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COVID-19 and Children in the care of Child and Family Services

Monday Jan 11, I had an opportunity during a Legislative Committee on the Annual Report of the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth to ask about the impact of the COVID pandemic on children in the care of Child and  Family Services.  My questions to Ms Ainsley Krone the Deputy Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth and her answers are below - from Hansard. 

Mr. Gerrard: I want to come to the situation of the COVID pandemic. Are there concerns about the care of children in the COVID pandemic? Are you seeing an increased number of reports of problems–you've been following suicide, for example–and other concerns. Where are the gaps now because of the COVID pandemic?

Ms. Krone: Thanks for that question, Dr. Gerrard.

      I would say that, you know, it's still, as you can appreciate, pretty early on in terms of the broader analysis of the impact of the pandemic and–but when we look at what's happening for young people in our province, the concerns that are being reported to us, the things that we're seeing when we're working with young people, working with service providers and, you know, investigating deaths or conducting our research–that there's no denying that the pandemic is having significant impacts on young people.

      We spoke before in this committee around the table around the impact on mental health. Addictions is also something that is certainly top of mind for us right now with respect specifically to the pandemic and the effects of social isolation, you know, feeling cut off from normal routines, cut off from support systems and in–people in our lives. Young people are really feeling the effects of that.

      I spoke also before about the, you know, remote learning, in-class suspensions, you know, learning from home. All the–like, the whole transition that happened for young people in the spring and is happening right now for certain age grades.

And so, you know, that isolation piece can't really be understated–how incredibly impactful that can be for young people whose entire existence really focuses right now on social connections, identity through those social connections, figuring out who they are for their lifespan.

You know, disruptions and interruptions in that natural, normal process is absolutely going to have some pretty significant impacts.

      You know, the impact of the pandemic is something that–it's on our radar to do probably a more comprehensive examination at some point, but right now, you know, we're kind of in the process of gathering anecdotal information and more compre­hensive systemic statistics, and data is probably going to be forthcoming from our office.

Mr. Gerrard: I'd like to explore with you two particular areas.

      I was talking with people on Manitoba school boards earlier today, and they were saying that they were having trouble with some of the students having trouble finding them.

And some of those students were children in Child and Family Services care, were sometimes were moved from one house to another.

      And so I would like some help and understanding and comment from you on, No. 1, what measures have been taken to try and make sure that children who are in care are going to be able to up-to-date–or, keep up-to-date with their education because they're a group of children who have been deprived, and they need that education more than everybody else in some ways. And, historically, too many of them have not been completing high school.

      And the second part I'd like to ask comment on is the concern about addictions, because I'm hearing an increased concern over addictions, perhaps early on in the pandemic with meth and now more and more with opioids. And I wonder if you're seeing concerns brought to your office with addictions and how–you know, where are we in terms of being able to provide the adequate support.

Ms. Krone: So to the first point that you were making around contact with children with the disruptions in the education system, it's an issue that the advocate has been concerned about since the suspension of in-class learning earlier the–last spring.

It's something that she raised with the Department of Education, and we continue to, you know, to watch that carefully because we were also concerned, along, you know, along many–along with many community organizations and educators and schools themselves–concerned about some of those young people for whom coming to a school, coming to a classroom, being connected to their teacher is a really critical aspect of their safety net, and sometimes it can also be that the place where they feel the safest in their day is coming to school, and where their teacher is a beacon of safety and hope for them.

      And so when there are interruptions to those systems, that can be incredibly difficult, impactful and risky for some of those kids. And so we–you know, we are definitely concerned about the abilities of those young people to stay connected with some of those safety nets. It is something that, you know, I'm glad to hear that, you know, you're also concerned about that. It's something that, you know, we'd be happy to chat about later in addition to, you know, kind of the time constraint piece right now.

      But that is absolutely something that the advocate remains concerned about is, you know, because we know that in the province, not everybody has the ability to connect remotely through their classroom or, you know, through the digital means that are available to many of us, you know, in other circumstances.

      With respect to your comments about addictions, I would say that that is also something that the pandemic is amplifying and exasperating in the lives of a lot of young people here.

So, whether that is calls coming in, cases that are coming to our attention with respect to ongoing addiction issues where young people are seeking treatment and seeking supports, you know, all of that stuff is being impacted by the abilities of young people and their families to access services in ways that meet the needs of young people.

      One of the things that the advocate has spoken about and written extensively about is this piece around ensuring that services, you know, with respect to mental health and addiction in particular, that those services need to be available when kids are ready for them.

And what we continue to see in Manitoba and, again, is written about extensively in the Advocate's reports, are issues around wait lists and wait times sometimes becoming the significant barrier to young people actually receiving the treatment that they require and to which they're entitled.

      So, you know, there's–there are examples where young people identify themselves; they come to our office and they say, okay, I'm ready. And there just isn't a service that's available for them. And that, again, is incredibly hard, you know, as advocates for young people, and it's also hard for the service providers who just say, we actually just don't have a bed right now.

      So it's one of the reasons why the advocate has made specific recommendations to that effect that those services need to be expanded and it's an area that we continue to monitor in terms of compliance on those recommendations through our act and an area that we'll continue to watch moving forward.

Mr. Gerrard: One very quick question: Do we know if children who are in care are more likely than other children to have problems with addictions and, if so, what measures need to be taken to help prevent addictions?

Ms. Krone: I don't have the information in front of me in terms of whether children in care are more or less likely to have issues with addictions.

You know, certainly, young people that are living with addictions are not uncommonly also those young people who are being identified by various support systems, whether that's CFS, whether that's Justice, or mental health and addictions, obviously, because of the impacts of their addiction.

      And so whether that's more prevalent in CFS, I wouldn't be able to speak to. I mean that's certainly something that, you know, again, we could maybe have some follow-up conversations around, but, yes, that's how I would respond, yes.

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