Sharing information critical to child protection: Sheldon Kennedy

Agencies often have different pieces of information but aren’t able to coordinate them, says former NHLer

REGINA – Former NHL hockey player turned child advocate Sheldon Kennedy says organizations need to be better able to share information to protect children from abuse.

“It doesn’t make sense to not share the information when we know that each one of the agencies in 98 per cent of the cases all have a piece of it,” Kennedy said at the Saskatchewan legislature Monday.

“It’s about understanding and looking at the whole picture so we can make an informed decision on the best interests of that child and family.”

Manitoba introduced legislation last week to allow child and family services, police and schools to better share information when it’s in the best interests of the child and Alberta already has a similar law.

Saskatchewan is reviewing what other provinces are doing as it considers taking action.

“More information that gets shared between agencies, the better we’re able to protect children,” said Justice Minister Gord Wyant after meeting with Kennedy.

Wyant said he intends to talk about changes with Saskatchewan’s privacy commissioner this week.

Kennedy said kids that have been abused are 26 times more likely to experience youth homelessness and have a 30 per cent higher risk of dropping out of high school.

Most people in treatment centres have disclosed early childhood abuse.

“We can’t fiscally afford not to shift the way we do this work,” he said.

Kennedy revealed 20 years ago that he was abused by Graham James, his coach with the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos. He then went on to battle alcohol and drug problems as he struggled to come to terms with what had happened.

He said there still are gaps when it comes to background checks and abuse awareness training and points to the case of Ryan Chamberlin, who was a hockey coach in Cabri, near Swift Current.

Chamberlin pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges last year after young boys came forward saying they had been abused.

The mother of one boy said she assumed Chamberlin had gone through a criminal record check when she met him at a hockey camp in Swift Current. That would have revealed his prior conviction for assaulting a very young boy in British Columbia, she said.

Kennedy has launched a program for community organizations that requires criminal background checks for adults working with children and training on how to prevent bullying and abuse.

“To me background checks are a piece of it,” he said.

“Prevention, education, empowering the bystander, focusing on the good apples, polishing the good apples with knowledge and creating confidence for conversation to happen, I believe is our best defence.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.