August 20, 2019
For many Yukon students, this is the first week of their 2019-2020 school year, yet Yukon’s Child and Youth Advocate is concerned about the number of children and youth not attending school.
“We are concerned about the number of children in Yukon who don’t go to school” states King. Yukon children and youth ages 5-21 are entitled to an education, and children ages 5-16 are required to go to school.
The Child and Youth Advocate provides individual advocacy for children and youth who are eligible to access Yukon government services and programs. This includes Department of Education. In 2018-2019, the Advocate addressed approximately 70 advocacy issues for children and youth in the Education system. These advocacy issues vary from lack of educational supports, bullying, conflict with teachers, and school attendance.
The advocacy issues brought to the Yukon Child Advocate echo what the research shows as being barriers to school attendance. “There is not just one barrier that impacts attendance, states King, there are a number of school related factors and personal factors that need to be respectfully considered and identified for each student.
“The themes identified in the recent report by the Office of the Auditor General of Canada (Kindergarten through Grade 12 Education in the Yukon) focused on areas that directly relate to what we are seeing during individual advocacy for children and youth in the education system” states King.
The Child and Youth Advocate is reminding everyone that children and youth have a right to an education that supports the development of their personality, talents and abilities to the fullest potential. These rights are articulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and is also supported by Yukon’s Education Act.
The Education Act also supports children’s right to attend school and their right to have the specialized supports they need to learn in a way that fits for them. Furthermore, children who require special education programs are entitled to receive individualized education plans that should be implemented within their school and classroom setting.
“A part of the advocacy process can be helping children and youth return back to school in a learning environment that suits their individualized needs” states King. “We see very few children who tell us that they don’t want to go to school at all; most want to go to school but need the proper support to make their education journey a successful and rewarding experience”.
In May 2019, the Advocate formally notified the Department of Education of the systemic issue of inconsistent school attendance and requested to be advised of steps taken to reduce the barriers to school attendance. The Advocate is meeting with the Department’s senior management team to address the issue of school attendance individually for each child identified to the Advocate and systemically to improve the experiences and outcomes for children and youth in the education system.
King believes that inconsistent school attendance is both a cause and outcome of the concerns addressed by the Auditor General. The Auditor General’s report (Kindergarten through Grade 12 Education in Yukon) highlighted gaps in achievement between First Nations and non-First Nations students in the Yukon, which were also identified in 2013-2014, and continue to exist in the areas of literacy, numeracy, and writing. “If children don’t feel a sense of belonging and success at school, it is less likely that they will attend consistently; at the same time, you won’t feel success at school if you don’t go”.
Furthermore, the Advocate’s systemic review of group care (Empty Spaces Caring Connections, April 2019) showed that irregular school attendance and dropping out of school were significant concerns for children and youth living in group homes.
“We are very concerned about the number of children who don’t attend school consistently and what this means for future outcomes for the rest of their lives” states King. Addressing the reasons for poor attendance, such as a lack of connection or sense of belonging to the school coming, or lack of formal supports for the student, can positively affect school attendance and provide opportunities for improved academic achievement. “Ultimately, we are hoping that children and youth will return back to school, with the necessary supports they need to feel successful” states King.
The Child & Youth Advocate Office is an independent office of the 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 within Yukon Government can contact the Child and Youth Advocate Office at (867) 456-5575.
Intake and Communications Coordinator
Yukon Child and Youth Advocate Office