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This article was published 19/11/2018 (1157 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A spike in child deaths and a critical need for more mental health, detox and addiction services are among the issues outlined in the latest report from the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth.
Daphne Penrose published her 2017-18 annual report Monday, in conjunction with the start of Children's Rights Week.
Statistics show 2017-18 had the highest number of Manitoba child deaths — 187 — in nearly a decade, 70 of which were being reviewed by the advocate's office. Fourteen involved kids in government care.
During the 2009-10 fiscal year – the first full year when the advocate’s office started reviewing child deaths – there were 177 child deaths reported, 14 of them kids in care.
Most of the causes of child deaths last year were natural (61 per cent), and 127 deaths reported were children under the age of two (about 65 per cent).
Accidental deaths, caused by incidents such as drownings or vehicle accidents, were the second-most common with 11 per cent, followed by suicides (11 per cent) and homicides (1 per cent, or two deaths).
The causes of 30 child deaths were "undetermined," according to the chief medical examiner's office, meaning they could not "conclusively determine how the death occurred," as written in the advocate's annual report. The category includes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Penrose said her office is "keeping an eye on" the number of child deaths since last year's amount was higher than the annual average of 160. She was also alarmed by the 20 youth suicides that occurred in 2017-18. (By comparison, there were nine youth suicides reported in 2016-17 and 22 in 2015-16.)
"It is absolutely 20 higher than we hoped to have, for sure, and it is concerning. But what’s (equally) concerning for me is all of the kids who are feeling like they want to end their life through suicide that are here as well and having a very difficult time accessing the (mental health) services," Penrose said.
She noted anywhere from four to eight youth walk into the advocate's office on Portage Avenue looking for help on any given day. Her team received 2,926 requests for advocacy support services during 2017-18, 50 per cent of those coming directly from children and youth.
Penrose said the number of deaths reported will likely skew higher next year, too, since new legislation implemented in March widened the scope of her office to now be able to review and investigate deaths of youth up to age 21 (from 18).
Other portions of the new Advocate for Children and Youth Act haven't yet kicked in, such as legislation that will allow Penrose's team to review deaths of any children who accessed provincial mental health, addictions or justice services in the year prior to their deaths.
The province is also looking to include serious injury reporting in the advocate's duties. A government spokesperson said Monday that preliminary work is underway to draft the new regulations and the department hopes to have the act fully enacted in 2019.
Penrose plans to release a series of special reports in the New Year on specific issues her office is investigating, including sexual exploitation of youth and use of pepper spray and segregation in youth custody centres.
Her office teamed up with the Manitoba Ombudsman to work on the latter investigation starting in 2015. Their research encompassed both provincial youth custody centres in Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg and the results will be made public "in the next couple of months," Penrose said.