Young asylum seekers, number of kids in care key issues facing new child advocate

The woman newly appointed to advocate for Manitoban children in care says the biggest challenges facing her office are young asylum seekers crossing the border into Canada without their parents and the sheer number of children in care.

Hundreds of asylum seekers have crossed the U.S.-Canada border into Manitoba this year, with a rising number of unaccompanied minors among them.

Daphne Penrose, who was named the Manitoba children's advocate on Wednesday after 28 years working in child welfare, notes those children are in need of a lot of support.

Another key concern for Penrose is the over-representation of Indigenous children among the more than 10,000 children in care.

But Penrose feels optimistic about the hard work ahead of her.

"I think that right now child welfare is in an important time of change," Penrose said in an interview with CBC Manitoba's afternoon radio show, Up to Speed. "I think the system is looking forward to doing things differently."

The children's advocate said she believes strongly in having families at the table when coming up with a plan for a child in care.

- Children's advocate pleased with more freedom 

A better job must also be done to ensure children in care get access to housing and mental health services, she added.

"Those things are critical when you're trying to make sure that families are healthy and communities are healthy," said Penrose.

She spent 28 years working in the child-welfare system, including in top posts such as CEO of Winnipeg Child and Family Services and executive director of the province's Child Protection Branch. She also worked on the ground for years as an abuse worker and family service supervisor.

Asked whether it will be hard taking a critical eye to the work of her former colleagues, Penrose said she plans to hold child-welfare workers accountable because that's what the public and the children deserve.

"It's a very, very important job that these folks have and they should be accountable."