Children's Advocate wants domestic violence included in child protection act

Manitoba's children's advocate is calling on the provincial government to recognize — in law — that domestic violence is a child protection concern.

By Chinta Puxley, The Canadian Press Posted: May 26, 2016 3:37 PM CT Last Updated: May 26, 2016 3:37 PM CT

Darlene MacDonald said there is a growing recognition that witnessing domestic violence is traumatic for children. But she said Manitoba law doesn't include domestic violence in its Child and Family Services Act.

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"It should be a call for intervention," MacDonald said Thursday. "Domestic violence should be a factor ... Given the fact that Manitoba has the second highest rate of domestic violence in Canada, I think it really needs to stand by itself."

The act hasn't been significantly overhauled in at least eight years and should better reflect the current research, MacDonald said. Even if children aren't physically abused themselves, MacDonald said they are affected by constantly "walking on eggshells" wondering when they might witness abuse again.

"Previously, we thought that it wasn't impacting children as much — basically, did they really hear anything going on?" she said. "But the more we learn about them seeing, hearing and observing what has been going on in the home, the more traumatized they become."

The issue was highlighted in a report released Thursday by MacDonald's office regarding youth suicide.

The report, which included a study of 100 children in care between the ages of 12 and 17, said omitting domestic violence created a "gap" in child protection legislation.

It cited research which found children who are exposed to violence in the home can suffer physical setbacks including in brain development.

"As they enter school, children who have been exposed to domestic violence tend to have greater troubles with school work, show poor concentration and focus, and do not do as well in school in general," the study stated, citing a UNICEF report.

"Children exposed to domestic violence have been shown to display personality and behavioural problems including depression, suicidal ideation, and bedwetting."

Manitoba has one of the highest child apprehension rates in the country and officials seize an average of one newborn baby a day. The province has more than 10,000 kids in care and the majority are indigenous.

The new Conservative government routinely criticized the former NDP administration for failing children in care. Since taking office last month, the Tories have said they will focus their attention on a child protection bill which improves information sharing between agencies that deal with vulnerable youth.

A spokesperson for Families Minister Scott Fielding said he wasn't available to comment on including domestic violence in child protection legislation.

Premier Brian Pallister said he hadn't had time to read the advocate's report.

"But I am very interested obviously in these issues and want to see what is in the report before I give you any elaboration," he said.