Thursday, April 11, 2013

Role of the child and/or family advocate

The PowerPoint for this presentation can be seen at 

Child & Youth Advocacy program at BOOST

(The 30 slide PowerPoint from Pearl Rimer focuses on how the child / family advocate at  BOOST interacts with the family and other professionals  involved in any case; and reports on the results of the  pilot project for a Child Youth Advocacy Program  for Toronto’s new CYAC.


This session included a detailed presentation by Pearl Rimer, the Manager of Research & Training at BOOST in Toronto. Robyn Betker, the Victim Services Responder at the Regina Children’s Justice Centre provided information about her role with families.

Pearl Rimer began by explaining that the child or family advocate’s role is to provide consistent support, advocacy and referral services to children or youth who are victims or witnesses of abuse, and to their families, from the time of the initial investigation, to completion of the case within the criminal justice process (or when no further services are needed).  She emphasized that the advocate does not engage in any conversations that might jeopardize the investigation, and indicated that detailed charts were developed to clarify how communication should flow.

At the Toronto CYAC, a family can return to seek further services at a later date — even after the file has been officially closed. Criminal charges and/or verification by a child protection agency are not required for a child to receive advocacy services at the Toronto CYAC.  She noted that some other CACs provide advocates only for cases where charges are laid.

An advocate maintains regular contact with the family — and also liaises with the multidisciplinary team.  It is important to understand that the advocate is not part of the investigative team, although they will be involved in the debrief session, after the initial interview with the child. They may also participate in weekly case reviews, if the family consents to this.

Slides 4 and 5 clarify how the role of the advocate differs from that of other professionals working in Child Protection, Family or Child Services or Victim Services.  Rimer emphasized that these roles and responsibilities should be clarified.

Slides 6, 7, 8 and 9 show how the advocate supports the investigation, and liaises with the family and other team members.  The advocate does not discuss details of the investigation with the family, but rather provides support to family members until all interviews are completed. The advocate reviews confidentiality and their ‘duty to report’ obligations. They provide information about the CYAC, and obtain consents. Youth aged 12 and older are also asked to sign consent forms for services.

In debrief meetings with the multidisciplinary team, the advocate will share questions and concerns raised by the family, and identify any potential mental health concerns.

Slides 10 and 11 show when and how the advocate continues to be involved with the family on an on-going basis. Slide 12 lists the services that the advocate provides for the multidisciplinary team in the CAC.  A major role of the advocate is to facilitate referrals, as needs are identified by the family and the multidisciplinary team, and to keep up-to-date information about the waiting lists for those referrals.  Slide 18 shows that, in their recent Toronto pilot, advocates made 1,929 contacts, to a wide range of local community services, in the course of assisting 111 families — which works out to some 17 contacts per family case.

Advocates do not do home visits, attend investigations outside of the CYAC or participate in “after-hours” investigations.  Court preparation is not part of the advocate’s role.   BOOST has a specialized court preparation program for child witnesses.

She finished by summarizing what they learned from their recently completed 2-year pilot project for a Child Youth Advocacy Program for Toronto’s first CYAC. Located at The Gatehouse in Toronto, the 195 cases in the pilot included both child abuse and other issues. Statistics from that pilot are in slides 16 and 17 – detail where initial investigations were done (at schools, hospitals, police stations or a CAC-like, child-friendly facility).

Slides 19 through 25 summarize the feedback from parents who participated in the pilot. They felt safe, listened to, and appreciated that their phone calls were returned promptly. They saw the advocate as a neutral support for the family. Police appreciated that the advocates “allowed them to get back to policing, confident that the victims were getting the best care.  Specialized people are taking care of this case, so we can move on to the next case.” A key finding from the pilot was the need to develop a support program for caregivers. Slides 26 through 29 list the next-steps they will pursue, in developing new information materials and fine-tuning of protocols with other service providers.


Robyn Betker, the Victim Services Responder (VSR) at the Regina Children’s Justice Centre. She works in partnership with police investigations and child protection workers to ensure victim services are provided to all child victims and their families.  The VSR is in place to make the lives of victims and their families easier. The VSR aims to minimize any long term trauma effects experienced by the victim, by ensuring all the appropriate mental health referrals are made available for victims and their families.  She stated that, when she first began her job, she had to work hard to get officers to refer families to her services.  “I walked into their offices, and asked when I could meet with the family.  That direct approach was much better than doing a cold call.  The police slowly realized that I saved them a lot of work by sitting with the family while they interviewed the child. Now they say — if someone’s crying, get Robyn. They like that they can focus on the investigative side, while I support families.  Now they come to me,  and inform me in advance when a family  will be coming in.”

She described how parents often go “into auto-pilot mode” — so concerned about their child that they forget about themselves, and have to be reminded to eat and sleep properly.

She has developed professional relationships with victim witness coordinators – they work together – to help families as soon as a preliminary hearing or trial date is set.  They can help identify the testimonial aids that may be required by the child. For some cases, both the witness coordinator and the family advocate may be present in court, especially if the accused is a family member.

One of her roles is to help the family understand the time-realities of the justice system. “The family often thinks that once the charge is laid,  it will be processed  bang-bang-boom. They wonder  ‘why is  the guy not convicted immediately?’   I interject   — to help them through the confusions and delays.”. She also explained that referrals are made for other, more long-term support for children, youth and their families.


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QUESTION:  For how long does the advocate provide follow-up services?

ANSWER: (Rimer)  –   It could be as long as a year, but the average is 3 to 7 months.  But you’re not necessarily in contact with that family continuously, throughout that time.

COMMENT: (Kennedy) – We anticipate that we will need 5 advocates, to handle the case-load of 800 cases expected in the first year of operation in Toronto.

ANSWER: (Betker) –  Our goal is to connect the family to long-term support by the end of the court process.    I have been in contact with some families for as long as one or one and a half years.

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QUESTION:   What are the qualifications of  a child or family advocate?

ANSWER: (Rimer)  –   One of ours is trained as a child service worker,  and the other has her Early Childhood Education qualifications.

COMMENT – Some CACs use volunteers in this role.

ANSWER: (Rimer)  –    The Toronto CYAC  is developing a proposal to use some volunteers, but it will not do that actively until the centre has been operational for some time.


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NOTE:  All delegates were given a USB memory stick at the meeting which included several documents about a variety of issues. One item on that stick was an research article on this topic by Melissa Northcott, Department of Justice Canada (in both languages), called  Addressing the Needs of Child Victims and Their Families: The Role of the Victim Advocate (in English) and Répondre aux besoins des enfants victimes et à ceux de leurs familles : le rôle du défenseur des droits des victimes (en Français).