Canada is one of the best countries in which to grow up. Kids who live in Canada have won the lottery. Canada takes good care of our youth. These are great statements and most people believe them. Sadly, they're not always true.
A new landmark report by Children First Canada on the state of children in our country has revealed that the kids are not alright, and it's time for Canada to measure up.
Canada is ranked 17th out of 29 affluent nations for children's well-being.
While Canada is the fifth most prosperous nation in the world, we are ranked only 17th out of 29 affluent nations for children's well-being based on a global index by UNICEF. And we place near the bottom when it comes to measuring child poverty and children's health and safety.
- Nearly one in five children in Canada live in poverty
- One in three Canadians have experienced some form of child abuse
- One in five children have considered committing suicide
- More than one in four children are obese or overweight
- One child dies every nine hours due to preventable injuries.
Canada's children are not alright.
Such deeply alarming and disturbing statistics reveal a magnitude of problems that affect a large portion of Canada's youngest citizens. But these are more than numbers. They represent children who each have a name, and whose lives and futures are diminished each day by preventable causes.
Specific groups of children are particularly vulnerable, including indigenous children, kids from single parent homes, refugee children, and youth in foster care. In fact, Canada is one of the more unequal societies for children and youth. More indigenous children are in the care of child welfare today than at the time of residential schools, and the numbers continue to increase.
As an advocate for children and as a mother, these figures make me angry. They should make everyone -- parents and children, and citizens and leaders -- angry that our country is letting our children down. In a nation as prosperous as Canada, this is unacceptable. We need to do much better.
Young people in Canada require more programs and services to safeguard their well-being.
While as a society we may believe that Canada is a wonderful place where children can live and prosper, the reality is starkly different. Yet Canadians care deeply about the well-being of children, and are committed to making a difference. A recent poll commissioned by Children First Canada and the Angus Reid Institute revealed that approximately three-quarters of adults (73 per cent) and children (77 per cent) say that young people in Canada require more programs and services to safeguard their well-being and fulfill their potential.
The good news is that we know what's working in other countries, and what steps are necessary to help Canada improve the state of our youngest citizens. There are some basic policies that would have a measurable impact, such as establishing a federal children's commissioner, whose mandate as an independent official would be to promote the best interests of children and hold the federal government accountable.
The government should publish a children's budget to ensure that funding that is allocated to children is tracked and its impact is measured. And we should teach children their rights and responsibilities, and involve them in shaping the public policies that affect their lives.
Visiting the Boys and Girls Club of Calgary and raising our hands to put children first.
Investing in kids is the right thing to do, but it also makes good economic sense for today and for tomorrow: every one dollar invested in our children's early years saves nine dollars in future spending on health care and social services. What's critical right now is the social and political will to make it happen.
We are seeing some movements in the right direction. Governments across the country are beginning to make children's mental health a priority. The federal child-benefit and new regulations around marketing foods to kids will also help. But much more is needed.
We must ensure that our children have the support, structure, and tools to prosper.
That's why we're launching a new national campaign with a bold and ambitious vision to make Canada a world-leading country where all our kids thrive. Under the umbrella of Children First Canada, we are harnessing the strength of many individuals and organizations who share a common commitment to improve the lives of children.
Leaders such as Katie Taylor (Chair of RBC and Sick Kids Foundation), Sharon Wood (CEO of Kids Help Phone), Alex Munter (CEO of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario), Rick Headrick (President of Sun Life Global Investments), Rhiannon Trail (CEO of the Economic Club of Canada), and many others are lending their support through a Council of Champions for Canada's children.
This goal cannot be achieved without the support of dedicated partners such as children's charities and hospitals, research centres, corporations, community leaders -- and children themselves.
Today, there are more than six million children in Canada and this number is increasing. Kids can't vote, but they have a voice; it's time that Canadians listened and acted. We must ensure that our children have the support, structure, and tools to prosper. The future of our country -- in fact all of our futures -- depends on it. Please join us, and together we can make this the best place in the world for our children to grow up.
Sara Austin is the Founder and President/CEO of Children First Canada, a new national nonprofit organization with a mandate to be a strong, independent voice for all of Canada's children. Sara's commitment to children has earned her the prestigious Top 25 Women of Influence and the Top 100 Most Powerful Women of Canada.
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