FREDERICTON (GNB) – Milestone legislation to modernize the government’s efforts to ensure the well-being of young people received unanimous support from all members of the legislative assembly today.

“The Child and Youth Well-Being Act sets provisions for children and youth apart to better protect them, to provide enhanced support services for children with disabilities, and to improve the adoption process,” said Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch. “The new legislation focuses on the interests, protection, participation and well-being of children and young people, and the health and well-being of families. It recognizes the critical nature of early detection and intervention in matters where the well-being of a child or young person may be at risk.”

The overall approach of the new legislation is child-centred, rather than parent-centred. It provides greater consideration of the views and preferences of the child or young person in decision-making. Children and young people will be encouraged to express their views, according to their age and maturity.

Also, additional services will be provided to young adults 19 to 25.

Following testimony presented at the legislative assembly this week by advocacy groups, the provincial government introduced eight amendments to address concerns related to the rights of the child, the child’s voice in decisions made, and child or youth placements. The amendments also recognize that Indigenous children and youth are entitled to the timely provision of services.

Fitch said that consultation had been an important element in the development of the legislation, including a discussion paper, an online survey, and engagement sessions with child advocacy stakeholders such as the Child and Youth Advocate, the two schools of social work in the province, and the First Nations Child and Family Service Agencies.

“Most importantly, this new legislation includes a mechanism for future review five years after proclamation and every seven years thereafter,” said Fitch. “This will provide regular opportunities to bring forward any necessary changes.”

The Department of Social Development is drafting regulations to support the act. This will involve a consultation process which will conclude by the end of the year or by early 2023.

“As we did with this legislation, we intend to take the necessary time to develop the best regulations possible guiding the care and support provided to our children and youth,” said Fitch. “Children and youth are some of the most vulnerable members of our population. We must continue to strive to provide the best services and programs possible to support their needs.”