'We have to stop losing these girls': Death prompts children's advocate to plead for better mental health care

The Manitoba advocate for children and youth says the "heartbreaking" death of a 15-year-old girl in The Pas last week does fall within the scope of her office and will be investigated.

The Pas RCMP investigating after Darcie Muchikekwanape, 15, found dead

Darcie (Darcii) Lynelle Hayden Muchikekwanape, 15, was found dead in The Pas Friday morning. Several members of her family have told CBC News she was under the care of Child and Family Services when she died. (Submitted by Emil Nabess)

The Manitoba advocate for children and youth says the "heartbreaking" death of a 15-year-old girl in The Pas last week falls within the scope of her office and will be investigated.

Darcie Lynelle Hayden Muchikekwanape, 15, was found dead near the northern community's railway station on Friday morning. 

Emil Nabess, her father, said she was a bright and caring person, but had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction since she was young, and took a downward turn after the death of her brother.

She was in Child and Family Services care at the time of her death to help her access resources, he said. 

Children's advocate Daphne Penrose couldn't comment directly on the case or whether Muchikekwanape was in care. But she said the death falls within the investigative scope of her agency, which has jurisdiction to review deaths or serious injuries of children who were receiving, or whose family was receiving, care within a year of the incident.

Daphne Penrose is Manitoba's children's advocate. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Penrose said the death echoes a report she issued last week about the death of a girl named Angel, who was also in care as her family hoped it would help her access mental health supports. 

"It's heartbreaking," Penrose said. "It's gut-wrenching for all people in Manitoba, or it should be," she said. 

"The similarities — that I'm sure you know you can draw between these two young people — again a situation where there is significant trauma and the need for mental health and the need for addiction services, and how do we get kids that service that they need?" 

Penrose's report, released Dec. 13, cited seven more examples of young people currently waiting for mental health care, and suggested there could be hundreds more. 

The report into Angel's death contains a disturbing timeline of exploitation the Manitoba girl was subject to. (Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth)

She said the mental health services available to children and parents before CFS involvement also needs a close look. 

"It is an urgent need. We have to stop losing these girls and young people because there are no resources to help them.

"When you're a parent and your child is at imminent risk of death or dying and you're trying to get them resources, and those resources aren't available because there's so many barriers in place, that is not acceptable," she said. 

A report from Penrose's office would focus on identifying recurring trends, determining the effectiveness of services and informing improvements. She said it won't begin until the police investigation is complete. 

Penrose also wants to see a change in the language used to describe children who lose their lives. 

"It doesn't matter what happened for these young people and Angel prior to their death. It is not their fault that something violent happened to them. You see kids growing up in trauma and not being able to access the proper resources and addictions become part of how they cope with life.… I can't say enough, we need an immediate action plan for this," she said.

"Because if we don't see changes, we are going to continue to lose children in this manner."