“What happened is a horrific consequence of a failure in our child protection system”- David Coon
An investigation into New Brunswick’s troubled child protection system is too important to leave in the hands of the provincial cabinet, say opposition politicians.Both Progressive Conservative MLA Dorothy Shephard and Green MLA David Coon argue the Liberal government’s decision to hire an outside investigator after it failed to protect five neglected children is not enough.
And they say it’s unacceptable that Nova Scotia consultant George Savoury will deliver his recommendations in secret to the cabinet at the end of August, without any examination of the facts by MLAs in the legislature.
What happened is a horrific consequence of a failure in our child protection system,” Coon said Friday. “That family was well known to the Department of Social Development and it should not have required the sheriffs serving an eviction notice to discover those children and have them removed. Thank goodness, in a way, that the eviction notice was served before something really tragic happened.”
The two Saint John parents in the case were sentenced to two years in prison Wednesday. They have not been named because of a court-ordered publication ban to protect the identity of their five children.The sheriffs serving the eviction notice found them in 2016 living in squalor, with garbage and feces smeared all over the apartment. The children’s teeth were rotting out and two of the older ones had missed more than half of their school year.
Stephen Horsman, the minister of children and families, has promised the results of Savoury’s investigation will be released publicly after cabinet has looked at them, but won’t say when.
Shephard, along with Coon, is calling on Horsman to deliver the report to the legislature’s standing committee on social policy so that they can question Savoury and other potential witnesses – including child protection staff – on what went wrong and how to make improvements.The Liberal government created the 11-member committee when it came to power in the fall of 2014 but it has never met.
Seven members are Liberals, including chairwoman Monique LeBlanc. The four opposition Tory members have no power to call a meeting of the committee.“My concern is that gaps in the system have shown themselves in high-profile cases before,”Shephard said. “Some of those gaps are obvious in this newest case. So yes, I have concerns. We are not doing the best we can and there is room for improvement.”
New Brunswick has had a number of highly-publicized cases of child abuse, including the deaths of Jacqueline Brewer, a two-year-old who was living in Saint John’s south end when she died alone in her crib suffering from dehydration in 1996, and John Ryan Turner, a three-year-old from Miramichi who was starved to death in 1994.“If legislators were involved we could come up with different answers than the bureaucratic side and we could progress the file quickly as opposed to years of agonizing results,” Shephard said.
Horsman, however, flatly rejected the idea Friday, arguing convening a legislature committee wouldn’t be quick enough to fix any problems. The minister said he wasn’t an expert in child protection, and doubted other MLAs were either. Savoury, on the other hand, has done social work for 35 years and acted as a consultant to governments for five more.“We want to do this right and that’s why we’re bringing in an expert,” Horsman said. “I’m going to get this done and we’re going to get this done at Social Development. We’re not going to sit around and talk about it.”
Horsman, who is also deputy premier, said he wasn’t sure why the committee had never been convened after being created by his own government more than three years ago.