With hearings over, inquiry into Quebec's youth protection turns to solutions

After hearing from more than 200 witnesses, many with harrowing tales, a commission looking into Quebec's youth protection system must now come up with recommendations.

'It's a systemic problem,' says commission's vice-chair, André Lebon, after hearing from 200 witnesses

Régine Laurent, left, who chaired the commission looking at problems in Quebec's youth protection system, says she is confident the Legault government is prepared make necessary changes once her commission reports. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

A lack of funding, burnt-out staff and children whose cases slipped through the cracks: a commission of inquiry into Quebec's youth protection system heard about these and other problems from more than 200 witnesses — many with harrowing tales.

As the hearings wrapped, the commission's vice-chair, André Lebon, said the testimony has shown there no single thing that needs fixing in the system. Everything does.

"It's a systemic problem," Lebon said. "We have to look at it like an evolution, and we have to be there at all the steps."

The commission, led by a nurse and former union leader, Régine Laurent, was struck by the Legault government last May, in response to public outcry over the 2018 death in Granby of a seven-year-old whose case had been followed by social workers for years.

The girl was found in critical condition in her father's home and died in hospital a day later.

Youth protection experts and union representatives sounded the alarm about an underfunded system in crisis across the province, including at the agency serving English Montrealers, Batshaw Youth and Family Centres.

The Quebec government announced last year it would invest $47 million to hire 400 new social workers and reduce wait lists for evaluating cases that had been signalled to youth protection authorities. 

Laurent said Friday she is disturbed by the extent of the suffering of some witnesses who were placed in the system, as well as of the social workers charged with protecting them.

The hearings began last fall and wrapped up Thursday. In recent weeks, the hearings were moved online, to comply with public health regulations during the pandemic.

Laurent said she's confident the Legault government is prepared to listen and make the necessary changes.

"My strong voice will remain," she said.

With files from La Presse Canadienne