Children's advocate concerned about trauma kids could have from COVID-19 pandemic
Asks province to create clear plan to support youth mental health
Manitoba's children's advocate is concerned about the impact COVID-19 is having on youth and is calling on the government to create a plan to help young people deal with the emotional toll from the pandemic.
The pandemic is creating myriad issues for kids who are no longer in school and don't have access to friends, community supports and social safety networks, Daphne Penrose said.
"The impact for children is really concerning and so that's why I'm urging government to really focus forward about a strategic plan about how we're going to move out of this, so that the emotional toll of COVID isn't going to be felt for a decade," Penrose told CBC Thursday, shortly after releasing a new report on the suicides of 22 girls in the province.
Domestic violence and online sexual exploitation are increasing in other jurisdictions during the pandemic, she said.
She had some praise for the Pallister government, which has extended support for all young adults who were aging out of the province's child welfare system, but said it doesn't go far enough.
"I think that was a really good and thoughtful process, but what I think really needs to happen now is understanding the impacts of this on children and youth and their families."
The government also launched a free online counselling program, but it's only available to people 16 and older, which Penrose said is unfortunate.
"What concerns me is the trauma that kids are feeling through the pandemic right now."
Penrose is urging the province to come up with a clear plan that dictates how mental health services will be delivered even after the pandemic is over.
She said she doesn't want the need for more youth mental health and addictions supports, which existed before the pandemic, to move to the back burner because of COVID-19.
Responding to Penrose's call Thursday, Premier Brian Pallister touted the government's plan to provide wage subsidies for businesses that hire students this summer, as well as a provincial expansion to scholarships and bursaries.
Families Minister Heather Stefanson said in a statement the government continues to explore ways to support vulnerable children and youth.
She said as part of that effort, the province has announced 10 additional housing units at Resource Assistance for Youth to provide stable, secure housing to young adults who are aging out of care, and for other youth in contact with the child welfare system.
The advocate's report Thursday makes seven recommendations to better support young people in crisis, including identifying gaps in mental health and addictions support for youth, and ensuring equitable access to those services.
The report focused on her office's investigations into the suicides of 22 girls age 11 to 17 who died in Manitoba from 2013-19.