Province proposes new guardianship rules, drafting separate child protection act
Kinship care changes, new mental health treatment centres introduced
The New Brunswick government is crafting a child protection act separate from the Family Services Act, according to the minister of social development.
Dorothy Shephard said her department wants to have the first draft of the new piece of legislation ready next month and start consultation in the summer.
A separate act is a key recommendation in a report on the province's child protection system prepared by consultant George Savoury after a nearly year-long review.
"We know the child protection legislation needs to be done. It's being worked on now, aggressively," Shephard said.
The minister said it could take two years before the new act becomes law. In the meantime, Shephard tabled a series of amendments to the Family Services Act in the House on Wednesday to make more immediate changes to the system.
The amendments include kinship care as an alternative to foster care, transfer of guardianship as an alternative to adoption and new treatment centres for children with complex mental health needs.
Also, the total amount of time a child under 12 can be in the care of the minister would not exceed 24 cumulative months in a five-year period. The current threshold is 24 consecutive months.
Shephard said her department is making progress on the more than 100 recommendations made in the Savoury report. Four have been implemented so far and another 22 are underway, most of which are administrative changes.
Shephard has been working to strengthen legislation governing kinship care for several years. She said there's ambiguity in the kinship care policy and it has been interpreted differently around the province.
"Legally, the policies were not tight enough for the legal community to fully understand what it would mean when a child went into kinship care," she said.
Shephard wants to strengthen the legislation so that suitable family members of individuals whose children need to go into care can more easily step into a caregiving role.
"When that opportunity arises and is available and is safe and secure, the department needs to find ways to support that happening," she said.
In many cases, families with children who have complex mental health needs have to give up custody to the department in order to gain access to the services needed.
"That's just not right," said Shephard.
Workers at youth care home facilities are being trained to handle those complex cases in order to take in a child and provide treatment without the province taking guardianship.
"We alleviate the heartbreak of parents actually having to turn over custody of their child to receive those benefits," she said.
Norm Bossé, the province's child and youth advocate, was not available for comment Wednesday.