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Toronto Police joined teachers, students and community agencies wearing purple on October 19 to raise awareness about preventing and reporting child abuse and neglect.

Last year, over 165,000 Ontarians reached out to Children’s Aid Societies with a child-protection concern. Police and teachers made the most referrals.

At the ‘Go Purple Day’ celebration at St. Patrick Catholic Secondary School, Child & Youth Advocacy Centre (CYAC) Detective Sergeant Greg Payne said Toronto Police values its partnership with government, schools and social agencies working to stop child abuse.

“I have seen the rewarding results of these working partnerships and what happens when families get the support they need,” he said, of the CYAC which opened in 2013. “From our experience as police officers, we also believe that children need a voice. That’s why events like this one are so important and why we are very proud to participate.

“…We are all first-responders in our own right,” said Payne. “We all count on each other to build a strong safety net for children. We need every citizen to step up and be the eyes and ears, ensuring that all of our kids are thriving, happy and well and, above all, safe.”

With the creation of the CYAC, abused children and their families no longer have to travel around the city to get the help and services they require. With the police, the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CCAS), the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CAS), the Safe-T Program, the Suspected Child Abuse & Neglect Program and Boost Child Abuse Prevention & Intervention agency in the same building, abused youth can speedily get the assistance they need from social services and police.

Pauline Umli and Stewart Martin, who have lived in foster homes, shared their stories about how they broke their silence.

“I moved to Canada from the Philippines when I was 12 years old and, a year later, I noticed that kids at my new school were treated a lot differently at home than I was,” said Umli, who aspires to be a police officer. “As time went on, my mom and I had many arguments and disagreements which, at the end of every day, made me feel broken.”

Umli reached out for help at age 15.

“I knew that the trauma that I was experiencing at home was not normal and that I deserved a loving and welcoming home to come to at the end of the day,” she said. “…Catholic Children’s Aid Society became involved with my life and the decision was made to remove me from my family and place me in a foster home. The time I spent with the CCAS helped mend my relationship with my mom and I through counselling…Three years later, I couldn’t be happier and more thankful to my teacher who helped break the silence and the CCAS for changing my life in a way I never thought was possible.”

Four people stand together
St. Patrick Catholic Secondary School Principal Sandra Mudryj, Stewart Martin, Pauline Umli and Detective Sergeant Greg Payne at the Go Purple Day Photo: Ron Fanfair

A second-year Centennial College Police Foundations program student, Martin revealed how he became quiet and clumsy after being talkative and energetic.

“During that time, the one thing that never changed was my independence,” he said. “This would cause a lot of problems for me because I would struggle in silence. If there was a problem, I would do one or two things – let it bother me and wait it out or cry it out. Those were my only two options until Grade Six when, with help, I learned how to express myself with my words.”

Eight years ago, Toronto District School Board student Katelynn Sampson's broken body was found inside her guardians' Toronto home.

The young girl was living with two adults for about a year when she was found in their Parkdale apartment on Aug. 3, 2008, after they called 911 to say she had started to choke and stopped breathing.

In fact, the pair inflicted more than 70 injuries on the little girl over a course of months, according to her autopsy. She had broken bones, lacerations and internal injuries.

An inquest was held into her death a few months ago.

“What came out of that inquest were some powerful learnings for all of us, not only as a school board, not only as Children’s Aid Societies, not only as government ministries, but societal messages that we have a right to children,” said Sandy Spyropoulos, the TDSB Executive Superintendent, Special Education, Section Programs & Student Support Services. “Our children and young people have a right to be safe and to be protected.

“We also learned that all of us, collectively, have a lot of work to do to ensure that that happens…The more we perform our roles, the safer schools will be. We know that schools are special places for children and we at the TDSB value that and know that we hold this unique position in the lives of students. We don’t take that lightly…Katelynn doesn’t have a voice. We didn’t hear her voice. You are now her voice and the voice of Jeffrey Baldwin (the five-year-old died in 2002 after years of mistreatment at the hands of his grandparents) and the voice of all the children and youth who are being abused and never got a chance to speak up.”

Michael Coteau, the province’s Minister of Children & Youth Services, said it’s everyone’s responsibility to know the signs of child abuse and neglect.

“Reporting known or suspected cases to your local children’s aid society could make a crucial difference in a child’s life,” he pointed out. “All of us play an important role in protecting the children in our communities.”

CAS Toronto Chief Executive Officer David Rivard agreed with Coteau.

“The safety of children across the City of Toronto is a responsibility we all share,” he said. “Children’s Aid Societies cannot be everywhere. We count on the community, teachers, police officers, daycare providers and youth, much like yourselves, to let us know if you think someone needs our help.”

October is Child Prevention Month.

“During this month, we take extra steps to remind the community that the safety and well-being of children and youth needs to be our first priority. We need to keep their voice at the centre of everything we do in child welfare, in education and in our work with our partners,” added Rivard. “Child Abuse Prevention Month is when we focus our efforts on raising awareness of this shared responsibility of our collective duty to report and on breaking the silence.”

Students from St. Patrick Catholic Secondary School read a story about getting help to Grade One and Two students from Earl Haig Public School. Part of a primary prevention series of children’s books, this story teaches children that, when they need help with a problem, there is a difference between tattling and telling. Together, the students made a commitment to break the silence.

“Whether you are a student at Earl Haig or St Patrick or anywhere else, you deserve to grow up in a home and family where you feel safe, well-cared, loved and supported,” said Mary Juric, the CCAS Director of Service.

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