MONTREAL -- A provincial commission looking into the protection of vulnerable children in Quebec is recommending the appointment of a youth-protection watchdog to oversee the entire provincial system.

The Laurent Commission released a preliminary report today after the COVID-19 pandemic delayed its final report, now set to be released in April 2021.

The proposed provincial director of youth protection would act as a "guardian angel" and would have a role similar to that of a deputy minister, providing some consistency in how cases are handled across the province.

Commission vice-president Andre Lebon said the current system is marked by a "a big lack of coordination, co-operation and collaboration."

The commissioners recommend that the best interests of children should be at the heart of all interventions made by youth protection. The preliminary report said as it stands, the youth protection system suffers from a lack of funding and oversight, as well as a poor understanding of post-conjugal violence. 

Lebon said particularly neglected are the needs of Quebec's minorities.

"Even in Montreal, where there's a critical mass of Anglophone-speaking people, we've been surprised that it's not that easy to have access to the services," he said. 

Regine Laurent, a nurse and former union leader who is heading the commission, says that means the child must be talked to about their present situation and their future, and their rights must be respected.

The special commission was sparked by the 2019 death of a seven-year-old girl from Granby, Que., after she was found in critical condition in her family home, even though she had been the subject of reports to the youth protection department. The girl's father and step-mother have both been charged in connection with the death.

Valerie Assouline, a lawyer who represents the girl's mother, said she believes a national director will help unify youth protection departments province-wide.

"You have some DYP that think a certain way and others that think another way," she said. "It's not uniform and that's why we have so many issues in a particular region like Granby, for example."

But Jessica Goldschleger, a spokesperson for the union that represents some of the professionals working in the system, said there are worries the recommendations won't help in the short term.

"If I take Quebec City right now, there are 10 case loads where no one is in charge, not enough staff," she said. "Ten entire caseloads right now, spread out to everyone else, so everyone is overworked. When someone new comes, there is no time to train properly, no time to get them to adapt."

-With files from The Canadian Press