New Brunswick

Consultant hired to review 'effectiveness' of child protection system

Nova Scotia-based consultant George Savoury has been asked to assess the "effectiveness" of New Brunswick's child protection system.

Nova Scotia-based consultant George Savoury will also look at staff training and workload

New Brunswick has hired a Nova Scotia consultant to review its entire child protection system. (CBC)

A Nova Scotia-based consultant has been hired to review the effectiveness of New Brunswick's entire child protection system.

George Savoury will examine the department's policies and standards, while also looking at whether staff in the system have enough training or too many cases.

"I'm aware the department had some issues that have been in the media," Savoury said in an interview.

"But what I do is I step back and look at the programs, services, I interview staff, I look at what kind of standards do they have in place. Are they clear?"

Savoury will also look into the past at high-profile child protection cases that have generated previous reviews to see if anything can be learned from them.

According to his mandate from the province, Savoury has been asked to "identify the factors that positively or negatively influence the effectiveness of the child protection or family enhancement services system."

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He has already met with staff in New Brunswick's Department of Social Development and has been asked to present recommendations to government by Aug. 31, a few weeks before the provincial election Sept. 24.

Savoury has done similar reviews in Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island.

'Nothing's perfect'

Families and Children Minister Stephen Horsman says a review into New Brunswick's child protection system will look for holes and gaps. (Alex Vietinghoff/CBC)

The government initially planned to hire Savoury to review a case where five Saint John children were neglected by their parents, under the watch of social services.

At some point, the government decided to broaden the scope of that review.

"If we have this expertise, why not look at everything?" Families and Children Minister Stephen Horsman said.

Horsman said the review would be looking for "holes or cracks" in the system. The minister has promised to make the findings of the review public.

"Is [the system] perfect? No it's not perfect," Horsman said.

"But nothing's perfect."

'We're not getting it right'

Dorothy Shephard, the Progressive Conservative critic for children and families, is 'relieved' the province is reviewing its child protection system. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

Progressive Conservative MLA Dorothy Shephard said she was relieved to hear the province is reviewing the child welfare system.

She questioned why a legislative committee with MLAs from all parties wasn't asked to oversee the review.

Shephard, the party's critic for children and families, has argued that parents in the system are being given too many opportunities to fail and it's putting children in danger.

"There's no easy answers here, that's the first thing I'll admit," Shepherd said. 

"But we've had enough evidence that we're not getting it right. We need to figure out some of these answers sooner than later."

High-profile cases

Horsman didn't point to a specific case or issue that prompted a wide-ranging review of the child protection system.

A Nova Scotia-based consultant has been hired to review the effectiveness of New Brunswick's entire child protection system. 1:32
But there have been several high-profile cases where the system failed children.

On Wednesday, two Saint John parents were sentenced to two years in prison for endangering the lives of their five children.

The children lived with their parents in a squalid apartment, covered in garbage and feces, with little to eat. The two children who were old enough to attend school rarely went to class.

The family was known to the Department of Social Development since at least 2012, court heard. 

But the children weren't removed from their parents' care until sheriffs happened upon the home in May 2016 to evict the family.

Horsman said he wasn't briefed on the case and didn't know about it until it was in the media.

Savoury's mandate includes looking at "internal decision-making processes, including briefing and issue escalation processes."

This portrait of Jackie Brewer is engraved on a monument in memory of Jackie and of John Ryan Turner, who also died from abuse and neglect. (Karissa Donkin/CBC)
A CBC News Investigation called The Lost Children reviewed several other cases where children fell through the cracks.

It revealed that a First Nations child welfare agency placed Mona Sock in a foster home with a sex offender. 

The man abused Mona and she took her own life. She was 13.

Before that, Juli-Anna St. Peter died after multiple complaints to social services about her family.

And before that, Jackie Brewer was ignored to death in a dark Saint John apartment, after multiple warnings of neglect.

Youth advocate will investigate too

As Savoury works on his report, child and youth advocate Norm Bossé will be doing a separate review of the province's child protection system.

"We will have our own report and we're doing this work alone, so to speak, as an independent legislative office," Bossé said.

He will focus on the foster care system and what happens to children under the watch of child protection.

Child and youth advocate Norm Bossé is doing his own review into the province's child welfare system, separate from a government review. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)
It will also look at the over-representation of Indigenous youth in the system. A report in 2010 found they are six times more likely to be taken from their homes and placed in foster care in New Brunswick.

Bossé will also be delving into past high-profile cases, looking at why recommendations that stemmed from those cases haven't gained traction.

"If that's not working, why are we still doing it?" Bossé said.

"Is there a better way to do it?"

About the Author

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to NBInvestigates@CBC.ca.