Manitoba must get ‘creative’ to keep parents, kids in care connected during pandemic

Dennis WardFace to FaceManitoba’s child advocate says the province must get creative when it comes to keeping families and children in care of the state in touch during the COVID-19 pandemic where social distancing has become the rule.Changes to visitation rights during the pandemic is a huge shift for kids and families, Daphne Penrose, Manitoba’s Advocate for Children and Youth told Host Dennis Ward on Face to Face.“There is direction to face to face visits not occurring. And that certainly is a change for families and its very difficult for kids,” says Daphne Penrose.Penrose says it is critical that a connection remains between children and their families and that includes using different tools like skype or other platforms.“I think the important message is that visits have changed and that workers and agencies and authorities and facilities need to be working hard at trying to maintain that critical contact between families and their children and making sure that kids feel connected with their family,” says Penrose.Penrose says the change to visitation is hard for kids to understand but during this global pandemic, there is a need to be cautious.“For example, if a child is living in Winnipeg and parents are in a community and they have a visitation and that child has been exposed and the parents take that illness perhaps back to the community, that can have devastating impacts,” says Penrose who adds the best decisions in the interests of everybody must be made.Manitoba has the highest number of children in care in Canada.Roughly, 90 per cent of the 11,000 youth in the child welfare system in the province are Indigenous children.The province has also made headlines for the grim statistic of apprehending roughly a baby a day.Earlier this year, the Progressive Conservative government pledged to end the controversial practice of birth alerts effective April 1.The birth alert system flags a mother’s health file so that a hospital staff notify social workers as soon as the baby is born.The province delayed the birth alert ban due to COVID-19.Penrose says birth alerts were never intended to be used the way they have been in the past few years.“I believe the practice of birth alerts is something that needs to be looked at because it has become a tool of apprehension,” says Penrose.“It’s intent was, many years ago, was just to notify when a baby was born so that the plan that was developed by the CFS worker and the family could be initiated,” Penrose adds.Another issue that has popped up during the pandemic is providing services for youth who are aging out of care.Manitoba recently announced plans to extend services for youth aging out of care for the next six months.The move could have an impact on roughly 400 youth in Manitoba.Penrose says aging out of care can be a scary.“When a child turns 18, they are very seldom ready to be on their own,” says Penrose who has over 30 years experience in the child welfare system.APTN News and other have documented the pipeline between the child welfare system and the justice system.Penrose says there is a lot of crossover.“We see a lot of kids who are struggling with addiction issues and significant mental health issues that end up heading towards the justice system when really what they need is something different than the justice system such as addictions treatment or mental health treatment and support.”“Overtime, kids begin to really struggle and self medicate and engage in really harmful behaviours and begin making choices that are not healthy for themselves or others and they end up in the justice system,” says Penrose.  

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