Forty years of chronic underfunding has left Quebec’s youth protection system unable to support vulnerable children in the province, while also subjecting Black and Indigeneous children to discrimination, according to a new report released Monday.
The report calls for a wide range of changes, including increased funding for preventive programs aimed at helping children in distress, an independent commissioner to oversee the youth projection system and a charter of children’s rights.
It was ordered two years ago, after the death of a seven-year-old girl in Granby, Que., shocked the public and thrust open a broader discussion about the problems with the system.
Régine Laurent said in her report it was now time to turn “anger into action.”
“We are talking about 1. 9 million children in Quebec,” Laurent, former president of Quebec’s largest nurses’ union, said at a news conference. “We need to take care of them.”
Among the problems highlighted in the report:
Mistreatment of youth in group homes and detention centres.
Overworked and undertrained staff.
A lack of funding and staff for the province’s anglophone youth.
Discrimination against Indigenous families and an overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care.
A disproportionate number of Black children in care, likely because of systemic bias.
The commission was ordered after a girl was found in critical condition in her father’s home in Granby, in the province’s Eastern Townships, on April 29, 2019.
She died in hospital a day later. It was later revealed her case had been followed closely by social workers and yet somehow, had still slipped through the cracks.
Budget cuts and ignored recommendations
In all, the province heard from more than 4,000 people and groups, including experts, workers and people who grew up in youth protection.
Many of them described a woefully underfunded system, ill-equipped to deal with the demand.
The report described how years of budget cuts and ignored recommendations were further weakened by the previous Liberal government’s health-care reforms in 2015.
Those changes made it more difficult to track children in need and to provide them with adequate support, the report said.
Gabriel Darquenne, one of the witnesses, recounted how he had been shuttled from group home to group home through his teen years.
But he didn’t see a psychologist, he said, until he was an adult and out of the system.
“I hope kids will get the resources they need because, in my time, it was not done,” he said.
André Lebon, the commission’s vice-president, said Monday the recommendations are designed to “make a major shift to go toward prevention” to ensure this pattern doesn’t repeat itself.
“Every system has to work together,” he said.
The report was originally due to be released last fall but was pushed back to allow for a more extensive review of the testimony.
In a preliminary report released at the time, Laurent called on the government to immediately create the role of provincial director of youth protection, describing it as a “guardian angel/guard dog” position.
The Legault government agreed to that recommendation, appointing Catherine Lemay to the post last month.