A special inquiry tasked with looking at Quebec’s youth protection services is recommending the creation of a national director to oversee the province’s system, which commissioners have found has a long list of problems.
The Laurent Commission released some of its findings and recommendations Monday ahead of its final report, which has been delayed until next spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The review, which was launched in October 2019, was prompted by the death of a seven-year-old girl in Granby who had been followed by youth protection services. She was found in critical condition in her family home in April 2019 and died the next day.
As part of their recommendations, the commissioners are specifically proposing a provincial director of youth protection that would act as a “guardian angel” or “guard dog.”
It would have a role similar to that of a deputy minister, providing some consistency in how cases are handled across Quebec, which the commission writes in its findings would be a “major step” in establishing leadership when it comes to youth protection.
Régine Laurent, the nurse and former labour leader heading the commissions, pointed out that the proportion of youth cases that are taken to court varies from 30 per cent to 70 per cent depending on the region.
The proposed creation of a national director is welcomed by Lionel Carmant, Quebec’s junior health minister. In a statement, he said the recommendation is “very interesting” and “in line” with his thinking.
“We intend to act quickly on this recommendation by the commission,” Carmant said.
Youth protection workers ‘also in distress’
In their findings, the commissioners stress that the best interests of children should be at the heart of all interventions carried out by youth protection.
Laurent said that means the child must be talked to about their present situation and their future, and their rights must be respected.
In its process of collecting testimonies during hearings, the review found that children, families and workers on the front lines of youth protection are in distress.
Youth protection workers are under pressure and overworked, according to Laurent.
“The workers are also in distress,” she said. “They believe that the conditions of practice do not allow them to provide quality services, at the right time and in line with the needs.”
The funding for the youth protection system is also “inadequate” and investing in services to help vulnerable children can no longer be delayed, the preliminary report outlines.
Services inadequate for different communities
The commission also found that interventions by the department with Black and Indigenous youth need to be better adapted to those communities and the realities they face.
The preliminary report specifically found that Indigenous children are disproportionately represented in Quebec’s youth protection system — and the services available do not take history, culture and languages into account.
Destiny Gregoire, an Indigenous student studying social work at McGill University, grew up with a loving foster family but she says others haven’t been as lucky and some have been treated differently simply because they are Indigenous.
She said it took a long time for the conversation around youth protection to happen, but that she’s happy it is happening.
“I want to see more Indigenous people being managers. And…I just want to see more of Indigenous perspectives,” she said. “And hopefully with my social work, I can bring that one day.”
The system’s services have also been deemed insufficient for different communities, including anglophones and other linguistic minorities.
“We have been surprised that it’s not that easy to have access to the services,” said Andre Lebon, one of the commissioners.
The commissioners also found that once children being followed by youth protection hit age 18, they suddenly find themselves alone and without much support. The final report is expected to lay out more details about that transition and recommendations.
Since October 2019, the Laurent commission received 233 briefs. Commissioners heard from 1,526 workers during 42 forums held in different regions.
The final report is slated to be released on April 30, 2021.
—With files from The Canadian Press