Commission tasks Quebec government with creating charter of children’s rights
Youth protection system needs to shift from responding to crises to prevention, says commission chair Régine Laurent
A new charter of rights for children, a foster-care system that continues to support young adults, and culturally appropriate support to Indigenous children and families — these are among the recommendations of a report on children’s welfare in Quebec.
The 500-page final report of the Laurent Commission on Children’s Rights and Youth Protection was released on May 3, after about two years of consultations.
During consultations, the commission found Indigenous peoples did not want the same research and reports that have already been done duplicated — they wanted action.
In response to the report, the premier of Quebec, Francois Legault, mandated the minister of health and social services, Lionel Carmant, with creating a working group to ensure the 65 recommendations in the report are met.
The Laurent report states over the last 25 years, calls to child services have more than doubled, indicating children need more help than ever — but also that it needs to be a different kind of help altogether.
While presenting the final report at a news conference, Régine Laurent, the chair of the commission, said that the system needs to shift from responding to crises to preventing them from happening in the first place.
One of the main findings is that children should be at the centre of decisions being made about them and their protection.
The report tasks the provincial government with creating a charter of children’s rights, which would include the right to grow up in a caring environment with a family.
A chapter of the report dedicated to Indigenous youth does not look at the circumstances of Inuit children specifically, but makes recommendations to better protect Indigenous youth in the province.
In a consultation, Marie Nukulie, a community youth worker in Nunavik, said intervening in situations using a law that doesn’t reflect the community’s practices and beliefs is a daily challenge for her.
Indigenous youth do not have a voice in Quebec, the report states, as there is no watchdog for their rights and well-being.
It found youth placed in care outside of their communities are cut off from their culture and suffer from a loss of identity, a negative self-image and worsening physical, mental and spiritual health.
Two 2019 reports on services received by Nunavik children under youth protection in Montreal — who numbered about 60 at the time — said they mostly lived in isolation from their families, language and culture.
One of the reports, titled, “The cultural security of Nunavik’s youth placed in readaptation settings,” said that Nunavik children were at risk even while under youth protection.
In its final report, the Laurent Commission says “we recognize First Nations and Inuit are best placed to identify and respond to the needs of their children.”
The commission recommends the provincial government fund a child welfare system led by Indigenous peoples and assign a commissioner and team responsible for the rights and safety of Indigenous children.
It also recommends training and hiring — and retaining — Indigenous social workers in communities and in urban centres.
Another barrier identified is a lack of services offered to children and families in Indigenous languages.
In a hearing by the commission in November 2019, Lucy Grey, a member of the Quebec Bar’s committee on Nunavik’s justice system, also spoke about communication being a barrier, saying the system itself and what rights people have were not well-understood in Nunavik.
It also recommends lightening the workload on youth workers and giving more funding to community organizations, like groups that support families experiencing domestic violence or food insecurity.
In a chapter dedicated to supporting youth into adulthood, instead of them aging out of the system automatically at 18, the commission suggests youth in foster care have the choice to stay in the home they are placed in until 21 if they want to.
Many youth who age out of the system become homeless, the report states, and one in three of them will be on the brink of homelessness at some point.
The report also says that youth who are not supported into adulthood can face lower graduation rates and higher rates of incarceration, physical and mental health issues, drug abuse and unemployment.
It also says they should be able to receive support until 25 with housing, education and access to health services.
Currently, when youth turn 18 their youth protection files are destroyed. The report recommends they should instead be handed over to the individuals to keep.
The Laurent Commission was created to examine and overhaul the child welfare system in Quebec in response to a seven-year-old girl dying in Granby in 2019 as a result of several systems failing her, according to an investigation by the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse.