The child welfare system is in crisis

If child protection services are scrutinized in Quebec and we forgive them neither their errors nor their excesses, it is indeed because their mission targets the most vulnerable among us all, toddlers, for whom the addition of a deadline or lack of resources is vital.

In a recent cry from the heart, the President of Quebec describes the intersection of two explosive realities as a “very serious” crisis: the galloping increase in the number of reports to the DPJ and the multiplication of postponements and delays before the courts.

In an interview given to The Press,Me Catherine Claveau is alarmed by the danger represented by an overload of the child protection judicial system. “It is high time to act to prevent the tragedies experienced in recent years from happening again,” she maintains. Quebec has not forgotten the tragedy of the little girl from Granby, which in itself symbolized the lamentable failure of an entire system. The little girl, who died at the hands of her stepmother, was known to the entire chain of social, police, school and child protection services, who despite everything could do nothing to ensure that she survived her tormentors.

This horrible death caused a real shock. The wise, in-depth and relevant work of the Special Commission on the Rights of Children and the Protection of Youth made it possible to identify the flaws, to point out the aberrations, to recommend a course of action necessary to de-ankylose this child protection system. childhood overloaded, bogged down, paralyzed. Steps have been taken, sums have been invested, but there remain two major problems which condemn the DPJ to risk putting its primary mission in danger. First, the DPJ serves as a gateway to cases that should not be intended for it, which clogs its functioning. Then, the lack of resources and the extrajudicialization of children’s cases lead to delays which in no way correspond to the urgent nature that the processing of cases should have.

In her report which has become a reference, the president of the special commission, Régine Laurent, recalled that the use of the services of the DPJ must be exceptional. “We must see youth protection as the ‘intensive care’ of social services for children,” the document reads. “The majority of situations should therefore find a response in preventive services. »

This state of affairs still seems to be the norm. Quoted in The Press, a study conducted by Canadian and American social work researchers showed that one child in five in Quebec was reported to the DYP during their life. One in ten was taken care of by social services. One in twenty was placed outside their family environment. These staggering statistics corroborate this state of perpetual congestion experienced by DYPs, who suffer from the weakness of upstream prevention services. In 2022-2023, youth protection directors received 135,839 reports, an increase of 2.4% in cases compared to the previous year.

If cases of neglect, physical abuse and psychological violence end up in “emergency”, it is because the psychosocial support services upstream are insufficient. Prevention undoubtedly remains the key to stopping or mitigating problems before they become urgent, but several pitfalls stand in its way. Daycare services, the ideal environment for identification and education, are often shunned by families from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are more at risk of reproducing behaviors that are harmful to children. On the ground, the community groups so valuable for their targeted and collaborative actions lack resources. Finally, in schools, where preventive action could shine, psychosocial services are distributed sparsely, given the shortage of staff.

As for the judicial congestion, it should greatly concern the authorities concerned, starting with the Minister of Justice, Simon Jolin-Barrette. Court congestion leads to delays that drop cases and leave defendants of sex crimes and physical abuse wandering without trial. It’s already serious. So children, sometimes barely a few months old, see the analysis of their file move from postponement to postponement, which sometimes keeps them in an undesirable family situation or forces them to be lugged from environment to environment, time to access an audience.

An effect of heightened caution following the bankruptcy of Granby would push stakeholders to have more systematic recourse to the courts, even if it is not necessary. It’s an additional burden for a system that can no longer afford to lose children, to whom we owe the most attentive concern.

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