Today, there are six million kids in Canada. While many of them are doing just fine, far too many of them are struggling. Canadians like to think of our country as being one of the best places in the world to raise a child, yet that simply isn't true. In a poll conducted by Children First Canada and the Angus Reid Institute, the majority of Canadians ranked this as being a top five or top 10 country for the wellbeing of children, when in fact we rank in 25th place out of 41 nations according to UNICEF's global index.
It's time for Canadians to come to terms with the harsh reality that millions of kids in our country are falling through the cracks, and that its our collective responsibility to do something about it. We can't afford for this to continue.
- One in five kids in our country is growing up in poverty.
- One in five teens has seriously considered suicide in the past year.
- One in three Canadians has experienced some form of child abuse.
- One in four children is obese or overweight.
- One child dies every nine hours from preventable injuries.
These statistics represent a broad cross section of children and youth from all walks of life in Canada, but we also know that indigenous children are disproportionately affected.
It may be true that the kids in your life are doing just fine, we should all be deeply uncomfortable with the fact that millions of other kids in our country are not alright. These are Canada's children.
Our collective failure to invest in kids has both a moral and economic toll on our nation. Not only do we stunt the ability of the current generation to experience childhood as it was meant to be, we also limit the potential of our entire country. Adverse childhood experiences cause life-long impacts to physical and mental health. Simply put, we are paying a heavy price tag for our failure to invest in the early years of life.
Yet it doesn't have to be this way. That is why we've embarked on a process to create a roadmap to make Canada the best place in the world for kids to grow up. Children First Canada has partnered with leading charities, children's hospitals, research centres, and corporations, and together we are supporting the participation of our youngest citizens to create a plan of action to drive change.
We are calling it the Canadian Children's Charter, and we're inviting children and young people across the country to share their ideas and experiences with us. Every young person in our country can have their say, by taking part in a focus group, completing a survey, and participating in online forums. All of the activities are being conducted in English and French, and we're working with local partners to make the resources available in Inuktituk and other local languages, and to provide support for kids to participate who don't have access to digital technology.
Their input will feed into a national summit that will take place in our nation's capital on November 21-22, in which children and youth will meet amongst themselves to draft the charter, and then work with adult allies to create and launch a bold agenda that will benefit the lives of Canada's children.
We have invited several of Canada's leading champions for children to share their thoughts on what it will take to make Canada a world-leading country for kids, and we'll share their ideas with you here on our HuffPost Canada blog. We invite you to follow along and share your ideas, and go online and tell us what you think it will take to make Canada the best place in the world for kids to grow up!
Sara L. Austin is a world class champion for children, with 20 years of global and Canadian experience in the charitable sector. She is the passionate visionary behind Children First Canada, serving in the role of Founder and Lead Director of the Board, and she is also the new CEO of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre. She was awarded the prestigious Top 25 Women of Influence in 2014 and 2017 and she is a three-time winner of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women.
Mary Jo Haddad is the Chair of the Board of Children First Canada, and is President of MJH & Associates and a Corporate Director with TD Bank Group and TELUS. Mary Jo retired in 2013 as President and CEO of The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, a position she held since 2004. She is also a Director of Kids Health Links Foundation and a member of the Campaign Cabinet of SickKids.