1 report of child sexual abuse every 2 weeks is reported in Quebec daycares: documents
A new case every two weeks.
In Quebec, that is the frequency of reports of sexual abuse committed against children entrusted to daycare services, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press from the Ministry of the Family.
Over the past ten years, nearly 300 defenceless children between the ages of zero and five have had a complaint or report filed about them in a Quebec daycare centre, according to the data collected.
And they may have been abused.
Behind these numbers are vulnerable children who may have fallen through the cracks of the safety net designed to protect them, particularly in family settings, where the majority of reports occur.
The phenomenon seems to be stable, neither increasing nor decreasing, with an average of about 30 cases per year.
Several questions remain unanswered regarding the data.
What action was taken on all the reports? What percentage of them were founded? How many childcare providers (CPEs) lost their jobs and ended up behind bars? How many childcare centres have been forced to close their doors because of sexual assaults that occurred within their walls?
No one in the government has seen fit to collect all the information, from the filing of the report to the closing of the file. All the actors involved, and there are many, operate in silos, surrounding each reported case with the strictest confidentiality.
"The Ministry (of Family) does not hold information related to the status of complaints and reports," said the person responsible for access to information at this ministry by way of response to these queries.
After reviewing the issue in 2017, the Ministry of Health, which oversees the Youth Protection Branch (DPJ), "concluded that the data could not be matched," the Ministry of Health said in an email exchange.
No one in government would comment on the matter.
Family Minister Mathieu Lacombe declined an interview request.
The minister responsible for the DPJ, Lionel Carmant, also declined, as did the national director of youth protection, Catherine Lemay.
Of the total number of people reported, two out of three (65 per cent) were working in a family daycare. These individuals are often the caregiver's spouse, or one of the caregiver's teenage or young adult children.
The operators of these centres are not above suspicion: during the decade, there were 15 home childcare providers and 6 licensees associated with reports of sexual abuse. In the other cases, it was staff members (educator, janitor, cook, etc.).
The nature of the actions alleged is not documented. Trial records or judgment documents must be used, for example.
As soon as a report is made, a mechanism is set in motion.
All the actors involved (Family Child Care Coordination Offices, DPJ, police, etc.) must apply the government's "multisectoral agreement," a document that describes the intervention procedure and the obligations of each.
The problem is that this agreement is applied in a "variable geometry manner," said executive director of the Association québécoise des centers de la petite enfance (AQCPE) Geneviève Bélisle.
The AQCPE is the organization that oversees and supervises the coordinating offices.
The sharing of information between the various stakeholders, which is "encouraged but not mandatory," is also "variable geometry," especially if the report is not retained, said Bélisle. The result is a "blur" in the application of the protocol.
The Laurent report, written in the wake of the tragic death of the martyred Granby girl in 2019, noted the "lack of communication between the partners" responsible for implementing the agreement, a goal described as "difficult."
Bélisle also insisted in the interview on the importance of better training for the homecare providers to remind them periodically of their obligations in the event of a report, which she considers to be a major shortcoming.
"We can really do better and really more," she said, arguing for mandatory annual training.
Tighter supervision could also help, she said. The coordinating offices only visit family daycares three times a year.
"The follow-up of the application of the multisectoral agreement provides for follow-up mechanisms, both at the national and regional levels, in order to escalate and address challenges and needs with the partners," the Ministry of Health said.
Bélisle believes that the "safety net" has been weakened by Bill 15 sponsored by Minister Carmant. She cited, as an example, the fact that previously a person wanting to become a homecare provider had to provide a certificate attesting to their physical and mental health. This is no longer the case. The deadline for renewing licenses has been extended from three to five years.
70 PER CENT OF APPLICATIONS FOR REVIEW ACCEPTED
The family childcare situation raises the recruitment issue for family childcare providers and the criteria used to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the health or safety of children.
Recruitment itself is a significant issue in the labour shortage context, which may prompt the government to lower the criteria for providing spaces to parents. It is estimated that there are currently 23,000 spaces available for children in family childcare that are left vacant because a caregiver cannot be found.
Particularly in the unregulated childcare community, there is pressure on the government to relax the rules.
Those interested in opening a family childcare centre must demonstrate that there are no "impediments" that make them unfit to care for young children.
The proof of lack of impediment is issued by a police force, for the person in charge, those residing at the same address and his or her employees.
The catch is that the person with an "impediment" can challenge the decision.
Since 2018, the department has received 540 requests for review and the vast majority of people, 380 (70 per cent), have been successful.
An "impediment" can be a criminal or penal act, but not necessarily a major or sexual crime, the department says in an email exchange.
"It could be a youthful mistake (e.g., stealing a car at 18), a lapse in judgment (e.g., driving while impaired) or a more difficult time in a person's life (e.g., shoplifting)," the family ministry said in explaining the decision in many cases to let identified impediments go.
Regarding the current form of impediment anaylsis, "we consider the procedure adequate," said the Ministry of Health.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Oct. 2, 2022.
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