Children's advocate pleased by more freedom under promised PC legislation
‘We were prohibited from speaking out,’ says Manitoba children's advocate Darlene MacDonald
The children's advocate says she's thrilled by changes outlined in the throne speech Monday which will allow her office to be more vocal in defending the rights of children in Manitoba and release more information about the province's child welfare system.
Darlene MacDonald said the legislation expected in the coming legislative session, will embolden her office to speak out against policies or data her office finds concerning as well as release more reports previously kept private.
"We were prohibited from speaking out," said MacDonald. "I think this legislation will allow us more freedom to do that."
One of the areas MacDonald said her office will improve transparency and release more information to the public are situations where children in CFS care die.
Under the current Child and Welfare Act, when the children's advocate office compiles a report on a child's death its delivered to the provincial ombudsman, minister responsible for CFS and the chief medical examiner.
Under the new legislation, MacDonald said discretion to release reports publicly will transfer to her office.
The change could improve accountability in Manitoba's child welfare system.
"Basically this will allow more public reporting from our office …. To invite the public in, to allow them to hear much more what's going on in child welfare," MacDonald said.
MacDonald said the transparency is not just in troubling or tragic situations but also includes publicizing positive stories such as successful fostering relationships that have given vulnerable children the chance to flourish.
Advocate for 'all children'
Manitoba is the last province in Canada to pass stand-alone legislation for its children's advocate, said MacDonald.
"We have been pushing and looking at this for the last number of years," she said. "Manitoba was far behind."
Right now, her office falls under The Child and Family Services Act where her first priority as children's advocate is to advise the minister.
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If the PCs fulfil their throne speech promise, her office's first priority will be Manitoba's children, said MacDonald.
And not just children in the care of CFS, but all children who contact the office, she added.
Her office is frequently "inundated" with calls from children who need advocates and are not involved in CFS.
"The most vulnerable children are often involved in child welfare and that will still be a priority," MacDonald said but now her office will not have to turn away other children and youth.
"This legislation will allow more youth to access services from our office...We would be an advocate for all children."