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On paper, it seems like a no-brainer - change Quebec's child welfare laws in order to better protect kids. For the past 25 years, there has been no official time frame for rendering a permanent decision on whether a child who has been removed from his home be returned to his parents or put up for adoption. As a result, these "temporary" children are bounced around from foster home to foster home for months and even years, never able to establish permanent relationships. In practical terms, cold reality dictates that families looking to adopt generally prefer infants – the longer a child is held out of the adoption pool, the lower are his chances of finally finding a home.
But when government officials began discussing setting a 12-month limit for such decisions, it caused concern among social agencies. "No one is criticizing the logic behind this initiative," says Nico Trocmé, director of McGill's Centre for Research on Children and Families. "The concern is for the message you're sending the families: 'you have one year to get your act together or else you will permanently lose your child.'"
Trocmé says that, as such, this new legislation risks being biased against poor families. "For example, if a mother has substance abuse problems – something that is quite treatable – but there is an eight-month waiting list before she can get into a rehab program, should she lose her child?" he asks. "She can't just pay to fly off to the Betty Ford Clinic."
Three weeks ago, Trocmé, who helped spearhead similar changes to Ontario's child welfare laws six years ago, stood in front of the Legislative Committee of the National Assembly and argued that any new legislation should presuppose that the necessary services are in place to support families in poverty. Pleased with the government's reception of this presentation, Trocmé is fairly confident that new legislation within the next two to three months will both include the much-needed timeline yet be more understanding of the situation of low-income parents trying to turn their lives around.
In the end, Trocmé sees helping to formulate public policy as one of the great services McGill provides to the community. "The scientific mantle isn't a bad one – we're relatively neutral and we have access to so much important data. That puts us in a very powerful position to help move these issues along."