MANITOBA'S Office of the Children's Advocate is investigating more than 125 child deaths in the province -- about half inherited from the chief medical examiner's office in 2008.

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MANITOBA'S Office of the Children's Advocate is investigating more than 125 child deaths in the province -- about half inherited from the chief medical examiner's office in 2008.

The large number of backlogged cases is one of the reasons the children's advocate asked a committee of the legislature recently for increased staff. The committee granted the independent agency three new positions, including an additional investigator to look into deaths of kids who were in care of an agency or whose family had asked for help.

Bonnie Kocsis: phenomenal complexity

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Bonnie Kocsis: phenomenal complexity

Bonnie Kocsis, the acting children's advocate, said in an interview this week her office has four permanent investigators probing child deaths, with another half-dozen temporary staff at work on the cases it took over from the medical examiner's office in September 2008.

"They can be working on from as little as three to as many as nine (cases) at a time," Kocsis said. The complexity and the detail of those reports is phenomenal."

Kocsis said the reports, which can range from 25 to 200 pages in length, require a great deal of work. "I don't think the average person realizes the intensity of the work and how much work there is on each and every file."

All reports are filed with the family services minister, the provincial ombudsman and the chief medical examiner.

She said of the 106 cases inherited from the medical examiner's office, 42 have been completed and 64 are still being investigated. At the same time, it has been assigned another 75 child death cases since 2008, 11 of whom are completed.

"Just since the end of May we've added six new cases to our list," said Kocsis, who took over the job when Billie Schibler went on an indefinite personal leave this spring.

Kocsis said "a very small number" of the outstanding cases involve kids who were in care. She said her office, under new legislation, is required to probe any child's death where the child or family has been in contact with a family service agency.

For instance, she said, a child's death involving a family that is documented by government as having asked for a parenting course and whose child drowned at Birds Hill Park would have to be investigated under Manitoba's new legislation.

Kocsis said there has been a significant buildup of new cases in the 21 months since her office started investigating child deaths because it took time to hammer out the necessary policies and procedural issues. She said she's confident the backlog of new cases can be greatly reduced.

Investigating child deaths is only one aspect of the children's advocate role. The office handles thousands of calls for help each year from kids and adults, Kocsis said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

 

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.