Overwhelmed by demand, youth protection resorts to temporary group homes at Trois-Rivières campground

·2 min read

Even with more than 20 years of experience working in youth protection, Mathieu Bédard says he's never seen anything like it.

High chairs, cribs and baby bottles have become a common sight in a chalet at a campsite in Trois-Rivières being used as a temporary group home for up to six babies and toddlers.

Youth protection cases in the Mauricie and Central Quebec region have piled up in recent months. The regional youth centre is full, and there are not enough foster homes available.

"It is usually an exception to have to place babies in a temporary group home," said Bédard, assistant director of youth accommodations, rehabilitation and deliquency with the regional youth protection agency. "I've never seen this."

A second chalet, at the same campsite, houses children aged six to 12.

The COVID-19 pandemic has played a role in the surge in youth protection cases, Bédard said, with many families experiencing stress, and even distress.

Since the beginning of the second wave, there's been a backlog of about 200 cases in the region, involving teenagers, children and infants.

Yoann Dénécé/Radio-Canada
Yoann Dénécé/Radio-Canada

The temporary home for the children's group was set up in September. It's possible they'll have to spend the holidays there.

A group of educators is looking after them — feeding them and bringing them to school, while an intervention worker checks in on them at night.

"People are very willing, they raise their hand," said Bédard, when talking about how easy it is to find educators to work at the campsite.

By working at the campsite, however, staff are leaving behind their regular duties, and the region's youth protection agency has struggled to fill those service gaps.

Yoann Dénécé/Radio-Canada
Yoann Dénécé/Radio-Canada

Making it easier to become a foster parent

Another major challenge is finding foster homes for the babies and children.

"They need a mother's arms," said Geneviève Rioux, the president of the province's federation of foster homes. "They need comfort and affection, not educators who will each go do their eight-hour shifts and alternate."

In hopes of finding more foster homes, youth protection services have loosened the criteria, requiring candidates to submit only six references instead of 12.

The process to select families will remain rigorous, and will become more efficient, Bédard said.

Rioux isn't optimistic, however.

"The children that come [through the foster system] are not easy," she said. "It doesn't comfort me necessarily that they're making the process easier. Does this mean that these people aren't fully aware of what they're getting themselves into?"