VICTORIA - Vulnerable children in British Columbia start their lives behind their well-off peers and stay there, a joint report from the provincial health officer and children's representative has concluded.
The provincial government's lack of an overall child-focused plan also has the report's authors largely pessimistic about the prospect for improved lives among the vulnerable children and youth in B.C.
"Some people refer to that as a poverty plan, I call it a children's plan, but it's overdue," Children and Youth Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said Thursday at a news conference at a Victoria middle school gymnasium.
Turpel-Lafond and Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall released Growing Up in B.C., a 108-page report that asked, "How are your children doing right now?"
The report considered six areas of well-being for children and youth, including child physical and mental health and family economic well-being.The report is a follow-up to a similar study conducted in 2010.
"What this report points to is that we need to close the gaps in British Columbia between children with generally good outcomes across the board and vulnerable children whose outcomes are not very good," Turpel-Lafond said.
The report concluded that one-third of B.C.'s children aren't ready for school when they start kindergarten, almost 60 per cent of youth in care do not graduate from high school and children in government care are five times more likely to need special education.
On the positive side, the report found, teen pregnancy rates are dropping, more aboriginal students are graduating from high school, 80 per cent of youth say they feel good about themselves and there are declines in serious crimes.
Turpel-Lafond expressed deep concerns about aboriginal youth and the poor commitment on behalf of the B.C. and federal governments towards generating and providing reliable data about children.
Aboriginal children comprise eight per cent of children and youth in B.C., but 50 per cent of the children in care are aboriginal, Turpel-Lafond said. She predicted that number will rise to 60 per cent in the next five years.
Kendall said early intervention programs produce positive results for vulnerable children.
"We know that parenting support to young, single mothers, from the time they are pregnant through to the first 18 months of life makes a huge difference to what happens to those kids 15 or 20 years down the road."
Kendall said children are more likely to graduate and go on to post-secondary school as opposed to ending up in jail if their parents receive early help.
More than 200 youth from across B.C. were consulted for the report.
B.C.'s Health Ministry said in a statement that it was pleased teen pregnancy rates have dropped, but is concerned about the findings with regard to aboriginal children in care.