Children's Advocate aims to improve access in northern Manitoba with new Thompson office

The children's advocate for Manitoba is opening a second office in Thompson, Man., to serve children and youth in care in the province.

2nd office to open by summer

Manitoba children’s advocate Daphne Penrose said Friday her office is going to open a second location in Thompson, the first outside of Winnipeg, this summer. (CBC)

The children's advocate in Manitoba is opening a second office in Thompson, Man., to serve children and youth in care in the province's north.

The new location would be the first location for the Office of the Children's Advocate outside Winnipeg, Daphne Penrose told reporters Friday.

"I think they deserve a place where they can come and access an advocate and to better engage," the children's advocate said.

A location has already been selected for the office and she said she hopes to have it up and running by the summer.

While the office would be the first bricks-and-mortar presence in northern Manitoba, Penrose said her office regularly travels to remote communities.

"We do get a lot of calls from the north right now so definitely our presence is up there." 

Penrose said she wants staff at the office in Thompson — which is approximately 650 kilometres north of Winnipeg — to represent the community it serves.

Her office is in the process of hiring an Indigenous deputy advocate, who will be working closely with the Thompson office, she said.

A spokesperson said the Office of the Children's Advocate is beginning the vetting process for candidates. Applications for the position closed in November.

The Office of the Children's Advocate first announced its intention to open a northern office in an annual report released in November.

Penrose said the new Thompson office was budgeted for this year but if she needs more funding she won't be shy about asking for it.

"If what we've been provided is not sufficient I will be coming back with data-informed information about what it is we need to adequately provide children up there."

Expanding mandate under new act

Along with expanding its physical footprint, the Office ot the Children's Advocate will soon cover more clients in the province.

The current mission of the independent office is advocate for children and youth in care; however, once the Advocate for Children and Youth Act is proclaimed, the office's mandate will expand to advocate on behalf of nearly all children in the province.

Children who are in school, in the mental health system, involved in the justice system, young people affected by domestic violence and those who receive disability services are among the those who will be able to receive services, said Penrose.

Once the new legislation comes into force, her office could be responsible for roughly 300,000 children up from the roughly 11,000 children and youth in care.

The Children's Advocate's current budget of $4 million is only enough to meet the requirements of the current mandate, said Penrose, and she said she sent a proposal to the provincial government asking for an increase. 

"The discussions about budget continue to be ongoing," she said. 

At a legislative affairs standing committee Friday, NDP opposition members asked Families Minister Scott Fielding if a date had been set to enact the new legislation.

Fielding said it would come into effect in the "near distant future" but did not provide a precise date.