Child Protection Act Review: Council’s Advice to Government

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Earlier this autumn, after much study and review, members of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women submitted advice to government regarding the Child Protections Act review recommendations released in January of this year in an excellent, comprehensive report created by a government-appointed advisory committee. Council has now provided their advice to the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, the Minister of Family and Human Services, and the Premier and is pleased to make its advice public.

Council would like to note that since developing and submitting this document, there have been several new developments. We have learned, for instance, that home studies for kinship placements are being expedited, as recommended, and that policies for social worker interactions with children in need of protection are changing significantly, informed by the voices of youth who have experience with Child Protection. These are good-news updates. We hope that there is more good news to come.

Among other developments to track in 2018:

  1. Establishment of a Poverty Reduction Strategy Advisory Council to develop a poverty reduction strategy and any progress on a social policy framework
  2. A promise that new supports for grandparents and caregivers to children in need of protection will extend beyond the current “interim phase” support for grandparents and caregivers of children with open child protection services
  3. Implementation of the “Structured Decision-Making” model recommended in the Child Protection Act review; the software to support this model HAS been included in the capital budget, which is good news.

We look forward to continuing to monitor developments in Child Protection.


Priority Recommendations Coming Out of the Child Protection Act Review Released in January 2017

Prince Edward Island Advisory Council on the Status of Women

INTRODUCTION

The members of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women, with care and concern for the wellbeing of women, children, and families, and with a mandate to advise government on issues that affect the status of Prince Edward Island women, has been reviewing the recommendations coming out of the Child Protection Act review released in January. It is our view that the report and its recommendations are excellent, and we support them strongly. For the last number of months, we have been studying the recommendations with a view to support several recommendations we see as having a high priority.

We know that during this same time that we have been studying the recommendations, government has been working hard to implement recommendations. We are heartened to know this work is underway. We were particularly heartened to hear government’s announcement that it will financially support grandparents and other loved ones who are caring for children in need of protection. It is our hope that this brief on the priorities that we see, as citizens appointed by government to provide our advice, will complement and support government’s ongoing work to implement recommendations.

The preamble to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child considers family “as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children,” and therefore sees that the family “should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community.” This is the human rights framework in which child protection legislation must be applied to fully support the best interests of children: “protection” and “assistance” for families to be responsible for children, before the state, where necessary for a child’s protection and assistance, removes that child from the family.

In summary, what Council members would like to see are protections and assistance to families in cases where these have a strong probability of supporting children’s welfare. And, where children must be removed from their families for their safety and wellbeing, protection and assistance must follow the children.

We want to see the Child Protection Act outline services to children in need and high needs children and youth as well as to children in need of protection who have experienced harm or who are at substantial risk of harm. This requires systemic change.

As many expressed in the Child Protection Act review, systemic change requires collaborative, integrated approaches that include families, communities, and government, each playing a part to fulfill our responsibility to children.

PRIORITIES IDENTIFIED BY THE ADVISORY COUNCIL

Council members wanted to use this brief to provide guidance about what recommendations rose to the top as immediate priorities. The following are the priorities for public policy–focused recommendations and service delivery–focused recommendations.

First Public Policy Priority: Establish Mechanisms for Effective Data Collection and Measurement of Outcomes

As Council members studied the Child Protection Act review, what stood out foremost were the gaps in data and measurement outlined in the report. As a first step, we put high and urgent priority on government action on public policy–focused Recommendations #9–14 regarding data collection and measurement of outcomes. Without the underpinning of good data collection and strong measurement of outcomes, the effectiveness of any further action on these important recommendations cannot be known.

First Service Delivery Priority: Support for Least Intrusive Living Arrangements and Expedited Kinship Placements

Council members, like many others who participated in the Child Protection Act review, expressed confusion between least intrusive living arrangements and kinship placements. As we came to understand the difference between these interventions, and the roles of the state and of the family in each, Council members were firm in expressing a desire for government to act on service delivery–focused Recommendations #31–34 regarding least intrusive arrangements and Recommendation #35 regarding expedited Kinship Foster Parent assessments.

Most important within these recommendations is the importance of providing supports and assistance to support those who take on a role as caregivers to children in a “least-intrusive” arrangement: grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and others who take over the care of children in need require help and assistance. It is important, first, to ensure that if poverty is the primary reason that children are in need of protection, better supports should be available to parents to keep and care for their children themselves. When children need to be in a different home from their parents, financial supports to grandparents, other family members, and friends who already have close relationships with the children are essential. When a formal Kinship Foster Parent placement is the best solution, Kinship Foster Parents require additional support to help them overcome barriers in their homes to being eligible as foster homes.

As the Province examines a Provincial Housing Strategy, we urge government to consider programs that support housing for families, including grants and loans for renovations that support caregiving to children, vulnerable adults, and seniors.

Council members strongly support the new measures government has announced to support grandparents, family, and friends caring for children in need. This is a substantial positive measure for children’s wellbeing and protection.

Lack of means or of immediate supports should not be a barrier to people who are willing to take care and responsibility for children in need of protection, especially if those children are children whom they love and are already attached to.

It should be noted that the members of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women take a broad view of “kinship” and an inclusive definition of “family,” such as that used by the Vanier Institute of the Family, which begins, “Any combination of two or more persons who are bound together over time by ties of mutual consent, birth and/or adoption or placement and who, together, assume responsibilities…” (The full definition is available here: http://vanierinstitute.ca/definition-family/.)

Equality Report Card Priority Actions and Child Protection Act Recommendations

The PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women assesses government’s progress towards selected women’s equality goals through the Equality Report Card. The priority actions our Council recommends for government were made public and shared in June 2016 and include a number of priorities that align or overlap with the recommendations in the Child Protection Act review.

Recommendation #4. That Government commit to implementing a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy to include multiple social policy departments through public engagement while working with the Federal Government to determine the best means of income and program support for our Island population to include exploring mechanisms for ending child and family poverty in PEI, including the benefits and costs of PEI serving as a pilot site for implementation of a Basic Income Guarantee.”

In the preamble to the section on Women’s Economic Status, the Equality Report Card calls for “responsive and flexible social programs and an effective cross- governmental provincial strategy to reduce or eliminate poverty.”

Two of the priority action areas in this section of the Report Card are the following:

  • Increased social assistance rates that ensure individuals and families are able to meet their basic needs, including steps towards implementing a basic income guarantee for all Islanders
  • An expanded mandate for social assistance programs to support more economically vulnerable Islanders (including, for example, increased eligibility, more access to flexible short-term emergency support, more support for people to transition from social assistance to independent livelihood)

These priority action recommendations strongly support Recommendation #4.

Recommendation #5. That the province adopt a population approach to mental health and addictions that recognizes the importance of and provides resources for promotion and prevention, early identification, timely and appropriate intervention, and ongoing support, and that the presence of children in a family be taken into account when prioritizing access to services.”

It is our view that this recommendation adds substance and values that we support to the Equality Report Card priority action under Women’s Health that calls for

  • Increased funding and services in mental health in community mental health and other non-urgent and preventative care, including gender-specific services

Recommendation #6. The Advisory Committee recommends that the province continue with widespread implementation of the Triple P Positive Parenting Program, the Positive Parenting From Two Homes Program and the Period of Purple Crying Program.”

The PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women has been strongly supportive of parenting programs and specifically recommends in the section on Supports for Caregiving:

  • Continued support for and promotion of the “Triple P” positive parenting program for PEI

Recommendation #15. That government establish effective mechanisms to ensure that the basic rights and freedoms of children are maintained, that they are afforded the opportunity to participate in matters that affect them, and that their voices are heard by a neutral third party not connected to government services.”

In our view, the most “effective mechanism to ensure that the basic rights and freedoms of children” is without question a child and youth advocate, and under the section on Access to Justice, the Equality Report Card priority actions call for

  • Steps towards establishing a provincial child and youth advocacy office or other mechanisms to serve children and youth involved in provincial government systems (such as independent case review, policy audits, and arms-length reporting to the Legislature and the public on issues)

While government has established new services or enhanced existing services to meet some of the goals outlined in the Child Protection Act review Recommendation #15, we remain convinced that Prince Edward Island requires an independent child advocate office.
We see the hiring of a Children’s Lawyer as a valuable and important step to fulfilling parts of Recommendation #15, and, more pertinently, Recommendation #16. And yet, we acknowledge that a Children’s Lawyer is not a child advocate.

Recommendation #18: That the province establish a Child Death and Serious Injury Review process and a Domestic Homicide Review process, each to be operational by 30 June 2017.”

While calling for a Child Death and Serious Injury and a Domestic Homicide review processes is not a specific priority action called for in the 2018 Equality Report Card, the 2015 Equality Report Card called for these processes: “We join the call for Domestic Violence Death Reviews and Child Death and Serious Injury Reviews for PEI.” We are an active part of the Premier’s Action Committee on Family Violence Prevention, which calls for these processes as well.

In addition to implementing Prince Edward Island death and serious injury reviews, we amplify this recommendation by recommending that those charged with death and serious injury reviews examine relevant reviews from other jurisdictions in any six-month period when there is no local review. We should, as a province, learn from elsewhere to proactively prevent deaths and serious injury, in addition to responding to local preventable tragic events.

Recommendation #25: That Child Protection Services conduct a jurisdictional scan regarding utilization of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in child protection matters and, in consultation with appropriate government and community partners, establish policies and procedures regarding utilization of ADR in this province.”

Among 2018 Equality Report Card priority actions for Access to Justice is the following:

  • Steps towards expanded resources for family mediation, counselling, and conflict resolution that reduce/prevent families from requiring legal proceedings

We acknowledge that alternative dispute resolution would require gender and diversity analysis to avoid unintended negative outcomes. ADR is not advisable or safe in all circumstances; these alternative resolution mechanisms may not be appropriate in situations where there is an imbalance of power, abuse, or violence.

Recommendation #21. That Child Protection Services develop and implement protocols for when it is deemed necessary to share information with the other parent to ensure that the child is protected from harm.”

This recommendation for an information-sharing protocol and other recommendations related to information sharing strike us as essential, and it is extremely important that protocols be sensitive to the dynamics of violence against women and of family violence. The preamble to the Violence Prevention section of the Equality Report Card calls for “government services to be gender appropriate, culturally sensitive, and trauma-informed.” (We note that Recommendation #43 also calls for “a trauma informed approach to group care … in all Child & Family Services group homes.”)

One of the most troubling, recurrent stories we hear from women who have left abusive relationships is that ex-partners and/or their families use reports to child protection as a way to continue abuse, manipulation, and control. One woman whose experience of abuse included reports to child protection meant to control, shame, humiliate, and create fear in her of losing her child(ren) told us her story. She said, “I would rather be punched in the head every day than go through what I am going through.”

As a result of stories such as this one, one priority action called for in the 2018 Equality Report Card is

  • Use of best-practice, updated, or new tools to prevent or respond to violence, including woman abuse/spousal abuse protocols and policies and/or risk assessment tools

Other recommendations that call for protocols or policies and procedures of particular interest include Recommendation #50: That Child Protection Services develop policies and procedures for the delivery of child protection services to children between the ages of sixteen (16) and eighteen (18) years of age and an abandoned child.

Services, policies, and procedures for the group of children between the ages of 16 and 18 require particular scrutiny with a gender and diversity lens. The risks and vulnerabilities for young women in this age group are different from those of young men. Similarly, recommendations related to extended services for young people after they are 18 years old should be subject to gender and diversity analysis before they are implemented.

Recommendation #52. That Child Protection Service staff, and staff with such other services as might be identified by the Senior Leadership Group, undergo periodic training regarding family violence and its impacts upon children, such training to be comprised of interventions with demonstrated evidence for enhancing participants’ knowledge, attitudes, and/or skills.”

The recommendation for training regarding family violence and its impacts upon children is clearly echoed in the following priority action for the 2018 Equality Report Card:

  • Examples of training for intervention in family violence, relationship violence, and violence against women and children for front-line workers such as police, justice workers, and child protection workers

Support for Additional Resources

In conclusion, the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women joins its voice to the voices that call in the Child Protection Act review report for additional resources in Recommendation #17, and wherever additional resources are necessary for the safety and care of Island children.

Recommendation #17. The Advisory Committee recommends that the senior leadership group referenced in recommendation two (2) develop a plan for a broader child welfare system promoting healthy child and family development and addressing “children in need” and “high needs children and youth” and that includes (i) allocating substantial additional resources to Child and Family Services; or (ii) allocating substantial additional resources to other governmental and community services; or (iii) such combination of (i) and (ii) as would be most effective and efficient.”

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