New Brunswick introduces new child protection legislation

WATCH: After a longstanding stint as Canada’s only province without standalone child protection laws, New Brunswick introduced new child welfare legislation on Wednesday to protect children who are at risk of experiencing harm. Travis Fortnum reports.

After a longstanding stint as Canada’s only province without standalone child protection laws, New Brunswick introduced new child welfare legislation on Wednesday to protect children who are at risk of experiencing harm.

In a release, the province said the Child and Youth Well-Being Act aims to promote “the interests, protection, participation and well-being of children and youth along with the health and well-being of families.”

Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch said in the release that the new act is the result of a comprehensive review of the child protection system conducted by consultant George Savoury more than three years ago.

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Fitch said the act will also help modernize parts of the 40-year-old Family Services Act.

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

The act would give staff with the Department of Social Development the ability to act in protection of kids who are at “substantial risk of harm,” rather than reacting to harm that has already occurred.

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It would also mean youth entering adulthood would no longer age out of the system, as some services will be extended until the age of 25 — though the scope of those services is still being determined.

Fitch said the legislation includes a mechanism that would allow for future review of the act five years after proclamation, and every seven years after that.

“This will provide regular opportunities to bring forward any necessary changes to the legislation,” he said.

Fitch believes the act and its supporting regulations, which will be developed in the coming months, will be proclaimed by early 2023.

Kelly Lamrock, the province’s child & youth advocate, said in a statement he plans to review the bill in the days ahead.

“My job is not to give instant sound bites but to review the bill thoroughly and give the Legislature the full advice it deserves. This will be done quickly, but not today,” he said.

He went on to say the bill should be sent to a committee for careful study “with an open mind to amendments.” He further recommended that the committee call witnesses including his office, as well as organizations that work on the front lines with children in care and youth at risk.

“Children in care rely on government acting as a caring and responsible parents would act,” he said.

“I hope all MLAs will agree that fundamental reform is needed. And I hope all MLAs will take up their responsibility to give this thorough and inclusive review.”

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