Social Development

Minister's response to child death review committee report (09/10/09)

NB 1534

Oct. 9, 2009

FREDERICTON (CNB) - A response was issued today by Social Development Minister Kelly Lamrock to the recommendations made by the Child Death Review Committee, which reviewed the death of a child.

"Our children are the future of our province, and we are committed to keeping them as safe as possible," said Lamrock. "The Child Death Review Committee helps the provincial government ensure that our child welfare system responds to the needs of children and their families. I thank the committee for its recommendations."

The committee was established to investigate the deaths of children younger than 19 who were in the legal care of the minister; or whose families were in contact with the child welfare system within 12 months prior to their death.

Lamrock had also requested a report on this particular matter from the Child and Youth Advocate, which made six recommendations to address issues about newborn abandonment and/or death or endangerment of newborns.

"I thank the Child and Youth Advocate for the interest he has shown in this case and his willingness to assist the department," said Lamrock. "I have shared these recommendations with the departments and agencies that can best help us put in place the responses to the recommendations in their respective program areas."

The committee issued one recommendation, released publicly by Social Development on Aug. 28. Under the terms of reference of the committee, the department must respond to recommendations 45 days after they are released.

Following is a recommendation from the Child Death Review Committee and the response from Social Development:

Recommendation:

The Committee recommends that the Department of Social Development explore what actions would or should be available to the Minister when it is suspected that a person, especially one known to the Department, is pregnant or appears to be hiding a pregnancy and that this action may prove harmful either to themselves or to the baby once delivered.

Response:

Social Development is very concerned when a report comes to the department about an expectant mother is either involved in activities that may prove harmful to a baby once delivered; or is denying pregnancy.

Upon receiving a report of this nature, the department will initiate contact with the expectant mother and address the identified concerns. The social worker will offer support either by providing department programs or by providing information on and/or offering referrals to community-based services. Any contact that the department has with the expectant mother at this stage is voluntary on the part of the mother.

In situations where it is believed that a newborn may be at risk following birth, hospitals will be alerted requesting that the Child Protection Services branch of Social Development be notified of the birth of the baby. At that time, a risk assessment will be completed to ensure a plan is in place so the baby will be safe upon discharge from the hospital.

At present, Social Development provides Birth Parent Services for women who are pregnant or who have given birth and/or for birth fathers who are undecided about the long-term plans for their child.

This is a pre-decision support service that recognizes the right of choice and that attempts to ensure that the parents are is aware of all options as well as the implications of those options for themselves and their child.

As part of this program, birth parents may be provided education on parenting, financial matters etc., and may be referred to support services within or outside the department.

Social Development will collaborate with other departments about public awareness-education information about access to services for young and other expectant mothers who may be experiencing pregnancy denial or are involved in behaviours that could be harmful either to them or to the baby once delivered.

Following are the recommendations of the Child and Youth Advocate and departmental responses:

Recommendation 1:

Provide services to pregnant women and young parents such as a hotline and specialized counsellors. Requiring the most attention are services which target women who may be experiencing pregnancy denial. Project Cuddle in California already operates a hotline program which is available to women in Canada. Developing a similar hotline to serve New Brunswick at-risk mothers may be valuable. Other services would include distribution of free and available contraception, and strengthening support to low-income pregnant women and young parents. Support and help should be in place for the women who abandon newborns or have been in pregnancy denial as these mothers may have mental health or addiction issues

Response 1:

Social Development agrees and will upgrade its 1-866 telephone message to specifically offer assistance to pregnant mothers in need and, through government-sponsored hotlines such as CHIMO, develop a crisis-line approach.

Recommendation 2:

Educate youth on family planning issues including contraception, the dangers of a lack of prenatal care, baby abandonment as well as training service providers on identifying and treating the denial of a pregnancy. This should be implemented in partnership with the Department of Education.

Response 2:

Social Development will collaborate with other departments and the Public Legal Education and Information Services (PLEIS) to develop public awareness/education information about access to services for young and other expectant mothers who may be experiencing pregnancy denial or who are involved in behaviours that could be harmful either to them or to the baby once delivered. The department will review the training provided to social workers to determine what is available to assist them to better identify and treat denial of pregnancy.

Recommendation 3:

Research the causes of infant abandonment. Since the issue seems closely tied with the social situation of women, this could be performed in conjunction with the Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Research should also be done on the effectiveness of Safe Haven legislation before such legislation is considered further.

Response 3:

The department will, in conjunction with the Women's Issues Branch of Executive Council and other partners, including the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, conduct research on the causes of infant abandonment.

Recommendation 4:

Implement policy which can assist social workers in determining the appropriate steps to take when encountering a woman who may be at risk of harming her unborn child. This policy would require that the pregnant woman be contacted by a counsellor who is trained to assist women in pregnancy denial and be given the number to the hotline. It should also address the involvement of health professionals and hospitals.

Response 4:

Upon receiving a report of this nature the department will initiate contact with the expectant mother and address the identified concerns. The social worker will offer support either through department programs or by providing information on and/or offering referrals to community-based services. Under current legislation, any contact the department has with the expectant mother at this stage is voluntary.

In situations where it is believed that a newborn may be placed at risk following birth, hospitals will be alerted requesting that the Child Protection Services branch of Social Development be notified of the birth of the baby. At that time, a risk assessment will be completed to help ensure a plan is in place so the baby will be safe upon discharge from the hospital.

Recommendation 5:

Review the terms of reference of the Child Death Review Committee to determine if its objectives are still desired and, if so, provide the committee with the resources or other assistance required to carry out those objectives.

Response 5:

The department will collaborate with the Department of Public Safety to review the terms of reference of the Child Death Review Committee

Recommendation 6:

Legislate to restore to the superior courts the necessary jurisdiction to protect unborn children from serious harm or death in appropriate circumstances.

Response 6:

Understanding the complex legal and human rights context of this matter, Social Development will explore this issue with the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate and the Office of the Attorney General. The minister of Social Development will draft a letter to the Attorney General requesting advice and counsel.

09/10/09

MEDIA CONTACT: Alison Aiton, communications, Social Development, 506-444-2416.

09/10/09