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Katelynn’s Principle: The child must be at the centre

On Friday, April 29, the jury in the Inquest into the Death of Katelynn Sampson, delivered a number of significant recommendations which are founded on the rights of children, particularly the right to be heard but also their full rights  under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Katelynn was only 7 years old when she was murdered by the two people with whom she had been placed by her mother who was not able to care for her. The evidence called at the inquest documented many instances when other significant people in her life, included educators, child protection workers and police, failed to effectively inquire about the abusive circumstances in which she lived. The jury also heard evidence about how the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child establishes important human rights to protection and participation; if followed, they might have prevented the tragedy. Katelynn’s Principle endorsed by the jury is derived from the Convention:

The child must be at the centre, where they are the subject of or receiving services through the child welfare, justice and education systems.
A child is an individual with rights:
•who must always be seen
•whose voice must be heard
•who must be listened to and respected
A child’s cultural heritage must be taken into consideration and respected, particularly in blended families.
Actions must be taken to ensure the child who is capable of forming his or her own views is able to express those views freely and safely about matters affecting them.
A child’s view must be given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
A child should be at the forefront of all service-related decision-making.
According to their age or maturity, each child should be given the opportunity to participate directly or through a support person or representative before any decisions affecting them are made.
According to their age or maturity, each child should be engaged through an honest and respectful dialogue about how/why decisions were or will be made.
Everyone who provides services to children or services that affect children are child advocates. Advocacy may potentially be a child’s lifeline. It must occur from the point of first contact and on a continual/continuous basis thereafter.

The jury also made significant recommendations to effectively implement the Convention into law, asking that the Convention be incorporated into the purpose and interpretation sections of Ontario’s Child and Family Services Act, Education Act and the Children’s Law Reform Act. Specific sections are recommended for amendment to incorporate the child’s right under Article 12 to have their views considered in all matters affecting them. The jury also recommended that the K-12 school curriculum include education about the Convention, along with information about how to report child abuse.

If taken seriously, these recommendations are ground-breaking for children’s rights in Ontario and could be a model for law reform across the country. Here’s hoping that the terrible death that Katelynn suffered could lead to greater respect for children’s voices throughout the province and the country.

Link to text of recommendations.

*Cheryl Milne was a witness called at the inquest to give evidence about the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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