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N.B. child welfare legislation a good ‘first draft’ but changes needed, says advocate

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick child advocate releases report on welfare proposal' New Brunswick child advocate releases report on welfare proposal
New Brunswick’s child and youth advocate has released a report on proposed child welfare legislation Tuesday. While he says it's a good start, there's still many improvements to be made. Silas Brown has more – May 31, 2022

New Brunswick’s child and youth advocate says new child welfare legislation is a good first step, but that improvements are needed in key areas.

Kelly Lamrock and his office spent a week reviewing the newly tabled legislation – the Child and Youth Well-Being Act – and released an analysis to the legislative assembly Tuesday. The report says the government has gotten a lot right, but the bill will need improvements as it makes its way through the legislative process.

“If this was a first draft I think this would be very good,” Lamrock told reporters.

“But if there isn’t an openness to amendments and regulations then we’ve got something that isn’t going to meet the standard of other Canadian provinces.”

Read more: New Brunswick introduces new child protection legislation

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The new legislation will replace the 40-year-old Family Services Act and, according to the government, will prioritize the rights of children over parents. It also gives the department of social development sweeping powers to intervene if they believe a child to be at risk, clarifying what factors should be weighed when it comes to a child’s safety. Other important updates stress the importance of cultural and spiritual ties when placing children, and a mandatory review of the law every five years to ensure it remains up to date.

The report offers nine suggested amendments to the bill.

Among those recommendations is tracking and yearly reporting on outcomes for children in care from the department of social development. Lamrock says there are “worrying gaps” in data collection and that the department doesn’t track things like graduation rates, post secondary participation, mental health events or criminal charges.

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick introduces new child protection legislation' New Brunswick introduces new child protection legislation
New Brunswick introduces new child protection legislation – May 18, 2022

Lamrock points out that the new Child and Youth Well-Being Act also fails to define a child’s rights under the act. He wants to see the United Nations declaration on the rights of the child added to the bill.

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How to properly support youth as they transition out of care is something Lamrock wants to see further examined. The report says the province should ensure that any youth in care who has been accepted to a New Brunswick post-secondary institution should not then have to prove they need student financial assistance.

“Needing a parent doesn’t end (at age 19),” Lamrock said. “All the things that we rely on parents for as we go from legal adulthood to full adulthood, those are important and to the greatest degree possible we need to find ways to replicate that for children for whom the government is the parent.”

Click to play video: 'N.B. child advocate calls for creation of Children’s Act' N.B. child advocate calls for creation of Children’s Act
N.B. child advocate calls for creation of Children’s Act – May 13, 2022

Social development minister Bruce Fitch says the department is reviewing the report and plans to meet with Lamrock to discuss possible improvements, but that much of the changes can be accomplished through regulation.

Read more: Review of the effectiveness of child protective system in New Brunswick released

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“You know when you look at the process which needs to occur here we’ve still got a long way to taxi down before we take off because the regulations are a significant part,” he said. “And that’s another area of the process that people can give us feedback. So some of the stakeholders who talked to us before can give us feedback.”

Fitch said he’s open to the opposition introducing amendments to the bill, but says the opposition are currently holding the process up.

Second reading debate on the bill continued on Tuesday, with the Liberals speaking in favour of sending the bill to the committee on law amendments for public hearings with subject matter experts, noting that Lamrock said the bill would benefit from further feedback.

But Fitch says consultation happened throughout the crafting of the legislation and that he doesn’t want to see the bill get bogged down in procedure and ultimately delayed.

“I’ve been around here 20 years and unfortunately I’ve seen some good legislation get caught up in law amendments and then die on the order paper,” Fitch said.

“I don’t want this bill to die on the order paper and there is a risk in sending the bill to law amendments that it may not continue through the process.”

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