In wake of damning report, Quebec promises to overhaul youth protection laws

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Junior Health Minister Lionel Carmant, right, reacts to a reports on youth, Tuesday, May 4, 2021  in Quebec City. Family Minister Mathieu Lacombe, left, looks on. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Junior Health Minister Lionel Carmant, right, reacts to a reports on youth, Tuesday, May 4, 2021 in Quebec City. Family Minister Mathieu Lacombe, left, looks on. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Quebec government will table reforms this fall to the province's youth protection laws, indicating it supports the main conclusions of a landmark report into child-care services.

Lionel Carmant, Quebec's junior health minister, said Tuesday the reforms will force authorities to prioritize the child's interests when making decisions about protective care.

The law — the Youth Protection Act, of 1979 — currently requires the child's interests to be balanced with those of the parents.

Carmant, who is a pediatric neurologist as well as a cabinet minister, also promised to allocate more resources for prevention measures, with the goal of reducing the number of cases where child protection services are needed.

The commitments echo recommendations contained in a 550-page report into Quebec's child-care system, which was released Monday and was based on 42 public forums held over a year.

Along with issuing recommendations, the report also details a wide array of shortcomings with the youth protection system, such as overworked staff, systemic discrimination against minority communities and chronic underfunding.

"When I say reform, I don't mean something trivial. We have to revise the law in depth as well as how the [Director of Youth Protection] works," Carmant said at a news conference in Quebec City.

Soon after the report was released, Premier François Legault placed Carmant in charge of an inter-ministerial committee tasked with following through on its recommendations.

Carmant provided few specifics on Tuesday about what concrete changes he envisioned making in the coming months but he did highlight which of the report's 65 recommendations he considers priorities.

The commission examining Quebec's youth protection system was headed by  Régine Laurent, former head of a large nurses union.
The commission examining Quebec's youth protection system was headed by Régine Laurent, former head of a large nurses union. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

These included creating oversight authorities for the youth protection system, drafting a charter of children's rights and providing more support to foster families.

"Be assured that we will respond diligently and rigorously to the recommendations and I will ensure regular follow-up," Carmant said.

Among the issues highlighted by the report was the shortage of social workers — and limited services — available to anglophone communities, especially those outside Montreal.

Carmant said the government was working to address these concerns by developing mobile teams of English-speaking social workers and reaching out to the anglophone universities in the province.