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‘Many Cracks’ in Youth Health Services: Manitoba Children’s Advocate

February 27, 2020 11:16 AM | The Canadian Press

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By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Daphne Penrose

Daphne Penrose, the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth speaks at the Sagkeeng Mino Pimatiziwin Family Treatment Centre on the Sagkeeng First Nation, Man., Tuesday, March 12, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s advocate for children and youth is urging the government to build a long-term residential treatment centre for young people with mental-health problems.

Daphne Penrose says in a report on the suicide of a 16-year-old boy named Matthew that he was unable to get the continuing care he needed.

“As a province we cannot allow another parent to experience the heartbreaking desperation of witnessing their child slowly disappear before their eyes and knowing there is nothing available here in our province that can help them,” Penrose wrote in a report released Thursday.

Penrose withheld Matthew’s last name for privacy reasons.

The advocate’s investigation found that Matthew experienced serious and prolonged bullying at school over many years. His grades dropped, he stopped attending school and he attempted to take his life multiple times.

His family did get help for Matthew through therapy, child welfare, addictions services and police, but the advocate said the teen was unable to get the long-term support he needed.

The province needs to eliminate all barriers preventing children and youth from receiving health services, Penrose said in her report. Matthew was failed by a patchwork of intervention services, she said, and eventually came to believe he was unfixable.

Matthew’s story is one of a family desperate to save a son, she said.

“The family watched Matthew disappear slowly, consumed by an overwhelming hopelessness and persistent suicidal thoughts,” she wrote.

“Matthew’s story is one that illuminates the many cracks in Manitoba’s youth mental-health and addictions system.”

Suicide has been the leading cause of death for Manitoba youth between the ages of 10 and 17 over the last five years. The report says 79 youths have taken their own lives since 2014.

“Sadly, Matthew’s manner of death is horrifically common among Manitoba youth.”

The report includes seven other recommendations, including finding better and faster ways for kids facing a mental-health crisis to get help, promoting mental health in classrooms and creating safe and caring schools. Penrose also calls for the end of school suspensions and expulsions when safety is not an issue.

She wants the government to publicly release its plan for transforming youth mental-health and addictions care.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the death of a child is always tragic and offered his sympathies to the teenager’s family and friends.

“We know there is more to do to help support children and youth dealing with mental-health issues,” Friesen said in an emailed statement.

He pointed to the government’s funding commitments and initiatives that he said meet some of the advocate’s recommendations. He did not respond to the suggestion for a long-term residential treatment centre or public release of the plan.

Jon Gerrard, a Liberal member of the legislature and physician, said he’s spoken with many families struggling to get their children the care they need. He said it’s important there is funding to ensure they can get help.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the report is a warning that the province should have a specific suicide prevention strategy.

“As a parent of two kids in that age group, it seems to me that we have to do everything in our power to help kids who are struggling with mental health, depression and mental illness.”

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