It is my honour to stand today to speak to Bill 57, Katelynn’s Principle Act (Decisions Affecting Children). I want to start by applauding my colleague from Hamilton Mountain because I know that her heart and her soul have gone into this bill. Every time she stands—whether it’s in this House, in her constituency or outside of her constituency—and talks about the welfare of children, she means it. It’s not just talk; she means it. It’s very important to her.
Madam Speaker, we as parents encourage our children to come forward when they’ve had a bad day. We encourage our children to come forward if they’re being bullied at school. We encourage our children to express themselves.
As it was said before, we know when something isn’t right with our children. We know when they are struggling with something and we encourage dialogue. We want to help them work through that.
When they’re at school they are encouraged to go to the education workers and tell them when they’re being bullied, when they’re being harassed, when they’re having a difficult time at home. Whenever they’re facing difficulties, they’re encouraged to come forward and discuss that with the professionals in the education system.
Yet somehow, once they enter protective services, once they go into care, that conversation is not encouraged anymore. It’s not at the heart of the decisions that are being made about these children. There is a huge disconnect between what we as parents tell our kids, what they’re told in the education system and what happens when they’re in the care of protective services and placed in a home that is not an ideal situation. I’m putting that very lightly when I say “not an ideal situation.”
I believe in my heart that this bill addresses that issue. It says that it’s not enough for children to go to school and say, “I’m having a hard time” or “Something bad is happening to me,” or to show up with visible signs of abuse, and then, when it’s reported, for that child to then not be consulted about what is going on and not be encouraged to express their feelings. This bill, in my opinion, will address that.
We also need to make sure that those professionals, specifically those in the education system, are supported when they do come forward with their suspicions of neglect or abuse—if they know a child is struggling with something. We have seen in the past, unfortunately, when an education worker has come forward, they are penalized for coming forward with their suspicions. They are obligated to report their suspicions, and yet we have seen education workers who have been sued, personally sued because they brought those suspicions forward. I think that’s really unfortunate.
I’m going to share a story that I don’t share very often but I think it’s important to the debate. When I was a baby—you’ll have to bear with me, it’s going to be difficult. When I was born, I was put up for adoption. I was put in care for a year before I was placed with a family, my family. They are my family. I stand here today and I represent the possibility for every child, every child in this province who goes into care, regardless of why they go into care. I stand here and represent the possibility for every child out there.
Katelynn didn’t have the opportunity that I have. That’s a pretty sad statement. At seven years old, her opportunity to do what I’m doing, to do what the people in the gallery are doing as advocates for children like Katelynn, ended. It’s our obligation as legislators to give those children every opportunity I was given. It’s our opportunity to say that they matter, that their feelings matter, that their opinions matter.
I encourage my children to share everything with me—everything. Let me tell you, sometimes I get things I don’t want to hear, and I don’t necessarily like. When you raise children to be independent and have opinions, sometimes that comes back to bite you.
We have an opportunity, those of us in this House, to do the right thing and give a voice to children like Katelynn so that they can grow up and they can someday stand in this place or in Ottawa and lend their voice to important discussions like we are having today.
To the people on the government side: I urge you to do the right thing, pass this bill, get it through committee and let’s make it law before any other child—because there are too many stories like Katelynn’s, far too many stories like Katelynn’s. We need to give every child the opportunity to do what every one of us has the opportunity to do in this House.
With that, I’d just like to, again, applaud my colleague from Hamilton Mountain for bringing forward this bill. It’s a very important bill.