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Kelly Lamrock is New Brunswick's child, youth and seniors' advocate. Image: Submitted

Social programs risk collapse without change: advocate

By Brad Perry Mar 11, 2024 | 10:05 AM

New Brunswick must change how it manages social programs or risk their collapse all at once.

That is according to a new report released Monday by the province’s child, youth and seniors’ advocate.

“Many New Brunswickers rightly wonder why a number of social services are breaking down at once,” Kelly Lamrock said in a news release.

“It is not a coincidence. It is because the government is organized at its centre to defeat good people working on how it delivers social programs.”

Lamrock’s report points to five central governance flaws in how the province has been organized since the mid-1990s and how they keep defeating social programs.

  • Failing to plan for human resource needs with good models and training targets.
  • Budgeting without any measurement of what works or clear social outcome goals, which leads to funding actions rather than funding results.
  • Holding public servants to bureaucratic rules and uniform processes without ever holding anyone accountable for outcomes.
  • Setting hard targets for fiscal goals but never setting clear, measurable targets for social outcomes.
  • Avoiding preventative planning and investment in optional programs that might prevent crises, then overpaying to fund the crises.

“I am tired of seeing the same problems cause harm to children, seniors and vulnerable New Brunswickers. It is time to call out these patterns of failure,” said Lamrock.

“The fact is that we have a lot of good people working hard to support the vulnerable, but the system keeps producing the same problems. Good people should not have to work in a poorly designed system.”

The new report stems from the advocate’s yet-to-be-released review of the long-term care system. Lamrock said it became clear that some of the problems in long-term care are due to a “general breakdown” in governance and social services across multiple departments.

Lamrock’s report makes 10 recommendations to the Executive Council Office and Finance and Treasury Board — the first time his office has issued a report aimed at the central departments that manage the government.

They include creating a social policy branch to support social departments; separating the functions of Treasury Board and the Executive Council Office; and holding a training summit with the private sector, professional associations and the post-secondary sector to set hard targets for training based upon credible demand models.

Other recommendations include setting social outcome targets for government departments and reporting on progress in an annual update; and establishing more flexible rules and incentives for social departments to provide integrated services to clients, based upon a “meet the need first” model.

You can view the full report here.

Liberal leader Susan Holt speaks with reporters on March 11, 2024. Image: Zoom video capture

Liberals ‘very interested in’ several of the recommendations

Meanwhile, the Opposition Liberals are welcoming the advocate’s report into social programs.

Susan Holt said it is clear that the New Brunswick government needs to start governing differently.

“The systems of today, the systems of managing to a bottom line without focusing on outcomes are not only hurting us but they’re very expensive,” Holt said in a news conference on Monday.

“When you have seniors waiting for long-term care placements, when you have people looking for housing and social assistance, we have to start putting the focus on improving the outcomes for New Brunswickers and building our governance models and our fiscal models around that care.”

Holt was also asked if her party would commit to implementing all 10 recommendations if they were elected in the next provincial election.

She said they are “very interested in” separating the finance department from the Executive Council Office and the overall concept of a social policy unit.

“We haven’t had a chance to go through all of the recommendations in details, but broadly this shift in government is something that we and my team are proponents of,” said Holt.

The Liberal leader said it would take more than four years of work to change something that has been decades in the making.

“This is cultural change that will be challenging for the civil service and all of the actors that have learned to work a certain way over the last 30 years,” she said.