January 25, 2019 9:10 am
Updated: January 25, 2019 9:11 am

Review of the effectiveness of child protective system in New Brunswick released

WATCH: A 189-page document reviewing the effectiveness the child protection system in New Brunswick was released today and has the support of the opposition parties. The review highlights staffing issues and the impact the gaps in the system have on the children it is designed to protect. Megan Yamoah reports.

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Consultant George Savoury produced a 181-page report that details major changes needed to child protection legislation in New Brunswick in order to protect at-risk youth.

The review from Savoury comes after a shocking case of child neglect in Saint John where five children were left without food and lived in dire conditions. That led to a two-year prison sentence for the parents, who were charged with neglect.

READ MORE: Parents receive 2-year sentences in disturbing New Brunswick child neglect case

Savoury was then brought in to do a systematic assessment of the effectiveness of New Brunswick’s child protective services. The recommendations included training, technology, decision making, departmental structure, and human resources.

“It’s pay now or pay later,” said Savoury.

Georgey Savoury highlights staffing issues and the impact the gaps in the system have on the children it is designed to protect.

Megan Yamoah / Global News

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The review also concludes that child protection workers should be seen as an essential service, similar to police and nurses, since child welfare is a labour intensive, hands-on job.

The most common complaint among social workers was the case load. Savoury’s review found that they are strained with heavy workloads that consist of difficult court cases and many have been operating without basics, such as their own laptops and cellphones with data plans.

Over the past four decades, the Family Services Act has been the only legislation in place. It has had amendments, but Savoury says the time is now for it to be replaced entirely, which could take two years. The cost to implement a new act is unknown.

“Well right now we don’t know how much money we need,” says Minister of Social Development Dorothy Shephard.

But what is known is that New Brunswick is the only province without its own child protection act separate to family services legislation. This legislation is also combined with adoption and long-term care. Savoury says that separate acts for family and children are crucial.

WATCH: Report from Living SJ looks to put face to poverty in Saint John

The Minister of Social Development accepted the findings and says the report is informative in terms of staffing issues and solutions but there should be one main focus in the new legislation

“I think that what we need to do is support our staff in knowing that the protection of the child is the number one priority,” said Shephard.

Another hot topic was centralized intake; the review seeks for a regional intake service in an effort to provide more one-on-one relationships with children who need a helping hand.

“That’s all disrupted when you have a centralized intake in one part of the province, and you don’t have the connection to education or health services,” said New Brunswick Child and Youth Deputy Advocate and Senior Legal Counsel Christian Whalen.

WATCH: Review of New Brunswick child protection system released

The report has the support from the opposition parties, including the Liberals and the Green Party

“It lays out a way forward, it’s very clear that many things can be acted on right away, and the timing couldn’t be better,” said New Brunswick Green Party Leader David Coon.

“We look forward to the government addressing this concern in the 2019-2020 budget,” read a statement from Lisa Harris, the advocate for social development.

The timing of the report’s release aligns with the government’s 2019-2020 budget preparation process.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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