Access to mental health and addiction services main concern for youth in care: child advocate

The Canada Suicide Prevention Service enables callers anywhere in Canada to access crisis support using the technology of their choice (phone, text or chat), in French or English: Phone: toll-free 1-833-456-4566  Text: 45645 Chat:

Brittany Hobson
A new report from Manitoba’s children and youth advocate is providing some insight into the deaths of children and youth in the province.

Daphne Penrose’s office reviewed 57 deaths from 2014 to 2018 to determine trends and issues when it comes to accessing services, which remains a key issue.

In addition to accessing mental health and addiction services Penrose said access to intervention and prevention services is an issue as well.

“These children are entitled and they have a right to service,” said Penrose.

The report was released in conjunction with the office’s annual report.

It showed Indigenous youth accounted for 51 of the 57 deaths.

The report didn’t break down manners of death by race, but it documented deaths by suicide totalled 8 of the 57.

Young people in northern Manitoba accounted for 32 of the deaths.

Penrose said each community has its own need but ultimately youth must be consulted to address the issues.

“Kids need to be involved in what those services look like and adults need to get informed from them,” said Penrose.

“I think the youth voice is missing.”

New legislation passed last year should permit Penrose to investigate children and youth who have died while receiving services outside of the child welfare system, however that has yet to be fully implemented.

Right now, the advocate’s office can only review and investigate cases where youth were receiving child welfare services within a year of their death.

This includes, if the family had an open file with Child and Family Services (CFS), whether it was a voluntary service file or protection file; if the child was in the care of CFS; or if youth were receiving services beyond the age of 18.

For example, from 2018-2019 the office received a total of 199 Manitoba child death notifications from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner but only 70 of those were determined to be in the scope for a review.

This doesn’t provide a complete picture, according to Penrose.

“What we’re not looking at is the rest of the children who have been seriously injured and/or died and didn’t have contact with CFS,” she said. “It’s all of the other kids who also need a voice.”

During question period, Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard questioned whether Families Minister Heather Stefanson would ensure a suicide prevention plan would be included in all future case planning for children receiving CFS services.

“I note the child death review shows deficiency in 53 of 57 case plans. Problems of case planning have been highlighted many times in recent years,” said Gerrard.

Premier Brian Pallister fielded the question but instead of answering put the focus on the upcoming federal child welfare act, which the provincial Conservative government has been critical of in the lead up to the implementation in the new year.

“Legislation… which has been put forth without any consultation whatsoever with any of the provincial agencies, with any of the provincial governments or ministers. Legislation which no one seems to have any idea how it will work,” said Pallister.

Penrose also has concerns with the Jan. 1, 2020 implementation of Bill C-92.

She said her office has not been involved in the development of the legislation.

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