The mother of a 13-year-old girl who died by suicide earlier this month in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation believes her daughter could still be alive if she was given adequate help.
“This could have been prevented. You know, this wouldn’t have happened if they reached out to her. I told them check up on my daughter, she’s cutting her arm, she needs help,” said Bobbie Bonner, whose daughter Dawntay died on March 2 in the northern Manitoba First Nation.
But the agency responsible for the young girl’s life said they visited her just days before her death and gave her all the support it could, which included regular check-ins and a mix of virtual and in-person counselling twice a month.
“There was really no indication that she was going to harm herself in this way and it came as a real shock to not only the family but the staff, all of her friends and all of her classmates in school,” said Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation Family and Community Wellness Centre CEO Felix Walker, who added he believes the teen may have been bullied.
Bobbie said she called NCN Child and Family Services, which has about 50 kids in care in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, also known as Nelson House, last summer to get her daughter help after learning she had been cutting herself.
Advocate says focus on prevention needed
She said her daughter told her someone from CFS paid her a visit “but they never come back mom, they never come back.”
Bobbie last saw Dawntay during an in-person visit last September on her birthday in Thompson where she gave her a pink electric guitar.
“My daughter was a good girl. She was very loving, caring.”
Cora Morgan, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ First Nations family advocate, called Dawntay’s death devastating and said it’s a reflection of the myriad problems with the province’s child welfare system.
She called for more resources and mental health support in the north.
“The real movement that needs to happen is one of prevention and making sure that our children and families have resources and supports. When we think about over 150 years of stolen children in this country, that hasn’t ended.
“Until there’s adequate funding and investment in prevention, nothing is going to change,” she added.
Felix said his agency is now conducting an internal review but maintained the proper support was given to Dawntay.
“All indications pertaining to Dawntay were that in the last few days before her death before she took her life there was no indication that there was anything going on.”
Bobbie said she hopes by sharing her daughter’s story, it will raise awareness about kids in care who need help. “She didn’t deserve this. All she was asking for was help, attention.”
Key recommendations remain unfulfilled
The news of Bonner’s death comes on the heels of a new report from Manitoba’s Children’s Advocate, which found ongoing problems persist in the province’s child welfare system and key recommendations designed to make it better remain unfilled including that social workers have no more than 20 cases.
The report said 19 children died from maltreatment between 2008 and 2020 and found just over half of the recommendations from the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry have been fulfilled.
Last year, the advocate released a report on 22 suicide deaths of girls aged 11 to 17 who died in Manitoba from 2013-19.
Provincial Families Minister Rochelle Squires had not been personally made aware of the teen’s death as of Tuesday, according to her press secretary Ross Romaniuk.
Last week, Squires said the death of any child is tragic and offered condolences to the families of the 19 kids mentioned in the advocate’s recent report. The minister said she had instructed the families department to implement the advocate’s five new recommendations within the next year.
Romaniuk did not say what the government is doing to address heavy caseloads for social workers, cited as a concern in the advocate’s recent report.
Ainsley Krone, acting Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth, confirmed her office has been notified of Dawntay’s death. She said the office is now determining whether the death is in the scope for a review by the advocate.
If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, there is help out there. Contact the Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line toll-free at 1-877-435-7170 (1-877-HELP170) or the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone.
Or contact Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. CT only) | crisisservicescanada.ca