Whitehorse – The Yukon Child and Youth Advocate, Annette King, is conducting an independent review of the barriers to school attendance in the territory.
“Many Yukon children are missing school far more than they should,” said King. “They have a right to attend school and receive educational programs that help them reach their full potential. In our work providing individual advocacy, we have learned of many children of all ages who are not in school. The problem is systemic in nature; we have identified over 100 children and youth who have had issues with missing school. Some do not have a school program to attend at all.”
The advocate has the authority to provide advice to Yukon government departments and to follow up on actions taken by the departments. Her office has been addressing attendance issues for individual students for years and has done a focussed analysis of the problem over the past year.
“This is a complex issue without a simple resolution,” said King. “Last May, we raised the issue with the Department of Education but no satisfactory solutions have been found. In my view, an independent review with public engagement will help us better understand the prevalence of the problem and the barriers to consistent school attendance. My office can then provide advice to the Department of Education on ways to support students.” King has begun discussions with the Department of Education on the best way to proceed with the independent review under the Child and Youth Advocate Act.
The Education Act supports children’s rights to attend school and their rights to have the specialized supports they need to learn in a way that works for them. Children who require special education programs are entitled to receive individualized education plans that should be implemented within their school and classroom setting. Under the legislation, Yukon children and youth who are 5 to 21 years of age are entitled to an education, and children who are 5 to 16 years of age are required to attend school.
“A review is not about finding fault or placing blame on anyone,” added King. “Children are missing school for a variety of reasons. They are suspended for behaviours, they are disengaged due to lack of safety or ineffective educational supports, or they may have personal challenges that prevent school from being a priority. The key is to listen to children and to fully identify the reasons for the problem and then find solutions.”
The review will take a coordinated approach including families, communities, teachers, school councils and boards, First Nation governments and the Yukon government, with the children at the centre of the work.
“The experience of children and youth at school has direct impacts on their futures,” concluded King. “We need to come together for Yukon children at this critical time in their lives.”
The Child and Youth Advocate provides individual advocacy for children and youth who are eligible to access Yukon government services and programs. The Office of the Child & Youth Advocate is an independent office of the Yukon Legislative Assembly. The operations of the office are guided by the Child and Youth Advocate Act. Children, youth or others concerned about a child or youth receiving services from the Yukon government can contact the Child and Youth Advocate Office for assistance and advice at (867) 456-5575.