The province has expanded the powers of the child-welfare watchdog.
Starting June 1, the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth will be able to investigate serious injuries and deaths of children who were receiving services or whose families were receiving services related to mental health, addiction services or youth justice in the year before the death or injury.
"An independent review... can only help to strengthen the services we deliver," Families Minister Rochelle Squires said at a news conference Tuesday announcing the additional provision to the Advocate for Children and Youth Act. The legislation came into force in 2018 and allows the advocate to review and investigate child welfare and adoption services for children and transitional child and family services for young adults.
"Almost every day, my office receives formal notification from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of children under the age of 21 who have died in our province," acting children's advocate Ainsley Krone said.
"Far too often, deaths of young people in our province have fallen out of scope for my office to review or investigate, as many didn't have child-welfare involvement in the year before their deaths, which has been the ongoing restriction that's limited our reviews."
The out-of-scope deaths include suicide, homicide and preventable accidents.
Over the past five years, nearly 70 per cent per cent of child deaths in Manitoba fell outside of the advocate's independent review mandate, the advocate said. Of the 198 deaths reported to the children's advocate in the 2019-20 fiscal year, 11 out of 20 youth suicides and three out of seven homicides fell out of the watchdog's scope for independent review, Krone said.
"It can be heartbreaking to see so many preventable deaths reported to our office knowing that lingering legislative barriers prevented us from being allowed to review the circumstances of the child's death," Krone said.
"When children and youth die in preventable ways, our province has a vital responsibility to carefully look at what happened in the child's life so lessons can be learned and improvements can be made to systems and supports to help prevent the additional death of children who face similar circumstances."
Squires said the provisions in the act related to the duty for the Manitoba government and government-funded agencies to report serious injuries of children involved in these systems will be announced at a later date. She said the regulation that specifies the appropriate reporting mechanisms for serious injuries needs to be developed.
The advocate has the resources to take on its expanded scope of cases they can review effective June 1, the families minister said.
"We have been working collaboratively with the office to make sure they have the capacity to take on the work that goes with this expanded scope," Squires said.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.