As of Wednesday, four children living in Ontario group homes and foster care had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, as had eight staff members who work at group homes and youth detention facilities, according to data from the province’s Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.
Two of those four children were reported to have recovered from the virus, while five of those eight staff members were reported to have recovered.
However, the ministry is not tracking the total number of children who are being tested for COVID-19 in these facilities, except in youth detention centres.
“The ministry does not have the total number of children tested, as residential service providers are not asked to regularly share information about the medical examinations children or youth undergo with the ministry,” a ministry spokesperson wrote in an email to Global News.
The exception is in youth justice facilities where a total of 25 COVID-19 tests have been administered, the spokesperson wrote. Hundreds of youth from ages 12 to 17 in Ontario are held in detention facilities every year while serving criminal sentences or as they face criminal charges.
Irwin Elman, who served as the children and youth advocate for Ontario from 2008 to 2019, said that the province should be overseeing COVID-19 testing for children and youth living in all government residential facilities.
“The government does not have the luxury to say, ‘no, we can’t tell you the testing that’s been done because that’s the service providers responsibility.’ No, it is not,” Elman said in a phone interview. “We need to know how the children are doing. And we need to know that they’re safe.”
Elman added that he is also concerned about the conditions in these facilities that may put children and youth at greater risk of contracting the virus, and that may further compromise their mental health.
“Life in a group home and in residential care for many children and youth is chaotic,” he said. “Any kind of congregate care is going to put young people at risk.”
The spokesperson for the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services wrote that the Ontario Ministry of Health has published testing guidelines for people living in congregate settings, including enhanced testing and surveillance for symptomatic residents and staff and those in contact with persons confirmed to have COVID-19.
“Testing of asymptomatic residents and staff can also happen at the direction of the local public health units as part of outbreak management,” the spokesperson wrote. “It’s important to note that throughout these testing criteria changes, clinicians have always been empowered to use their discretion and clinical judgment to make decisions on which individuals to test.”
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