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'A crisis in the system': Manitoba advocate sounding alarm over access to youth addictions services

Sherry Gott is pictured at a news conference at the the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth office on April 16, 2024. Sherry Gott is pictured at a news conference at the the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth office on April 16, 2024.
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Manitoba’s advocate for children and youth says there are glaring service gaps for young people struggling with addictions, and she is calling on the provincial government to develop a strategy specifically geared towards youth.

Sherry Gott said there is an ongoing addiction crisis affecting youth in Manitoba, and urgent work is needed to prevent more harm.

“Children, youth and young adults are increasingly struggling with addiction issues. Some are losing their lives,” Gott said at a news conference Tuesday.

Gott says in the 2018/2019 fiscal year, only three per cent of advocacy cases in Manitoba were related to addictions. In 2022/2023, that number jumped significantly to 22 per cent.

She says these cases were predominately female and Indigenous youth, which made up 80 per cent of cases overall.

Moreover, she says 56 youths died due to possible alcohol or drug-related incidents between 2018 and 2023.

Twenty-eight of those young people, Gott said, were in scope for review with the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth (MACY). The ages of those who died ranged from 13 to 20. The average age was 17 years old.

“Analysis of child death reviews for adverse childhood experiences highlighted prevalent risks with household substance use, exposure to family violence and neglect emerging as top concerns,” she said.

Last fall, Gott’s team spoke with 39 youth from across Manitoba on how care and supports could be improved.

Many identified substance use as a way to cope with the pressures of life, be it mental health or family issues. Most said they wanted help but didn’t know where to go.

Others who were able to access support had issues with receiving care, including being too far away from their home communities, long wait lists and a shortage of beds.

Gott says her team also spoke with 263 clinical and non-clinical professionals, including those working in child welfare, justice and addictions.

More than 61 per cent of respondents did not believe the province can meet the individual needs of young people with addiction issues, and less than 10 per cent felt that existing services are equipped to deal with the crisis.

“In other words, 90 per cent of service providers feel they were failing young people with addictions. This is deeply concerning,” Gott says.

Calls for province to develop youth mental health, addictions strategy

This week, MACY hosted a roundtable discussion with experts, stakeholders and the provincial government to delve into these issues.

The goal is to develop an inter-system strategy. Their findings will be published in a special report later this year.

Gott is hopeful the provincial government will hear her concerns, and develop a specific youth mental health and addictions strategy. She also hopes the Kinew government will reverse cuts made over the last number of years, including the Behavioural Health Foundation’s youth treatment facilities in Winnipeg and Selkirk.

“I’m hoping that they see that there is a crisis in the system.”

CTV News Winnipeg has reached out to the province for comment and is awaiting a response.

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