New Brunswick failing to provide basic services, says new report by child advocate – Global News

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The New Brunswick government has few measurable goals for the money it spends on social services, a systemic flaw that is putting the province’s safety net on the brink of failure, says a new report from the child, youth and seniors’ advocate.

Kelly Lamrock’s 49-page report, titled “How It All Broke,” describes a government that has trouble delivering basic services such as emergency care or education, in a province where “there is a pervasive sense that multiple social structures are breaking down at once.”

Talking to reporters Monday after he released his report, Lamrock said, “We need to teach kids to read better, we need to intervene in early childhood better … we need to better the long-term care system, we can’t have people suffering in emergency waiting rooms for 24 hours.”

The failings, Lamrock said, can be attributed to staffing shortages, budgets without measurable goals, a lack of accountability for public servants and poor crisis planning.

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Government spending, he said, doesn’t come with hard targets for outcomes. While civil servants, he added, are rewarded for following rules but discouraged from solving problems.

“And over 30 years I’ve watched a number of governments, including one I was part of, go through the same cycles,” Lamrock said.

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The advocate said he began writing the report after he examined the failings in the long-term care system and realized that some of those problems could not be separated from a general breakdown in governance across multiple departments. His report on the long-term care sector is to be released later this week.

The system is broken, he said, when someone feels they need to become homeless to get on a list for government aid — a situation he said has occurred in the province. “Well, that means we can’t actually respond in a meaningful way when somebody is teetering on the brink, right?”

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Lamrock told a story about a family who needed extra resources for a child with special needs. But because the school couldn’t accommodate the parents’ work schedules, they had to give up their jobs so their child could get the help. But by giving up work, they were forced into unstable housing.

“Then … they lost their cellphones,” he said, because the family couldn’t afford them. “So the social workers, if they wanted to talk to them, had to drive an hour to the rural community they had to move to.”

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Regarding child protection services, Lamrock said, the province doesn’t keep proper records on best practices, which he said makes it difficult to know what’s working and what isn’t.

“If you asked what region does the best job of avoiding kids in child protection winding up hurt? We have no idea.”

In his report, Lamrock said there has been a spike in the number of young people in emergency rooms with mental-health crises, a situation he said “speaks to a lack of primary care and early intervention capacity within the mental-health system.” But nearly three-quarters of school psychologist positions are unfilled and wait times for primary mental-health care are high.

He said he asked whether anyone in government had data on how many people in the province are likely to require psychological help and how many health workers are available. “You would think that, if you asked those questions, there would be an answer. And in New Brunswick, you would be wrong.”

Lamrock offered 10 recommendations on how to fix the problems, including setting clear targets for government departments, and requiring that spending be tied to measurable outcomes.

“How we budget differently, how we train differently, how we have different rules of accountability for departments, how we report data, that’s where I would change it right at the centre,” he said.

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Premier Blaine Higgs issued a statement on the report, thanking Lamrock for his “interest … on this important issue,” but suggesting the advocate strayed from his mandate to review the long-term care sector.

“We understand that reviews such as this often grow in breadth and depth and end up with a cross-departmental lens to the issue at hand. Unfortunately, there were limited conversations with government leadership, and ministers, on what was included in this ad hoc report.”

Green Leader David Coon said the problems highlighted in Lamrock’s report go back to Progressive Conservative premier Francis McKenna’s second term in the 1990s, during which he cut government jobs and budgets.

Unless there is a change in leadership, he said, there cannot be a change in practices.

“Fundamentally, the system is the problem not the people in it. Therefore, we need system change,” Coon said.

Liberal Leader Susan Holt said what’s clear from Lamrock’s report is that there needs to be a change in how things are governed and how care is offered to New Brunswickers.

“The fundamental thing that I took away … from the child and youth advocate, is that our model of government needs to change significantly if we are going to deliver the services New Brunswickers need, and that change is required in order to do that in a more fiscally responsible way.”

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2024.

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