FREDERICTON -- The New Brunswick government has launched a public consultation process aimed at crafting new child and youth welfare legislation.

Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard says the government is also looking to improve the child protection system.

"It's more than just child protection. It means ensuring parents and families are able to obtain services that they need to raise their children in ways that are safe and that are supported," Shephard said Wednesday.

"It is vital what when our intervention is necessary, we are able to take the appropriate actions to keep children safe and our youth safe."

The move follows the release of a report last year by Child and Youth Advocate, Norm Bosse, on a horrific child-neglect case involving the mistreatment of five young children in Saint John, N.B.

The children, ranging in age from six months to eight years old, were discovered in 2016 in an apartment smeared with feces and with little food for the children to eat.

The children were malnourished and several had rotting teeth, while the two school-aged siblings had missed most of their school year.

The parents -- both drug users -- were later sentenced to two years in jail, but at the time Bosse said the parents' failure was compounded by the government's failure.

On Wednesday, Bosse said creating stand-alone legislation, separate from the Family Services Act, would better serve social workers on the front line.

"Let's just make it very clear when they can go in when they suspect children may be being abused or neglected," he said.

The government has released a discussion paper and has set a Feb. 28 deadline for public feedback, but Shephard said it could be a year before new legislation is ready.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15, 2020.