N.B. introduces milestone legislation focused on child-centred approach, early intervention

The New Brunswick government introduced new stand-alone child welfare legislation Wednesday aimed at promoting the interests, protection, participation and well-being of children and youth, along with the health and well-being of families.

The Child and Youth Well-Being Act was created as a result of a comprehensive review of the province's child protection system, which was conducted by George Savoury more three years ago.

Highlights of the act include:

  • It recognizes the importance of the child or youth’s connection to their family, culture, language, religion, faith or spiritual beliefs and community, especially for Indigenous children and youth.
  • It includes a priority of placement that recognizes the importance of family, kin relationships and community to a child or youth who is not living in the parental home due to protection concerns.
  • It aims to decrease formality and increase flexibility for court processes.
  • It improves decision-making authority for relatives (kin) who are caring for a child or youth.
  • It intends to improve information-sharing between the department and its various partners.
  • It is intended to be progressive, clear and easy to read and understand.
  • It aligns the definitions for “child” and “youth” with those in the Child Youth and Senior Advocate Act.

Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch says the new act will help modernize portions of the 40-year-old Family Services Act. He hopes it will also make it easier for frontline workers to do their jobs.

"Retention and recruitment of social workers has always been an issue and we continue to do that. We continue to try and work with some of our schools in trying to promote social work as a career and provide them with an opportunity to work for social development," he said.

According to a survey from the New Brunswick Association of Social Workers, employees are struggling with the workload.

"I think if they do everything they said they'd do today, it will help certainly," said Geraldine Poirier Baiani, the president of the New Brunswick Association of Social Workers. "The details will be in the regulation and the child and youth advocate had other recommendations, with respect to the court system, that would certainly help."

The province says the new bill would also expand on the ability to intervene when a child or youth may be at substantial risk of harm.

"The overall approach is child-centred, rather than parent-centred. It recognizes how early detection and intervention is critical in matters where the well-being of a child or youth may be at risk," said Fitch.

New Brunswick Child and Youth Advocate Kelly Lamrock says he'll be releasing a review of the new legislation in the coming days.

Government says the act and its supporting regulations will be developed in the coming months, and will take effect by early 2023.