FREDERICTON (GNB) – New Brunswick must act with more urgency to protect children at risk of harm, according to a new report released today by the Office of the Child, Youth and Seniors’ Advocate.

Advocate Kelly Lamrock has released the first of two reports on the province’s child welfare system. Easier To Build is billed as a report and a “call for urgency” when it comes to protecting children at risk. It calls for the adoption of a Children’s Act as a starting point to ensure faster responses, better co-operation between departments and the entrenchment of children’s rights.

“Our inquiry found that, too often, child protection cases linger without resolution and without meeting the urgent duty to protect children from harm,” said Lamrock. “As the title suggests, it is easier to lift children up today than to deal with broken and traumatized young adults later. That is why we are calling for the reforms, the resources and the systemic change that puts the rights of children first. Every child should know stability, safety and equal opportunity from a young age. It is time for a system that makes our duty to children the first and most urgent priority.”

The report finds that, too often, child welfare cases can drag on because of a lack of resources and a mistaken focus on parental rights.

“Ideally, we should not see children waiting until adolescence or until there have been repeated removals from the home before they are given stability,” said Lamrock. “We have dedicated and competent people on the front lines, but they need a legal regime that makes it clear that children cannot wait in limbo, moving from temporary home to temporary home, because their need for stability is put behind other considerations. Our report sets out recommendations that put children and their rights first.”

The report calls for the adoption of a new Children’s Act that would not only govern the child welfare system but provide co-ordination of all services impacting child welfare and provide for enforcement of children’s rights. That should be the start of a process that encompasses the other recommendations, which include:

  • Renewing a commitment to integrated service delivery in government, in which departments collaborate automatically on sharing information and providing services to youth at risk. The report calls for the premier to ensure cabinet-level responsibility for integrated service delivery, with a minister and secretariat ultimately responsible for co-ordinating services and responses through a new Children’s Act.
  • Improving case planning and co-ordination among the Office of the Attorney-General, the Department of Justice and Public Safety, and the Department of Social Development in putting children’s needs first every time a child comes in contact with the courts.
  • Ensuring that the mission of protecting children from abuse, violence and neglect applies not just to violence at home, but also to avoiding educational neglect of children and ensuring their well-being throughout the community.
  • Entrenching the rights guaranteed children by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into law, and setting out a long-term plan for law reform that moves toward enforcement of children’s rights, with effective mechanisms to address violations.
  • Undertaking a reform of court procedures and rules that affect children at risk, with the Department of Justice and Public Safety engaging the judiciary and lawyers on a review to address delays, ensure child-friendly court procedures, enhance children’s participation and legal representation, and improve judicial oversight of administrative decisions that affect children’s welfare.

“We can do more to keep children safe and protect them from harm. It is the most important charge any society has,” said Lamrock. “Work has been done, but we still have not reached a point where every department works together to put children’s rights outcomes ahead of rules and procedures. We expect that to change and the urgency of the project to be communicated by government with cabinet-level leadership.”

Easier To Build is the first of two reports coming out of a lengthy review of child welfare services by the advocate’s office. The second report, Through Their Eyes, will examine the day-to-day operations of the system through the lived experience of children in care. The second report will be released within the next three weeks.