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Lead Contamination and Children in the care of Child and Family Services

On Monday January 11, I had the opportunity in the Legislative  Committee dealing with the Annual Report of the  Manitoba Advocate  for Children and Youth, to ask questions about the possibility of children in the care of Child and Family Services having high lead levels due to exposure to lead.  My  questions and the responses of Ms Ainsley Krone Deputy Manitoba Advocate for Children and  Youth are below - from Hansard.

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights):    I have a question which I'd like to bring up. In the report of the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth, there's a section here on where there are service gaps, and clearly, it's important to identify areas where there may be service gaps.

      And I want to refer to a report that was done in Pennsylvania which showed that children who were in foster care, when they were tested before they entered care, had rather high levels of lead in their blood such that nearly 90 per cent of these children had levels of lead which were above or equal to 10 micrograms per decilitre. And that's a–quite a high level–five micrograms per decilitre is now considered high, so that's double.

      And what–one of the things that was interesting was that the children who are taken into care, when they were compared with their siblings, the children taken into care had much higher levels of lead than their siblings. And we know that lead exposure, lead toxicity, can be associated with a variety of behavioural problems. We know that, sometimes, this can be a factor which is passed on from the mother because the lead exposure in the mother, the lead crosses the fetal barrier.

      And in another article by a Dr. Hauptman, who's from Boston Children's Hospital, done with people from Harvard Medical School, they write that their aim is to develop a multipronged approach–  [After an interruption by the chair on relevance]

Mr. Gerrard: This is relevant because of the association of lead with many of the issues which may bring children into care and because what we're looking at in the report is children coming into care. And where there are gaps in the service and what is being suggested is that there be a much better assessment of blood lead levels, and where the children who are taken into care have higher blood lead levels, that these be addressed in a variety of ways to bring the lead levels down. And I just wondered whether you would comment on this and whether there's any work on this in Manitoba.

Ms. Krone: That is a fascinating question. Unfor­tunately, I'm going to probably disappoint you in saying that I don't know much about lead levels for children coming into the system. But I think that what I could comment on is that I think it's really important, you know, for the full scope of understanding in terms of why young people are being identified by that system, by the CFS system, by the justice system, by whichever system they happen to be interacting with, I think that we need to always assume that there are probably more things going on than what's on the surface and that it's really important to ensure that, you know, service providers that have the responsibility to provide services that are holistic and that respond to all of the needs of a young person need to be shored up.

      And so if that, you know, as you're speaking to, like, additional medical pieces, I'm not sure, but, you know, I would probably defer back to you as a medical professional. So I'm sorry I can't be more helpful with respect to lead levels in blood.

Mr. Chairperson: With the time almost 3 o'clock, I just want to put it back to–what's the will of the committee at this point?

Mr. Gerrard: Could we sit for 10 more minutes?

Mr. Chairperson: Is that–it's been suggested we sit for 10 more minutes. Is that the will of the committee? [Agreed]

Mr. Gerrard: So I think the concern here is in part that there are parts of Winnipeg where a report at the end of last year done by Intrinsik showed that–or predicted, based on various models that they were looking at, that there will be high levels of lead in children.

And so this is particularly relevant to the circumstance of Winnipeg where we have had lead smelters, where we have had scrap metal recycling and machines to look after that. And I would just ask that this is something that you take a careful look at and see if there is a gap here that should be addressed.

I will send you separately, and I can send to other members, a series of recommendations that are being made, were being made, just in the last couple of years from Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Links to the articles  and reports referenced above are below:

Chung et al article on high lead levels in children in care:

Hauptman  and Woolf article on recommendations  for action in relation to lead exposure and children in the care of Child and  Family Services.

Manitoba Liberal Caucus report on Lead and Crime in Manitoba.  The report includes a section dealing with lead and children in the care of Child and Family Services.


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