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CANADA

Our children and youth deserve better from us

The past decade has witnessed a 66 per cent increase in emergency department visits and a 55 per cent increase in hospital admissions of children and youth because of mental health issues.

It's time Canada did a better job bringing up its children.

This may be one of the world's richest and most favoured nations. It may spend billions of dollars every year on fine schools, state-of-the-art hospitals, as well as on programs to help parents and assist the poor. But if you think all the kids are all right, you're all wrong.

Anyone who doubts this should examine the disturbing findings in a new report released by Children First Canada and the O'Brien Institute for Public Health after they painstakingly studied the health of 7.9 million young Canadians.

Entitled "Raising Canada," the report makes for a sobering, uncomfortable read.

To be fair, most Canadian children are better off in terms of physical health, schooling and living standards than any preceding generation.

Yet despite the best efforts and intentions of Canada's national health-care system, Canada's rate of infant mortality is among the highest in the world's most economically prosperous and technologically advanced democracies

Unintentional injuries, most preventable, are the greatest killers of our young. Motor vehicles, falls and drowning – in that order – pose the gravest dangers. Nor, in this stressed-out modern world, are all the threats facing our young related to strictly physical issues.

The past decade has witnessed a 66-per-cent increase in emergency department visits and a 55-per-cent increase in hospital admissions of children and youth because of mental health issues.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Canadian children and youth, and Canada ranks in the top five countries for the highest child suicide rates globally. This is unexpected – and unacceptable.

Drilling deeper into the statistics shows, in part, why this is happening. While boasting one of the world's highest living standards, Canada has 1.2 million children living in low-income housing. One out of 10 families with children under the age of six reported they'd experienced food insecurity.

In addition, one out of three Canadians reports having suffered some form of child abuse before turning 16.

It's not just this report that should sound alarms, either. UNICEF, a United Nations agency, ranked Canada an embarrassing 25th out of 41 advanced democracies when assessing children's well-being.

Disturbing as this report may be, it was not meant as an end in itself.

It's the persuasive evidence being cited by Children First Canada as it calls for the creation of an independent national commission for children and young people and, as well, for the implementation of a Canadian Children's Charter.

Experience tells us that creating new government bureaucracies is seldom the magic bullet that solves our most vexing problems.

In this case, however, the federal government should be willing to set up such a national commission. Nothing can be more important that the well-being of our children and youth.

For more than a generation, Canadian politicians have vowed to eradicate child poverty. We try to do better promoting mental health and ensuring healthy lifestyles. This timely report shows how far we have to go.

Something dramatic is needed and a new, national commission is worth a try.

Independently of this initiative, our federal and provincial governments should increase their efforts to safeguard mental health.

Even as the need for psychological and psychiatric care has risen, young people wait far too long — months, even years — for much-needed help.

Someday, today's young generation will be looking after everyone in this country. Today, Canada's adults must do a better job looking after them. 

10 September 2018

Waterloo Region Record

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