Quebec’s youth protection directors from centres across the province tabled their 2019-2020 annual report on Wednesday.
Despite a drop in reported cases of child abuse during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, statistics show an overall increase of 12 per cent compared to the previous year.
The death of a seven-year-old girl in Granby in April 2019 sparked outrage around the province, an inquiry into youth protection and is likely what prompted more Quebecers to sound the alarm.
“In 2019-2020, we received 118,316 reports, an increase of 12 per cent,” said the director of Batshaw Youth and Family Centres Linda See, adding it amounts to an average of 324 reports a day.
Child neglect made up the first of three reasons the majority of people call for interventions.
“Second was physical abuse and risk of physical abuse and lastly it’s psychological maltreatment,” said Assunta Gallo, director of the CIUSSS Centre-Sud-de-l’île-de-Montréal youth protection centre.
The union representing the majority of province’s youth protection workers sees the increase as a positive sign that more Quebecers are speaking out.
“The 12-per cent hike is a direct effect of the Granby tragedy,” said Veronic Lapalme, second vice-president of the APTS union.
“I think that’s a good thing, actually — that people may be more aware now of abusive situations and what it can lead to.”
The picture changed drastically with the onset of COVID-19. Youth protection authorities noted a 20-per cent drop in reported cases starting in March. While experts believe there was more violence and neglect within the home, it may have often gone unnoticed.
The majority of cases are reported by people living outside the household.
“We saw with the confinement that it was very hard on a lot of people both financially socially and with families needing to re-organize their lives,” said See.
“The results are pretty alarming regarding the three months during the phase of the pandemic,” said Lapalme. “Of course we are worried about the second wave especially considering the results from the first wave.”
Youth protection directors have already noticed a rise in reported cases since most elementary and high school students went back to school earlier this month. They insist recent government investments have given them the resources to better detect cases of abuse through community partnerships.
But the union worries that without more government funding for prevention, more vulnerable children will fall through the cracks.
“With workers being overloaded and the human resources lacking we are very worried about the future and we really hope that the government will be able to avoid situations passing under the radar,” said Lapalme.
“At the moment we’re not very optimistic considering what happened in the first wave.”