Premier Legault announced that the government is going to review Quebec’s Youth Protection systems. I have never worked for Youth Protection but I have had plenty of chances to see it’s workings as an involved outsider. I hear patients/clients talk about how grateful they are that Youth Protection fulfilled its mandate and made sure they were safe from an abusive or neglectful parent. I see people who are furious that Youth Protection never became involved in their lives or stepped out too quickly and left them in a dangerous, destructive home situation. And I see people who are terribly hurt because Youth Protection intervened in ways that harmed them, exposing them to worse violence and abuse than they experienced at home.
I also see many parents who feel overwhelmed by the demands of parenting. Some of them, many of them, wish they had more support to be the parents they would like to be. The demands of parenting often become more overwhelming when people are faced with poverty and all the grinding daily indignities and difficulties that entails, which is also often tied up with classism and racism. A traumatic childhood of one’s own can make parenting even more challenging and it is my experience that many people who come seeking help to deal with difficult home situations were themselves in painful, destructive homes as kids. Others have mental health issues that they cannot get adequate care for.
Youth Protection is a very blunt instrument for dealing with the problem of families that are struggling to be nourishing and caring enough environments for kids. Any regime risks, on the one hand, pathologizing and further penalizing poverty, lack of skills or abilities and racial or cultural difference, and, on the other hand, leaving kids in terrible danger. We hear about it when kids die in their homes. We hear about it when racialized communities are targeted by the state and kids are taken out of their culture. People who have had helpful experiences of Youth Protection may - for very good reasons - not want to tell their stories, and we may not be as excited or mobilized by them as by the disasters. Most people also don’t hear about the people who grew up in homes where violence or neglect were a daily reality but who didn’t die. But lots of good enough experiences do exist.
We are asking Youth Protection directorates and workers to address a whole host of ills - individual psychopathology, family dysfunction, gaping holes in our care of mental illness, gender inequity, trauma history, addiction, poverty, racial discrimination, particularly the systematic targeting of native people - that are working at a bunch of different levels; individual, family, neighbourhood, community, city, province etc. Like the boy who sees every problem as a nail, we ask Youth Protection to deal with all of these super complex problems by handing them a hammer and then we are horrified when they misidentify a nail.
So Premier Legault, if you happen to read this article, let’s move away from how better to identify a nail and use a hammer. Expand the mandate of the commission to ask “What can we do at every level to help families with children do fabulously well?” Let’s be imaginative, hopeful, honest, kind and generous. You know, like a family.