MONTREAL — An inquiry into Quebec’s maligned youth protection system began Tuesday with a declaration from its chair that the exercise itself reflects a societal failure.
Regine Laurent said the very need for such a hearing is proof that society has failed kids. “It’s sad to have to be here today,” she said. “To be here today is a failure.”
The Quebec government in May announced the wide-ranging independent commission to look into youth protection services, following the alleged slaying of a seven-year-old girl from Granby, Que. She had been monitored by child services but nevertheless fell through the cracks.
While the death of the Granby girl was the impetus for the commission, the government has said it won’t be its sole focus.
But at the end of her opening statement, Laurent, her voice tinged with emotion, spoke of the young Granby victim, referring to her as “Tililly” — a name she gave her in Creole.
“My darling, I’m doing it for you. As soon as you died, I gave you a name. You could have been my granddaughter. You would have been 8 years old a week ago,” Laurent said, inviting those in the room to spare a thought for the young girl.
The inquiry will take a critical look at the legal framework around the youth protection system, including its funding and organization.
It heard first from several young adults who went through the system as children. They described the difficulties they encountered trying to establish themselves once released from youth protection at 18 years old.
Most described a difficult transition, with problems finding work, adequate housing, developing a social network or even dealing with emotional issues.
They suggested the government establish an ombudsman’s office for children services, which would include experts, researchers and others to advise the youth protection system. The witnesses also encouraged authorities to promote foster families and to offer more therapy or family mediation, in order to discourage parents from placing their children in state care.
They also highlighted the importance of community groups that can offer temporary lodging, help in finding work and in rebuilding self-confidence.
Laurent, a nurse and former labour leader, was picked by the Legault government to run the inquiry alongside other elected members of the legislature as well as with child services experts.
The inquiry must produce a report to the government by Nov. 30, 2020.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2019.
The Canadian Press