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Reports of children in youth protection exposed to domestic violence has doubled in 10 years

Catherine Lemay, National Director of Youth Protection, speaks at a press conference after the government introduced youth protection legislation at the Legislative Assembly in Quebec City on Wednesday, December 1, 2021. LA PRESSE CANADIENNE/Jacques Boissinot
Catherine Lemay, National Director of Youth Protection, speaks at a press conference after the government introduced youth protection legislation at the Legislative Assembly in Quebec City on Wednesday, December 1, 2021. LA PRESSE CANADIENNE/Jacques Boissinot
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The number of reports received by the Direction de la protection de la jeunesse (DPJ) for exposure to domestic violence has more than doubled in 10 years, rising from around 8,000 in 2014 to just over 17,000 in 2023.

This represents a 14.7 per cent increase in reports related to exposure to domestic violence compared to 2022, shows the annual balance sheet of Quebec's youth protection directors/provincial directors.

In 2023, reports of exposure to domestic violence accounted for 12.5 per cent of all reports received, representing one in eight reports, or 47 reports per day.

Overall, there was a slight decline (-0.9 per cent) in all reports in 2023.

"This is the second year in a row that reports have fallen slightly, after almost a decade of increases. We can't yet talk about a trend after two years, but we can say that it's going downhill," said Catherine Lemay, National Director of Youth Protection, in an interview.

In her opinion, this indicator testifies to all the efforts being made to address the problems experienced by children and their families before they deteriorate.

Child protection services selected 47 per cent of reports of exposure to domestic violence for in-depth assessment, compared with 31 per cent of all reports.

The report explains that "these increases may reflect increased attention, greater understanding of the phenomenon and better detection on the part of all those involved in violence against women and children." However, the problem of domestic violence is "very real in our society," noting that there has been an increase in the number of femicides in recent years.

The report states that children who are exposed to domestic violence are likely to experience psychological problems, including intrusive thoughts and fears, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, difficulties in establishing meaningful relationships, aggressive behaviour or problems at school.

It is also explained that a child who evolves in a climate of domestic violence is more likely to be "a victim of physical abuse and to be subjected to unreasonable educational practices."

"For us at DPJ, children's exposure to domestic violence is a very serious issue. On a global scale, domestic violence occurs in all socio-economic, religious and cultural groups, and requires concerted work and constant vigilance."

"To achieve this, we need the entire population. As significant adults for these children and their parents, and as witnesses, you too are part of the solution. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a whole society to protect them," reads the report.

In 2023-2024, 100,258 children were the subject of at least one report, or 6.13 per cent of young people aged 0 to 17. Of these, 35,791 children (2.19 per cent) were the subject of at least one report retained for assessment.

When a child's situation is reported to the DPJ, caregivers are required to assess the situation using an analysis grid predefined by law. In the case of compromised exposure to domestic violence, a specific analysis grid takes into account the particularities of these situations, and imposes a change in practices, says the report.

The most common reasons for taking children into care are the same as in previous years. In all, 20 per cent of children were taken into care because of psychological abuse, and 12 per cent because they were physically abused or seriously at risk of being abused.

It should be noted that exposure to domestic violence has been a separate reason for psychological maltreatment since April 26, 2023. Intakes for psychological maltreatment for 2023-2024 include situations of exposure to domestic violence that were reported prior to this date.

"We decided to make this a specific reason because we had reached that point socially, but also because social science and the various researchers who have paid attention to this issue have helped us to say: 'At present, exposure to domestic violence, whether in an actual situation or after the parents have separated, can still exist'," said Lemay.

She acknowledged that exposure to domestic violence is "extremely complex to detect," but for her, the fact that there has been an increase in the number of cases of domestic violence is a sign that the situation is improving.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on June 18, 2024.  

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