National News

Quebec auditor general says youth protection delays increase risk

By The Canadian Press

Published 1:37 PST, Wed November 20, 2019

QUEBEC — Children in Quebec aren't able to get prompt help from the province's youth protection agency and those delays could threaten their safety, the province's auditor general said Wednesday.

In her most recent report, Guylaine Leclerc notes the time between the reporting of a case and the taking of necessary measures can be up to 226 days — more than seven months — in some regions of the province.

"Children do not have timely access to the services they need to rectify the situation, which endangers their safety or development," Leclerc's report reads.

Leclerc warned that the longer the delay, the greater the risk to the child.

The government needs to act quickly, she said, as the number of reported cases continues to rise, leading to even longer wait times for services.

"They have to reduce the delay between every step until the application is put in place," she told a Quebec City news conference on Wednesday.

Reported cases have jumped 27 per cent, from about 83,000 cases in 2013 to more than 105,000 in 2019. Every day, an average of 289 new cases are reported to the provincial agency.

Leclerc also said she deplored the lack of oversight by the province's Health and Social Services Department, which couldn't say if regional youth protection agencies were fulfilling their mandate, noting a lack of credible indicators and data.

For example, there was no information about recurring reports for the same child.

Better data collection "would enable (agencies) to be more confident with respect to the relevance of their decisions, which have a major impact on the future situation of the child," Leclerc wrote.

Since health reforms that took place in 2015, youth protection falls under the regional health agencies. Leclerc noted there was no guarantee that resources distributed between the different offices of youth protection reflect the real needs of the children they serve.

Her audit focused on three regions: Quebec City, the Monteregie south of Montreal, and the Eastern Townships.

In two of those regions — Monteregie and the Townships — she qualified the situation as "worrisome."

This summer, the Quebec government announced it was investing $47 million into the system, with junior health minister Lionel Carmant saying the money would be used to add up to 400 employees to reduce instances of burnout and eliminate the backlog of cases.

A provincial commission looking into the system has also begun hearing from witnesses.

However Sylvain Gaudreault, a Parti Quebecois member of the legislature, called on the government to do more in the short-term, saying the figures from the auditor general are alarming.

Gaudreault suggested Leclerc testify before the inquiry.

The province has been taking a long look at its system following the death of a seven-year-old girl in Granby, Que. The girl had been followed by youth protection services from birth and whose death last April sparked outrage and raised questions about the system's effectiveness.

The young girl's father faces four charges: criminal negligence causing death, unlawful confinement, failing to provide the necessities of life and child abandonment.

Her stepmother faces one count each of second-degree murder, unlawful confinement and aggravated assault.

The two are due in court for a preliminary hearing next February.

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