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N.B. Green leader pans pace of action on protections for at-risk youth

New Brunswick Legislature

The leader of New Brunswick’s Green Party lamented the slow pace of government reports and lack of implementation of recommendations intended to protect at-risk youth during a meeting of the public accounts committee Friday.

David Coon pushed for answers on when several reports stemming from work undertaken more than a year ago would be made public

One of those reports, entitled “The Needs Analysis and Best Practices Review of Sexual Harm to Children” was created after a series of hearings in 2019 where many shared their experiences of sexual exploitation as children. Coon said he has seen a copy of the report, but questioned why it has yet to be publicly released.

“Why did they tell us those stories? They told us those stories at great emotional harm to themselves so we would do something, so we would act, because we’re the adults in the room,” Coon said.

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“We’re the decision-makers, we’re the friggin’ lawmakers, and yet every step of the way we’re boxed in. Reports don’t show up, recommendations never see the light of day, committee work goes on behind closed doors, so the members of this house don’t know what’s going on.”

Read more: New Brunswick auditor general says vulnerable children at risk in group homes

Eric Beaulieu, the deputy minister of social development, initially suggested that the report was prepared by the non-profit Partners For Youth, before Coon pointed out that it was a government report and may be held somewhere in public safety. Beaulieu admitted that staff weren’t sure what had become of the report.

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Another topic of concern raised by Coon was the absence of a report ordered by the assembly on the recommendation of auditor general Kim Adair-MacPherson in December of 2019.

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Adair-MacPherson sounded the alarm after an audit of the child group home system in the province suggested that the department of social development “does not effectively manage” the placement of children in care. The audit found that the system was plagued by high staff turnover, a lack of clear standards and a plummeting number of foster homes leading to more youth ending up in group homes.

Read more: Mount Saint Vincent University to cover all tuition and fees for former youth in care

In one instance a child as young as four was placed in a group home.

The legislative assembly passed a motion on Dec. 19, 2019 calling for a report to be returned by the end of March 2020, with public hearings to follow. Almost a year after the deadline, the report has yet to be completed.

“There was a planned meeting with legislators — members of the legislative assembly — for March but that was cancelled because of COVID and we have not rescheduled,” Beaulieu said.

“It was the intention of the department to complete all aspects of the consultation, including with MLAs prior to the submission of the plan. [Since] that was not done, we have not submitted the plan.”

Read more: N.B. report sheds light on children, youth struggling with poverty, social exclusion

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Coon went on to raise concerns over the delay.

“We have a responsibility here as elected representatives to speak for children and youth who don’t have a voice. Children and youth who do not have parents to speak for them, who are in the care of this province, depend on us — in the end — to speak for them,” Coon said.

“It’s our responsibility to act. The buck stops here.”

Read more: Children for sale: Canada’s youth at the heart of the rising sex trade

Beaulieu said consultations with MLAs have now been scheduled for March and committed to tabling the report by the end of that month.

Some of the positive work undertaken by the department to improve the system was highlighted as well. Beaulieu says payments to foster families have increased by 25 per cent and the department is actively looking at other ways to increase recruitment. A framework for professional care homes, with better standards of care intended to house those under 12 with complex needs, has also been created.

Beaulieu said legislative changes to better protect children from sexual harm will also be coming in the fall.

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