Young people surveyed by Manitoba's children's advocate say they need better mental health and addiction services, as well as anti-poverty programs.
The advocate, an independent office of the Manitoba legislature, consulted with almost 300 young people who live in various regions of the province. A report based on their feedback, "The Right to Be Heard", was published Thursday.
Generally, youth in the north were more likely to say they are concerned about poverty and substance abuse, while those living in Winnipeg were more likely to select racism and mental health issues.
"A report like this allows us a really incredible opportunity to sit down internally and think about how the projects that we have underway, how the projects that we’re maybe considering embarking on, align with what youth want us to be focused on," said acting children's advocate Ainsley Krone said.
She said the report marks the first time such a large-scale listening tour was conducted. Almost 300 Manitoba young people, most between 14 and 17, with about half living in Winnipeg, participated in focus groups and an online survey. In-person interviews had to be cancelled because of the pandemic.
The advocate presented to more than 1,000 youth as part of the preparation for the report.
The majority of the kids involved in the report – 79 per cent – said they wanted more mental health and addiction services.
"Youth themselves are saying, enough with the wait-lists. When we need services, we need to be able to access them," Krone said.
More than 50 per cent of youth surveyed said their communities were dealing with substance use, mental health issues and poverty.
"Youth talked about the interconnectedness of racism, mental health, substance use, violence and poverty… in rural and remote communities in our province, we heard that access to transportation is also a barrier to accessing adequate health-care services," Krone said.
More recreation programs and better access to sexual health and cultural services were raised as solutions.
The answers provided by Manitoba’s young people underscore the urgent need for the province to address on issues that the advocate’s office has raised since 2018, Krone said.
"Youth were clear with us that they want to see less talk and more action from people in power, including from our office. They want their voices and opinions listened to and taken into consideration when decisions are being made," she said.
"They have a clear message to all adults in the province: enhancing the youth mental health and addictions systems in this province needs to be prioritized."
The advocates office is planning a provincewide tour to speak with community leaders about issues that affect young people.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.