Progress stalled on measures to protect children and youth, Manitoba’s advocate says

Manitoba’s advocate for children and youth says the work to implement dozens of recommendations to protect the province’s youngest people has ground to a near halt.

In the annual compliance report, released Thursday, acting child advocate Ainsley Krone says four of 51 recommendations made from 2018 to 2020 have been fully implemented.

The report acknowledges the COVID-19 pandemic has upended public services around the world, which has meant that attention to chronic issues, like infant mortality and child and youth mental health, has shifted instead toward emergent needs for all Manitobans.

However, Krone is urging the province to prioritize “action and investments in efforts that address preventable infant deaths and child and youth mental health issues.”

The latter, in particular, is essential to the recovery and future well-being of young Manitobans, Krone said.

The Manitoba advocate is mandated by the Advocate for Children and Youth Act to monitor the implementation of recommendations included in serious injury or child death investigations and special reports.

Since the act was proclaimed in 2018, the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth has released 10 special reports with a total of 69 recommendations. Recommendations issued in 2021 have not been included in the current assessment because less than six months had passed since they were made.

Of the 51 examined, two were deemed fully compliant — both from Manitoba Justice — in a report last year, leaving 49 outstanding.

Two more recommendations were dealt with during the period covered by the current assessment, June 2020 to May 2021, leaving 47 still outstanding. 

The two most recently completed ones, both addressed by the minister of education, focused on bullying and mental health promotion in schools.

“The provincial government has demonstrated substantive actions towards implementation in less than half of [the] recommendations,” the report says, with multiple departments saying their resources had been reallocated to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This suggests that the government is relying on Manitoba children to wait until the pandemic is behind us before it undertakes necessary changes in other service systems. When it comes to infant safety, access to education, disability care, mental health supports, substance use treatment, and more, those needs cannot wait any longer to be addressed,” the report says.

“The needs of children and youth must become a higher priority in our province.”

Education remains the most compliant of all government departments at 75 per cent, the report says.

Health and Seniors Care is the least compliant at just 25 per cent. That rating is associated with the lack of action on recommendations to prevent sleep-related infant deaths, the report says.

“Child death reviews and investigations, as well as the advocacy services program at my office continue to identify significant gaps for children and youth living with mental health and substance use disorders in Manitoba,” Krone said in the report.

Although Manitoba Justice dealt with two recommendations in 2020, it has not done much since, leaving it with a compliance rate of 45 per cent, the report says.

Krone said the start of work on the Youth Justice Review, which was announced in 2019, is a positive step, but that there’s a lack of movement on issues around segregation and solitary confinement in youth custody facilities.

The full MACY compliance report can be read here.

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