Overhaul of Quebec youth protection calls for priority to be child's wellbeing, stability

The wellbeing and stability of a child in youth protection (DPJ) will now be top priority, according to Bill 15, which proposes major reform of the system in Quebec.

Keeping an abused or neglected child with their biological family at all costs will no longer be given preference, according to the bill, which was tabled Wednesday at the National Assembly by junior Health Minister Lionel Carmant.

Bill 15 aims to review the approach of Quebec's youth protection system and states the most important thing will now be immediate stability for the child.

This is contrary to the historic argument of keeping children with their parents as much as possible -- a difficult decision often made by social workers or judges called upon to decide the fate of children in need of a permanent living situation.

Wednesday, Premier François Legault called the bill a historic moment.

For months, Carmant has promised an in-depth reform on the system, following the tragic death in 2019 of a little girl in Granby, who suffered repeated abuse by her family despite the fact that she was followed by the DPJ.

Carmant also committed to following up on the Laurent Commission report, published last May.

The lengthy document is the result of two years of work leading to 60 recommendations -- the main message of which is to focus all decisions on the wellbeing and stability of the child.

The report points out constantly moving between a biological and foster family -- or families -- is not conducive to creating bonds of trust and attachment between a child and their immediate environment.

Section 4 of the new bill states that "keeping a child with their family will be given preference, provided that it is in the best interests of the child."

If this is not possible, "the decision shall be to place the child in the care of significant others, including grandparents and other extended family members."

If that is not possible, the child will be provided with "a living environment as close to resembling a family as possible."

The number of referrals to youth protection in Quebec is steadily increasing, with 118,000 reports last year alone.

Bill 15 also aims to relax rules of confidentiality by allowing the sharing of personal information about a child's situation.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Dec. 1, 2021. 

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