked and what they didn't like, and we asked them questions like: "Suppose you were the genie from Aladdin. What one wish would you grant yourself or would you give to the world?" This made it really easy for us to talk to the children.


When we spoke to youth, we had a little more formalized structure. We were in discussion groups, little rap sessions, and we asked them what their issues and concerns were, what they thought were possible recommendations for those issues, what they thought was the definition of a healthy child or youth and if they thought that children and youth needed to have their voices heard in the community and, if they did, how they should have their voices heard.

We had a total of 21 sessions and we tried to cover a diversity of children and youth as much as we could, so we spoke to children and youth of different races, of different socioeconomic status, different sexual orientations, disability and geographics.

Mr Tang: The issues that we covered included education, careers and employment, social relationships and health, racism and discrimination, violence, global perspective, housing, recreation and transportation. Now, within those issues, for example on the education system, children and youth talked about the need to diversify our curriculum in terms of addressing the achievements made by aboriginals, by different racial minorities and ethnic groups. They talked about the lack of understanding on the teacher's part in terms of understanding their different races, in terms of understanding their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, varying religious backgrounds.

In terms of peer pressure, some of the children and youth talked about the pressures in doing drugs, alcohol, smoking, dressing to fit in, in terms of looking like you belong to a specific group.

In terms of recreational facilities, we talked to children and youth in the rural areas, such as Niagara Falls, and they talked about the need to have a community centre; that they just hang out in laundromats, on street corners.

In terms of transportation, we talked to children and youth with disabilities and they talked about the fact that, for example, school buses are not constructed to specifically meet their needs; therefore, when they actually have to sit in the buses it's very uncomfortable.

In terms of the education system, they talked about the fact that what they're learning at school is too theoretical, that they're not learning practical skills which will prepare them for the work world.

Ms Wadhwani: To give you an idea of some of the anecdotes that we heard from the mouths of babes, I personally heard from nine-year-old girls in the Islington area who told me about their fear of rape. I spoke to a group of 10- and 12-year-olds in Thunder Bay who expressed to me that they were all sexually active at that age, that they knew about condoms and sexual activity. When I asked them right after that whether they smoked, they looked at me like I had asked them the most stupid question in the world, because they said: "Of course. Everybody smokes. We all smoke."

Other things we heard were, for example, through illustrations, when we were asking some of the kids to draw for us what scared them. I had a young boy draw for me two stick figures -- one was larger than the other -- and the blurb above the smaller character read, "Please don't fight me." I didn't need to ask him anything more; I could see the fear within his eyes. He was experiencing it. This boy couldn't have been more than nine years old. I asked a young girl who was about seven about what she didn't like and what she liked, and when I asked her what she didn't like, she replied, "Myself," which gave me a very good indication about her self-esteem and possibly about the self-esteem and lack of confidence of a number of children and youth in Ontario today.

As a result of the report, we came up with four recommendations. The four main ones are, first, that we need to have a provincial network, a provincial conference for children and youth to come together to express their ideas so they may be able to communicate with each other and help each other. If they've got a provincial problem, they can work on it together. If they've got individual problems, perhaps they can help each other out in a peer mentorship program.

We also asked for a change within the education system, and that's everything from teacher training to the curriculum to the structure of the school.

We also asked that the media representation of children and youth be altered. Much of the time we find that when a child or youth is involved with something negative it's plastered over the front page and given a lot of publicity, but when a child or youth tries to do something really positive, it's given a small column in another subsection of the paper, if it's given space at all.

Last, but most important, and this runs through the entire report and it was accentuated by everyone to whom we spoke, is that children and youth really need to have a say in those decision-making processes that affect them. That's at every level you can think of, whether it be within the community, within the home, within the education system or at the government level.

We made our presentation really short and concise to give you a brief overview because we realize that you probably have more specific questions that we would answer. That's where we'd like to leave it.

The Chair: Before starting the questions, how many of you in all from the coalition carried out the study?

Ms Wadhwani: Just Chung and myself.

The Chair: So you did that and then reported to --

Ms Wadhwani: A steering committee.

The Chair: How many people were on that?

Ms Wadhwani: About seven people on the steering committee, and then we have a larger coalition. We were letting them know what we were going on and doing.

The Chair: How did those young people become involved in the steering committee? Were these people from different parts of the province?

Mr Tang: They vary. They're from all over the province, some of whom helped us set up those workshops with the children and youth. A lot of this was volunteer work.

Mrs O'Neill: Thank you very much, Zenia and Chung. I would like to begin where you ended, with the provincial conference. Did you see much in the way of peer support systems, particularly for the youth, built into the school system, or did you find that there weren't avenues existing now for that?

Ms Wadhwani: We've heard that peer mentorship programs exist in some schools and they're beginning to exist in a lot more. We're also finding out that they're not necessarily working, because the peers doing the mentorship are high achievers and the cream of the crop who end up on the student councils. The youth experiencing a lot of difficulties with academics or problems at home can't relate to that person who's doing really well, because they just don't understand their problems. But we do know that peer mentorship works a lot better for a lot of youth than having an adult do it.

Mr Tang: I remember talking to children and youth who had disabilities, and they talked about the fact that even within the school system, not only are they not included but there isn't such a thing as peer support. They recommend that they have a buddy system whereby different students can learn more about their social realities and the barriers they face within the education system.

Mrs O'Neill: So you really do think that if it were organized on an annual basis, there would be a very good response to a provincial conference?

Ms Wadhwani: Yes.

Mrs O'Neill: I'd like to go to two other areas you mentioned, because I often have heard that housing has a great deal to do with a person's, particularly a young person's, success. Could you say a little more about what you heard about that?

Ms Wadhwani: When I spoke to a group of youth who are part of the youth in care, for them housing is a very big problem. They brought up three main A points, as I call them: One was affordability, one was accessibility, and one was attainability.

Even if they find housing that's affordable, it may not necessarily be acceptable. It may be in a deplorable condition. It's really hard to find housing. Affordability is a big problem, because they want to go to school but they have to work in order to afford their housing and their school and they find they're really caught within a catch-22 situation. They have to make a decision about whether school is a priority or their job is a priority, and much of the time they have to choose their work over school.

Mrs O'Neill: You talked about them having difficulties with the curriculum and that they would like to learn more practical skills. Did you learn a little about what those practical skills are that they wanted to have more input in or knowledge of?

Ms Wadhwani: It depends on the type of occupation they're trying to pursue. What they said, especially the university students, is that when they're getting out into the real work world, the theoretical knowledge they've learned isn't enough for them to practise with the hands-on skills they need. They're finding that either they have to return to college or have to do more volunteer work to gain some experience. They didn't go into specifics of what the school should teach, because it would really vary, depending on what they're going into.


Mr Tang: Some youth said that the most simple, practical skill we need today is to learn how to use computers, word-processing applications, for example, WordPerfect. A lot of them don't even know how to use a computer. And in terms of simple interpersonal skills, it's how to deal with people in the workplace, how to look presentable, how to deliver presentations to clients, things of that nature.

Mrs O'Neill: They don't have that in the high schools?

Mr Tang: Not all high schools have that. When I was in the Niagara Falls region, they said they only have maybe one computer for every 20 kids and they have to take turns using it, and the stuff they do have in terms of hardware and software is all out of date. Their school does not spend enough money on it.

Mr Jackson: Thank you to both presenters for your insights. Forgive me for asking, what was the most disturbing piece of new information you picked up? You obviously went in with your minds open, but in the sum total of your life experience to date, what was the one thing that struck you and resonated with you that "This is something I wasn't prepared for"?

Ms Wadhwani: The anecdote I gave before about the young girl who, when I asked her what she didn't like, said, "Me." That's something I'm never going to forget. That's has stuck in my mind the most in this whole report. It gave me a whole vision of the lack of self-confidence that exists. It's really low. This is a young girl who is seven years old who is telling me this. What kind of environment is she living in? What kind of school is not supporting her, or home environment?

And that wasn't the only example. There was another youth in high school who told me that one of his teachers had told him not to bother to apply for college or university because it would literally be a waste of his time and money as "He would fail anyway," and his vice-principal supported that. To hear that is -- I can't even put a word to it. It left me speechless as to the kind of support system we're supposed to be having for our children and youth in Ontario, and what we're having instead is conditions that are leaving them -- we wonder sometimes why they're left the way they are, and this is the reason.

Mr Tang: Similarly, again when I was speaking to children and youth with disabilities, I remember seeing one youth who was Afghanistani in descent. She comes from a war-torn country and what happened was that she stepped on a land-mine. When we started a dialogue, she didn't want to participate at all; she didn't see the need for her to participate. She just didn't see anything out there for her. She didn't see a future for herself. She didn't see why we came in and how she could contribute. You could really sense the low self-esteem she had, and it's very depressing.

Mr Jackson: You've both identified issues around low self-esteem and both have identified it first in a gender context, and then you talked about racism. I guess discrimination against women or girls, or role modelling for girls or young women, is a form of racism. Would you not agree with that? Were you seeing elements of this in our school system?

Ms Wadhwani: Against women specifically?

Mr Jackson: Women role models for young girls, teens.

Ms Wadhwani: There wasn't a great emphasis on the whole gender bit, but what we did hear was that there is a lack of women role models for young girls. I don't know if you're familiar with the Aspirations Project Qualitative Research Report, but there were children and youth who equated success with a white male physician; that was success for them. For a lot of children and youth, colour is an issue, gender is an issue, and occupation is an issue. Yes, there is a lack of positive models out there for not only the young girls but children in general.

Mr Jackson: The other area that intrigued me that you raised was participating in decision-making. A legislative committee about five and a half years ago dealt with the issue of what's called alternative dispute resolution, ADR. Just to demystify, basically its application in our schools is teaching young people how to problem-solve and how to mediate so that it's a learned response. Then, when there are complications in later life between you and an employer, a spouse, your children, your friend, you're equipped with the tools.

Putting it in that context, were you exposed to any of these kinds of programs or did you see any evidence of them? Or, to reverse the question, is that the kind of thing you're leaning towards in terms of the fact that an empowerment model is an access to power? It's empowering the individual so they go into any situation empowered.

Do you want to respond to some of that: whether you were exposed to any of it, whether you're familiar with it, and whether this is the kind of thing we're talking about? It's something we can pursue.

Ms Wadhwani: We were exposed to some positive initiatives out there by youth, but what you're talking about is definitely what the youth are looking for. For them it's important to be able to apply what they're learning. When they go into a calculus class and learn a formula and don't know what that's going to do for them later in life and it's not realistic, they don't understand that now, and that's difficult for them to grasp. "What is this formula going to do for me when I'm 35 years old and I've got such-and-such a job? This makes no sense."

We need to do what you're talking about, to say: "Look, if you were in such-and-such a situation, you'd be able to solve it by using that calculus formula. That's how it's going to help you." If they realize that we can apply this knowledge in this way and understand that "Yes, this will be useful to me," it's good. It's knowing how to apply it.

But a lot of their courses and material just don't make sense. "I don't understand this. What has the history of Canada got to do with me now and in the future?" They don't understand. That gives them a barrier, and they say: "To hell with it. I don't want to deal with this any more." But when they're shown how to do it, and I think that's similar to the concept you're trying to relate to me, it is helpful, it is what they need. They need to know that this is going to be helpful for them, that I can apply this in my real life, that this works for me.

Mr Tang: I personally did not hear of any such programs from the youth I've spoken to. The onus was that they just felt excluded in terms of making decisions. For example, when she talked about curriculum, young people are never consulted about it. When we talk about proposed legislation, for example the anti-racism education bill, Bill 21, I believe, and Bill 79, which is the proposed employment equity legislation, not only are young people not included but they're never consulted on it. They don't feel they belong to the systems and that they really do have a legitimate say.

Mr Jackson: You made reference to the conflict between work and school, with work winning out too frequently. About four years ago, an educational committee I served on heard deputations from a group, and they defined this conflict between work and school; not simply the absolute necessity to find work but that within their cultural group, they were called upon to provide labour well into the night. It's all a matter of Hansard, but the Portuguese community do a lot of office building cleaning, and we had a strong presentation from a group of Portuguese children who said: "We really don't get home from cleaning our office buildings till midnight or 1 in the morning. We're pretty bagged when school starts."

Are those the kinds of things you heard, or could you be a little more specific to guide us? Certainly that's an issue we'd like to look at a little more carefully. Is it more to do with the issue of, knowing how few jobs there are out there, that you'll do whatever it is to keep the job you've got? Could you help us understand that a little better? I wanted you to fill that out a little more.


Ms Wadhwani: A part of it is that for economic reasons, children and youth have to work to help their parents. They find that they're not only going to school a full day, but many of them have part-time jobs, some for economic reasons, some because they need experience. It is an issue for them because studying time is lost, their youthful time is lost, their recreation time is lost.

One of the things we heard, though, was that for a high school kid who's not making it within the system, to drop out and get a job, whether or not that's available to them, is immediate gratification, because it's money, it's right here, it's right now: "I can buy what I want, I can buy the clothes I want, the car I want etc, etc, etc. The education system, which is not working for me, is bogus. It's something that's long-term and out there, and I don't know what it's going to do for me later, because now I'm seeing that people are coming out with their master's degrees, and they're not getting good jobs. If that's the case, why should I try at my education system? I'll go for the immediate gratification. I'll go for my job right now, because that's good for me at this moment."

Mr Hope: I'd like to focus on two parts. First is the 12 and under. You called them the babe category?

Ms Wadhwani: No, I said "from the mouths of babes."

Mr Hope: Okay. I want to focus on that category first. You talked about using art as a form of communication, a form of expression. With that artwork you saw, would it be different for somebody older to get a picture of what that person was explaining?

Ms Wadhwani: We didn't try it with the youth at all because we were able to discuss with them in conversation what they wanted to say. I don't believe that all youth are necessarily artistically inclined or geared that way, but for children it's part of their school curriculum. They're all involved in playing and illustrating and painting, and they do that all the time in school. That's why we used it with the children. I couldn't say for sure whether youth would feel exactly the same way or be able to portray --

Mr Tang: There could be similarities, or there could be opposites. It really depends.

Mr Hope: You used the word "art," whoever's artistic talent it may be, that they use art as a form of communication versus the verbal aspect because some younger children have a hard time understanding.

Nothing against Mr Beer, but would there be a difference in understanding between, let's say, a person of the young age of Mr Beer versus your young age of a drawing by an individual expressing something? Would there be a difference in your understanding of that drawing versus the understanding of an older person, or would you be able to clearly identify what the artwork had expressed?

Ms Wadhwani: Even among professional psychologists, there's disagreement between the professionals. There may be a difference between the way I interpret it and the way Mr Beer interprets it, because I may be better able to relate to the youth, which is what we found with our consultation. The youth find it much easier to speak to a youth than they will to a non-youth.

Yes, there may be differences, but there are some very clear indications of illustrations that are set out. Kids usually draw about the most important people in their lives, as in the example I gave about the child who was drawing this big character and was saying, "Please don't fight me." That's an important character in their life. They'll draw about important relationships in their life. Those things are clear-cut, that I think we would be able to agree on. Specifics or the detailed psychological analysis of it is something we may be differing in opinion on.

Mr Hope: We were talking about a network, a communication system, leading up to a provincial conference. Before I move to that, I was interested in your comment about the seven-year-old saying she doesn't like herself. I have an 11-year-old, and every morning my wife goes through the fact that the clothes just don't fit right. It could have been a comment that was made at school about her appearance or whatever. I try to relate. I'm not that much older. I'm not that old.

Ms Sharon Murdock (Sudbury): Ha.

Mr Hope: I'm not. Don't let the grey hair fool you.

Ms Murdock: It's the job. It gives you grey hair.

Mr Hope: The job gets to you.

But that was there when I was young. Those types of things where people didn't feel they fit into a group were there before. Why has it changed? I'm dealing with a serious problem back home. There are frequently 14-year-olds committing suicide these days, and I guess I have a hard time understanding. This conversation takes place around arenas and everywhere else. What's so much different today versus the days we grew up in?

Mr Tang: I think a lot of things have changed. We live in a more complex world today. We're dealing with issues of AIDS. We're dealing with issues of racism, environment, and we're dealing with issues of employment. That was one of our most popular issues -- that in this generation not only are we stigmatized that we're generation X, but we have no jobs out there. A lot of young people, that's the first thing they want. They want money. They want to be able to go to work. They want to be able to buy things for themselves; have ownership of their materials.

Ms Wadhwani: Yes, there are a lot of similarities between the problems of a generation or two generations ago and today. But what we also have to acknowledge is that, as Canada, we are more diverse than we were five, 10 years ago racially and there is a lot more promotion on our differences, our sexual orientations and our disabilities, and not that these things should be tolerated, but that these things have to be accepted. And to be accepted is so important in the peer culture, that you're a part of a group, that you have peers who accept you for who you are, because there's a lot of peer pressure out there. It's not only the way you think; it's the way you dress, it's the music you listen to.

I thought I was in touch with some of the youth things that are going on and I found out new terminologies and new slangs. Does anybody here know what a wigger is? I learned within these consultations what a wigger is. A wigger is a white person who is trying to act like a black person. There's a whole different type of terminology within our youth today and we don't attempt to understand it. And it's so important that if you're acting that way, then you don't really belong, so they're outcasting you. It's a way to say that you're neither one nor the other. For some cultures, if you're not enough in tune with what the culture is all about and you're more anglo-oriented -- they called it reverse racism, but that's not the correct terminology -- then they outcast you once again. You're not Chinese enough, you're not East Indian enough -- all the various different cultures. You're not Spanish enough. "You're not relating to our culture enough, so you're not listening to the right type of music."

There's a lot more than just belonging to a group. It's all the other various areas that I've just touched upon.

Mr Hope: I want to share some of my time with Ms Murdock, who has a couple of questions, but I'm wondering about this provincial conference. There has to be a way of getting the information to young people to speak to young people. What about our student council bodies of high schools? What about that? That way we can work on Kent county from a rural perspective, we're working on a county perspective or a city perspective into a larger one, and it just allows, as I take it to be, ownership, because my conversations with a lot of young people is to actually feel like it's ownership of a program or ownership of conversation that takes place.

We started a thing called the mentor program. You talk about young people looking up. I don't think my son ever goes out of the house without Gilmour's hockey sweater on. That is a mentor to him. It's a person he can relate to, that he has aspirations and goals.


Around the student council, usually student council elected officials -- people, youths -- are mentors in a school program. What about using them as a key mechanism to lead to this provincial conference?

Ms Wadhwani: Two comments: One, I was in high school and I was on the student council and all the rest, and I thought it was a really good thing. It wasn't until recently that I realized that student councils are merely popularity contests, and that's literally all they are; they do not represent any diversity of the students in the high schools at all.

Second, just to make a point on the ownership idea, yes, it's important, but students -- forget students; children and youth in general are never given ownership at all. They are never given the empowerment to make those decisions, to be given, "This is completely ours that we have a say in it." It's very much influenced by the adult world.

Mr Tang: Also, just like the whole project itself, the whole idea of inclusivity. It's very important that we tap into groups that don't always have an opportunity to speak, racial minorities and aboriginals within rural areas, people with disabilities, HIV-positive students. These are students, or not even the students, who never have a chance to say what they feel.

Ms Wadhwani: And they're not represented either.

Ms Murdock: Mine's very quick. I just wanted to know if you're an example of the youth; in terms of being articulate, I must say you are exceptional. You sounded surprised when you talked about the sexual activity at the age level. When I was teaching in 1970, my grade 7s were sexually active, so I don't think much has changed in that respect.

My question is related to the compilation of the materials that you got and whether you saw any differentiation or did you differentiate between the regions or among the regions? For instance, is there a particular trend that you found in northern Ontario, which is where I'm from, as compared to southwestern, greater Toronto, Metro Toronto or southeastern, for instance?

Ms Wadhwani: Most of the issues we heard were quite similar across the board, especially with the education system; that was something that hit everybody. But there were some areas, such as when I went out to Ottawa, they spoke more specifically about teenage pregnancies, which isn't to say that it didn't exist in other areas or it wasn't prevalent in other areas; it just seemed to be a very big focus for them.

In the northern communities, suicide and sexual abuse were apparently big issues that we heard from some of the youth, but mostly we heard from non-youth who were helping us to have these consultations and these discussion groups. But the youths themselves didn't speak too much about them because, as we found out later, they're suppressed. They're not allowed to talk about these things because they're not allowed to open their mouths and divulge these family things or these personal issues for them. So they're not allowed to talk about it and that's why many of them didn't.

Mr Tang: Similar to what she said, the issues were very similar, but in terms of different contexts, I would think. I would say, for example, when I mentioned before about the education system, when I was in Niagara Falls they talked about the fact that Metro students are so much more fortunate in terms of having up-to-date resources, materials. They said that they have books from the Middle Ages, that nothing is updated and that they have a very limited computer system, CD-ROMs and all the other resources that all the other youths should have.

Ms Murdock: But your report is not differentiated -- or it is?

Ms Wadhwani: There is one overview page that says that some areas focus on this and some areas focus on that, but we didn't note points that Ottawa is specifically only interested in this, but we mention that there was a strong point of note from that area.

Mr Ron Eddy (Brant-Haldimand): Thank you for your presentations and bringing to us the very important information that you are doing about children at risk; it's certainly very important.

My question is very similar to the previous one, but I wondered about consultation with rural youth. I believe it was 21 consultations you had across the province, and of course, we have about twice that many cities, large urban areas, but there is a great deal of rural Ontario there which, as we know, is composed of youth from small towns and villages, farms, and rural residential not connected with farms. I wondered about consultation with them and if you had some in the groups and what your findings were, whether they were any different.

Ms Wadhwani: A rural group that we did was in a place called Arthur. We went out there and it was the largest turnout of consultation that I had, which gives you an indication that there isn't much for them to do out there. We had over 43 people attending, which was a quite large group. Their biggest complaint was that there aren't any facilities for them out there. There is absolutely zero, and when they were given the opportunity to have a place to go, the police came in and kicked them out. It was an abandoned warehouse or something that somebody had said, "Okay, yes, you can use it," but they weren't allowed to stay there and they were kicked out.

Ultimately, what they told us was that they ended up going to drink, bush parties, driving under age -- all of this is under age, of course -- and they become sexually active because there is nowhere for them to go, there is no one for them to speak to. There aren't even movies and shopping malls and places like that for them to hang out in, as if they're allowed to go there either. We feel that because they have no place to go, they end up becoming involved in activities that may turn out to be criminal.

Mr Tang: Also keep in mind there were a couple of areas that we did want to tap in but because of time and money we could only go to specific areas.

The Chair: I'm just conscious of the time and knowing that there is going to be a vote which is going to limit us towards the other end. I know, Mr Hope, you wanted one short question. Go ahead.

Mr Hope: Just dealing with the economics, because you keep hearing the word "jobs" in the comments that were made to you and young people are looking for jobs. Did they have, other than using just the word "jobs," a system that they could be involved in to help create jobs in their own communities? Did they have ideas of, how can we be active in participating in employment opportunities in our community?

Mr Tang: Speaking to some of the youth, they're unaware of the programs that are out there. For example, even though there are programs, like the Venture programs or Jobs Ontario Community Action programs, you must have matched funding, and not all youth have that kind of money and that capital to put up. They see that there are temporary job placements that are put out by Jobs Ontario like Futures, but they're all very short-term, that they're only in the summertime, and the money that they get from it is not very much. But they are interested in getting together, thinking of some kind of initiative that is self-sustainable but they just need mechanisms that will assist them.

Mrs O'Neill: If I may go back to Mr Eddy's question, did the youth in Arthur have any specifics that they felt would quickly or even in the long term help their situation, or are they just discouraged and turned off?

Ms Wadhwani: They are discouraged but they would really, really like a recreation centre. What they need is a boys and girls club of some sort. It is important that this recreation centre be run by youth, that it's not an adult supervisor in there who has set up all the programs but one that they're consulted on what's available within that recreation centre, that they have a say because they've got their own interests and needs, and that those are provided and that the supervisors and the mentors there are all youth. This is what they really, really want and what they really, really need.

The Chair: Just as a final question, in the four areas that you've set out, the fourth one was that youth want to have a place on decision-making bodies. What specifically were you thinking of there, that there would be, for example, a youth elected to municipal council or to a school board, or how specific did you get in that regard?

Ms Wadhwani: One of the things that we heard from the youth themselves was a youth Prime Minister. Why don't we have a youth Prime Minister? Why don't we have a Ministry of Youth?

Ms Tang: Or a youth secretariat.


Ms Wadhwani: Or a youth secretariat. We feel that wherever there's a decision that's going to be made that affects a child or youth, there needs to be a child or youth on that committee. They should be elected into school boards, they should be elected into the ministries in the government, at the education level most importantly, because that's the second-most influential sector of their lives, and within the community as well.

The Chair: There's much in your report and we have all received a copy of it as well, which we are going to look at in terms of the report that we ourselves prepare. I know that if we had the rest of the afternoon, we could quite profitably go through other aspects of your report, but I want to thank both of you very much for coming before the committee, for providing us, as I said, with copies of the report. I think we recognize that in the short period of time we have to conduct hearings into the question of children at risk we can't possibly cover all of the various aspects, but the report which you prepared, along with other people in the province, is one that has certainly made a valuable contribution to our understanding of what those issues are.

On behalf of the committee, I want to thank you again for being here last week when we were meeting with the Premier's Council and also for coming back today and making the presentation that you have.


The Chair: I call on Dr Louise Sas, if she would be good enough to come forward. While she does that, I'd mention to members that I got carried away by the colour of this children's services report. It is actually in the material you were provided with. It just isn't as shiny as the one I was handed. We do have a copy of it.

Dr Sas, welcome to the committee. We have received a copy of your documentation, and we have half an hour. At some point a bell is going to go and we'll have to go away and have a vote. Hopefully, that won't happen until we've completed your testimony and questions, but we'll make sure we have the full time with you.

Dr Louise Sas: That's fine. First of all, I want to thank the committee for inviting me. I hope that some of the information I will provide you with today will be of some assistance.

My name is Louise Sas. I'm a clinical psychologist at the London Family Court Clinic and director of the Child Witness Project there, which is funded by the Ministry of the Attorney General. I'm also a mother of four young children, aged two to 12, which sometimes I think is probably the most important aspect of what I do with my life.

What you have before you are some materials that I provided. Because of the late date in terms of when I received the invitation, I wasn't able to provide you with a written brief, but we will do that and that will come within the next week or so. It will cover most of what I'm talking about and perhaps even flesh out some of the areas I don't have enough time to go into great detail on.

As I mentioned, I'm a clinical psychologist. I've been with the clinic approximately 15 years and as a result I've been involved in many different areas of clinical service. Before you is a very simplistic little diagram. It serves to illustrate the different areas of service that the London Family Court Clinic is involved in as a child mental health centre.

I'm going to go through each of these different areas because I feel it's very important for all of us to recognize that at the centre, the topic that we have here today, children at risk, we find those very same children in all the services that we provide at the family court clinic and many times the same children coming to us at different points of time in their lives. So that will be the common thread that I will be sharing with you, that if we don't take care of the children and provide for them early on, we're going to be seeing them later on in different capacities.

That's essentially what's happening in the first area I'm going to talk about, which is young offender assessments. We see approximately 200 young offenders each year who come to us via the court system for assessments. There are a number of us who do these cases, including myself. In many of the cases, they are involved in person crimes, sometimes very violent crimes that I think reflect the level of violence in the general society that we're seeing today. Many of the crimes that are person offences are also sexual offences that are perpetrated either against other children in some cases, or even adults in other cases.

Certainly, some of the crimes are very violent and cause an emotional reaction on the part of the assessors and the judiciary, the crowns, the defence lawyers and certainly in the community at large. But what we're seeing is that behind each of these young offenders and behind the charges and pleas that they present with in the court are life histories, and they're disturbing life histories that I want to share with you because they really talk about that centre box here and they are very much at risk. More than any other area, young offenders, for me, represent a mixture of victim and perpetrator at the same time, given that they are still children but may very well be perpetrating crimes against other children.

At the clinic we're very concerned with the level of retribution and vindictiveness that we see in our society, certainly in the media, but I think the media are reflecting community's and society's concern about the level of crime that's being perpetrated by young offenders. Although I think we can recognize and appreciate the emotional outcry -- and in some cases, it's probably very understandable -- and the fact that people seem to want stiffer punishments and have a very punishing philosophy with respect to young offenders, our view is that there's a vast amount of research out there and certainly in our own clinical practice to show that that's not going to work, that punishing is not going to be a solution to make our society safer unless we start to address the needs of these children who are very much at risk.

Rather than focusing on identifying high-risk children for youth crime, what has been happening, I think, is that people have been trying to blame children, using euphemistic terms such as "accountability" and "responsibility" when what they're really just saying is, "It's all your fault." I think we've had enough experience at the clinic to see that that's not the case.

The incidence of child sexual abuse, physical abuse and witnessing family violence within one's home in the history of the young offenders whom we are seeing in our clinic is shocking; it is absolutely shocking. It's consistent with other studies that not only have been done in Canada but also in other countries, in North America and, for that matter, in Europe and Australia as well.

Just recently, the Metropolitan Toronto Special Committee on Child Abuse produced a report. It's a number of years old now, but I think what it described is even more so the case now, as survivors of child abuse are seven times more likely to be dependent on drugs as they become older; to be runaways -- 70% of runaways have been noted to have backgrounds of physical and sexual abuse. In fact, the children probably most at risk are the child prostitutes on the street where, when they were surveyed -- numbers of them were surveyed -- 98% had been sexually abused within their home environment.

I think the reason we're finding all this out is that we're asking the right questions now and we didn't know how to ask them before. When I first started at the clinic, there was no question about sexual abuse. We didn't ask it, and we certainly didn't find it. Probably the first case I had was five years into my practice, where a young girl was depressed and after a lot of work with her I found out she was depressed because of an apparent suicide by her father. What I didn't know is that the suicide followed a disclosure of incest and I only found that many years later. It was a dead-end disclosure that went to someone in the community and it was never brought out. We only found that information much later.

Having found out that information, we started to ask questions about a lot of the girls who came to our clinic as young offenders, who were not seen to be at risk in any way but who were committing crimes against the community; and more and more, in particular for the female young offenders, the number of children who had been sexually abused and physically abused within their home situation was absolutely devastating.

For many of the children we see in the young offender area, their homes have not been safe havens but rather highly stressful and abusive environments, causing sometimes physical and emotional harm but certainly scars they will carry for ever. That is why we feel very strongly that children are not solely accountable for their actions and are not to blame for everything that happens. At times, we fail to recognize that it's society's failure to provide the essentials of adequate care for them.

I met with my colleagues this week, and we all work in a number of different areas. We have a generalist model, and there are five psychologists at the family court clinic. I went to Alan Leschied, who has the most experience in the young offender area, and asked him for one recommendation I could bring to you in terms of the young offender area and children at risk. What he said was that we need to have the promotion of professional education on effective identification and prevention programs for children who are at risk for anti-social behaviour, that it's not enough to just lock them up. That's what he wanted me to bring to you today.


The child welfare area is more my area of interest, certainly child sexual abuse, which I will do the majority of my presentation on. In the child welfare area, the clinic is seeing much younger children. We do a lot of consultation with local children's aid societies who come to us when they have cases going to court where there is a major legal battle ensuing over protection issues related to young children or a little older children within the home. The cases most typically involve child sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, but they often have an unusual twist and they're very difficult cases to prove that anything is happening.

In anticipation of coming here, I met with a child abuse consultant at the children's aid society with whom I work very well, and I asked her what she thought the biggest problem was, why it was that even together we often could not provide a safe place for children. Of course she talked about resources, and we all recognize that with financial restraints there are fewer resources to meet the needs of children. But beyond that, she was talking about legislation, and I agree very strongly. The Child and Family Services Act, which I outlined just underneath the child welfare assessments, does not always provide us with the tools we need to intervene. They have some very narrow definitions in the Child and Family Services Act, especially in the areas of children at substantial risk, that don't permit courts of law to intervene in cases where at times intervention really must occur.

For example, if children have a steady diet of witnessing family violence within their homes, we know from our own research and research we've been reading that it's devastating for kids, that it has a deleterious effect on boys in terms of how abusive they will be when they grow up and on girls in terms of whether they will be victimized in their future relationships. But that is not necessarily part of the definition of "substantial risk" for a child. Many children who are in very violent homes, as long as they are not being physically hurt or sexually abused themselves -- they could witness their mother being raped, they could witness their mother being assaulted, but the agency might not have the strength it needs to go in and take those children out, or to do the proper intervention.

Related to this is the whole area of custody and access, where again there are problems with the Children's Law Reform Act as well in terms of the best interests of children and protecting children in those kinds of situations. There are times when children have access to parents who are abusive within a family situation, where they have witnessed family violence, where the access is carried out under a very dominating and controlled setting where the children are fearful, because the law, for whatever reason, seems to value the parent's right to access to the children above the child's best interests and rights. I'm not suggesting that in cases where there is family violence there should never be access, but certainly we have to put children's risks first.

Last is the area I want to spend most of my time on, because that's the area of expertise I could bring to this committee that we've really spent a lot of time on in the last 10 years. The London Family Court Clinic has a Child Witness Project. It's most recently been funded by the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General; previously it was funded by Health and Welfare Canada as a study. We've seen well over 500 or 600 children in the last six years. These are children between the ages of two to 18 who've been either sexually abused or physically abused. The majority of them have been sexually abused.

The numbers are increasing all the time, and I think the reason for that is that we've been successful, for the most part, as a society in telling children that they can start to come out and tell us about what's happening in their lives. The media, general public education, are having an impact on some children -- not all, but on some children -- so that there are more disclosures. As well, there are many more professionals in the field who know, like us, to ask the questions, so we're getting the answers.

So our case loads are increasing at a rapid rate, and children's aid case loads are increasing. In our own jurisdiction, they've had a 30% increase in one year in the number of cases coming through of child sexual abuse, and it's very hard to deal with, very hard. What's particularly hard is the kind of cases coming out now of very young children, that is, toddlers, where allegations of sexual abuse are being made. Believe me, you need a lot of expertise in the area of child development, interviewing skills, child sexual abuse, family dynamics, to know how to do an abuse investigation of that nature.

What we're seeing at the Child Witness Project probably reflects what's happening in many communities across the country, except that at least we're seeing it because there's a Child Witness Project. I feel very strongly that there are many child victims in communities across Ontario who don't have access to services we have in the London area. We're very fortunate to have a Child Witness Project that's funded, so that at least children who are identified as having been potentially abused and have to face a protracted court system will have people there who will take them through that system and will ensure that whatever services are necessary are going to be put into place.

That's not true of many communities. In fact, I get phone calls from all over Ontario, particularly from the north but other areas as well, asking me to come and provide expert testimony, to do something for kids who are going to have to testify, to do some kind of preparation or do some consulting with crown attorneys, who unfortunately don't always have a lot of training in the area. We can't service the whole province. We certainly service the southwest region and do a fair bit of travelling.

The areas we have tried to identify as of major concern have been criminal justice system stressors. There are a number of different ways one can go when a child makes an allegation of sexual abuse. It doesn't have to result in a criminal prosecution all the time. In some cases it can't, if the child is much too young or if the child doesn't even know who the assailant is. But in cases where the criminal justice system is brought into the lives of these children at risk, I firmly believe it's retraumatizing.

We've come a long way in legislation. I put down the two bills that pertain to the area I'm involved in, Bill C-15 and C-126, and I'm very pleased. A lot of us who lobbied for those changes are satisfied that there is some movement.

The problem is more in implementation and also in education. These children will come to courts telling their stories, and there's an incredible backlash now -- I'm sure all of you are aware of it -- against hearing that children are abused. We allowed them to say it for a little while, and now the door is closing. Even though the kids are getting into the court system, they are being traumatized by the process and also they're not being believed all that much. The conviction rates are not good and the sentences are really light.

In many cases, children will tell me that they are absolutely offended and hurt by having gone through such a process, by having told everybody what happened, to find out that it took them longer to prepare to go to court than the sentence that was delivered to the abuser -- if there is a sentence.

I brought a study we recently completed. I could not provide 25 copies, because it was too expensive, but I'll make it available to the research committee. It's a follow-up study of 77 children in our area who went through the court system, who testified in court. They told their stories very eloquently about what it's like to be at risk, to finally convince somebody to pay attention to you and to have charges laid on your behalf, to be retraumatized in court, then not believed and have nothing happen and have to go back to sometimes a very abusive situation.

The material in here is really very interesting in that it shows us we have to do more. If we're going to keep saying that we want to put children first and that we're concerned about children who are suffering from physical and sexual abuse or children who are witnessing violence, and if we're going to bring them into the court system in the mistaken belief that by having them testify and put away abusers everything is going to made all right, I think we have to be more accountable to the children themselves in terms of services and support.

The last comment I want to make is that one of the problems I have with bringing children into the forefront, bringing children into court systems to talk about their victimization, is that the way our adversarial system is set up, the children are not the focus. They are part of a process whereby they often become, I feel, pawns.


When you speak to crown attorneys about the cases they have before them, generally the thought is that one prosecutes child sexual abuse or child physical abuse cases or violence or whatever because you're trying to maintain a standard rule of law in the country, that it is unacceptable to have that kind of behaviour in our country on the part of adults towards children. But the court isn't concerned that much about the individual child, and maybe it can't be. As a result, what happens to the individual child, the child's fears around testifying or everything that encompasses being part of a case, is not the major concern of the crown and generally isn't the concern of the judge either.

When we take children to court, we are there as advocates for them and support for them. To be perfectly honest, I see a lot of things and there are many times when I wish the children had not been brought in, even though the reason, supposedly, for their testifying is so they will be safe. If any of you have time to look at the report, you'll see that they only believe that till they've gone through. Many children will say afterwards: "I don't think it was really for me. I did it, hopefully, for other children" or whatever, "but I don't really think everybody's doing this for me." And they're right: I don't think they are. Maybe that's a focus we have to change.

I'll stop now and open up for questions, because I've tried to cover a lot of different areas in a very short space of time.

The Chair: You have, and I wish we had a lot more time, but we'll try to deal with as many areas as we can in the time available.

Ms Murdock: Thank you for coming such a long way for this. As you noted, northern Ontario is bereft of psychiatrists and psychologists to any degree and distance travelled is a real problem. It is such a major difficulty for us in the north to get doctors who are willing to come. Even though it's beautiful, it's very difficult to convince southern Ontarians that it is.

My question doesn't relate to that. It's more the concept of combining youth services, from Comsoc and the AG's office, basically forming a youth secretariat, and what your thoughts around that are.

Dr Sas: I would be very supportive of that. I would be very supportive of integrating all services for children, whatever legislation it would encompass; that there would be one umbrella agency or ministry that would take care of it all. We used to have it years ago. When I first started, that's what was in place. There were some difficulties at that point, but I thought at that time, but I didn't have a lot of experience, that rather than abandoning that format we could have done something with it to improve it. That's the way I would go now.

Ms Murdock: In terms of parole of young offenders who already are in the system, the parole workers certainly would like to see both of them joined, but you're saying the CAS should be involved in that as well?

Dr Sas: Yes. Mainstream integrated services for children so that body could then review all legislation pertaining to children. Right now it's divided into little pockets, but children cross these boundaries as they grow older and as they have different difficulties.

As I was trying to point out before with the young offenders, they're the very same children who a week or two ago were the victims of abuse. They also may be the perpetrators. We have some children who went through the Child Witness Project about a year ago who unfortunately are now the offenders of other children. We've actually been in the business long enough now that we're seeing that.

To me, the idea of an integrated service that carries children from birth up and meets all their needs would be a very good idea.

Mrs O'Neill: I wanted to go back to the Child Witness Project. There are two or three in the province, if I read this correctly. I wondered if there were recommendations that arose from the project. I have the same concerns you've expressed that there is a backlash. I think some of it is reinforced by some of the media. I don't know what that will do to families or even social situations, because I think it will reinforce the perpetrators and not be very helpful with the children. That's what the bottom line could be as a result of this. Of course, there are quite a few backlashes on several things right now, but this one particularly interests me. Did you have recommendations after this three-year study?

Dr Sas: Yes, we did.

Mrs O'Neill: Could you give us a couple of highlights of ways you feel this whole area of concern could be clarified?

Dr Sas: We had many recommendations. Maybe I should just summarize a few of the more major ones.

First of all, we felt very strongly that no child should be expected to testify in a proceeding without court preparation and support. That doesn't necessarily mean a CAS worker with limited court experience or a therapist with limited court experience trying to explain the system to a child, but some very specialized service so that there's a balancing.

Is that the vote?

The Chair: Go ahead and complete your point.

Dr Sas: Okay. That was one recommendation.

Another was that there should be mandatory education for judges -- not offered if they feel like going to it, but mandatory -- in the areas of child sexual abuse, family dynamics around family violence, and particularly things like delayed disclosure. Judges have a hard time believing why children don't tell, even though the literature's been out for 10 years.

Crown attorneys need more education as well, but they also need the time to put on these cases. What we're finding is that when the legislation first came out, crown attorneys were told it was a priority: "Red-flag these cases across the province. Make sure children are seen several times. Get to know the victim, get to know who you're taking to court." Now we're finding that they're so overwhelmed with cases, it's going back to where it was before. It was done for a while and it's not being done any more. That was another one.

Shall I finish?

The Chair: We've got 10 minutes. It's stacked votes in committee of the whole. We've got time, so please go ahead. I apologize.

Dr Sas: The word isn't out, but I feel strongly that there is a gender bias, that the criminal justice system doesn't deal effectively with all kinds of child victims in child sexual abuse cases. In particular, the system has a great deal of difficulty with intrafamilial abuse, abuse within the family. The family is still seen as a very private place where you don't intrude. The judiciary, I feel, still has trouble believing that stepfathers and fathers will abuse their own children. I'm sorry to say that it happens and it is happening, and there are times that the conviction rate in these cases is very, very low.

The other area of concern is adolescent girls. Girls are much more at risk in their families than they are on the street, and yet there's this great hype about stranger rape and stranger violence. What we've found is that the majority of the girls we see, and that's as young as two, are more likely to be abused by their parent or step-parent or an uncle or an older cousin in their own home than anywhere else. And boys are much more at risk for sexual abuse in the community, by coaches, priests, ministers, people involved in assisting them, particularly boys with single-parent mothers who really need that kind of contact.

The court doesn't respond well to all cases of child sexual abuse. The court also has problems in the area of very young children making allegations. Oftentimes these cases are difficult, but the judges don't understand the arguments that are being brought forward.

This backlash that you've described so well is a backlash that we knew would come. I'm surprised it took the few years we had. One social worker I talked to captured it very well. He said: "The first few years after Bill C-15 were the Star Wars years. Now it's the Empire Strikes Back." The empire is very, very strong and the children are disenfranchised, for the most part.

I'm not sure what we can do aside from education, and that's why we're trying to do much more expert testimony and trying to explain to the judges. I'm going to judges' conferences -- I'm just one of many -- trying to say, "Of course it doesn't look like it happened; there are reasons for why that is," so we can get past that.

I think people would rather believe that children lust after adults than that adults lust after children. That's more comfortable.

Mr Jackson: Dr Sas, I appreciate your being able to come on short notice. I recommended that you come because I heard you present before another committee exactly a year ago next month. That committee has yet to finish its report. I'm hopeful this committee won't suffer the same problems and that your recommendations will make their way into a report.

I would just like you to respond to what the impact will be in those large communities in Ontario that do not have anything that resembles your program for the kind of dollar invested now through the Attorney General's office in two centres in Ontario. What kind of impact will that have? Is it not clear that there's a strong distinction between the services a child receives in a given community other than London by virtue of the program you offer?

Dr Sas: Yes. The results we have from our study suggest very strongly that the children who are prepared for testimony and who have the kind of support we provide give better testimony in a court of law. They actually do provide better testimony, as rated by crowns, and that was a blind study we did.

We also know that crown attorneys find the load very heavy. They find dealing with child sexual abuse very onerous. They are not emotionally prepared for it, nor are they trained, and they give up very easily. They can't keep doing it without the support. They do not have the time.

We feel we've made a difference in the London area, and I think you would find that it's supported by crowns and police officers, who feel they're not going through the motions for naught.

Mr Jackson: Is there less plea bargaining or the crowns simply saying: "This is a marginal call. We're not going to take it to court"? Is it that in your jurisdiction, there's less plea bargaining and that more come to court because of that preparation?

Dr Sas: No. It's actually very interesting. We've had a complete turnaround. We've doubled the number of guilty pleas. The defence lawyers are negotiating because they know they have strong child witnesses who are going to testify.

Our problem now is that even though we've done that and that's successful, with the ones that are going to court, the judges are still having a hard time proving beyond a reasonable doubt. They're stuck on that and they can't find them guilty.

The Chair: Dr Sas, I apologize for the way we have to end, but we can do a quick 30-second run to the Legislature. I want to thank you very much for coming and for the material. We're going to be in hearings for several more weeks, and if there's anything else, please forward it to the committee. Again, many thanks for your testimony today.

The committee stands adjourned until 3:30 tomorrow.

The committee adjourned at 1753.