What parents and government can do to help kids
The Province October 21, 2010
We asked eight influential people to draw on their experience and name three to five things parents and governments need to do to give B.C.'s children a better start in life during the years from birth to age 12
The Province October 21, 2010
Provincial co-ordinator, First call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition
Most parents do their best to give their children a good start by providing the necessary food and care for body, mind and spirit. The difficulty for many parents is when their ability to provide this foundation is undermined by the stress of living in poverty, working long hours or more than one job; or when their choices are constrained by the lack of access to quality childcare, to therapies for children's special needs or to help in a time of crisis.
We all have a stake in raising healthy and capable children and therefore in supporting parents in their child-rearing responsibilities. Through our governments we can:
-Bring B.C.'s and Canada's investment in early childhood care and learning up to the minimum one per cent of GDP recommended by UNICEF.
The combined federal and provincial investment in these services is currently only 0.2 per cent.
-Reduce Canada's gender gap, that is, the relative investment of resources between men and women. International evidence shows that investing in mothers means investing in children's well-being. We need to reduce the unacceptably high rate of lone female parents raising children in poverty. This means expanded access to good childcare and housing, higher child-tax benefits, a reformed welfare system and more good jobs for women.
-Put in place ambitious plans to eliminate child poverty in B.C. and federally, with targets and timelines we can hold ourselves accountable to meet.
-Take our obligations to children seriously. This means regular public reporting on a variety of indicators related to their physical and mental-health status, living conditions, educational milestones, participation in arts and recreation and justice system involvement.
National Chief, Assembly of First Nations
All evidence indicates the need to better support First Nations children, the fastest-growing segment of Canada's population. There is no greater or more important challenge.
What have we done collectively and individually to support, care for and nurture our children? This is a broad question that starts at home but goes to every segment of society -- to educators, policy-makers, decision-makers and corporate and private citizens.
My top three recommendations are:
-Support families in crisis and enable healing in healthy, safe environments. There are about 27,000 First Nations children in care today -- more than at the height of the residential schools -- and this number will continue to grow unless we work together. Substance abuse and the consequences of poverty, including poor nutrition and housing, are primary causes.
We must ensure parenting support, access to prevention services, quality housing and safe environments in every First Nation. Chronic underfunding leads to chronic problems.
-Equity in accessing quality education at every level. Our priority looking forward is education. First Nations have issued a Call to Action on Education, a call to all Canadians to make education a door to opportunity and success firmly rooted in First Nation cultures, languages and rights. We must end the unequal funding wherein First Nation students receive $2,000 less on average than other students. We need a guarantee that creates a secure fiscal framework to help build and strengthen First Nations education systems.
-Nurturing a learning environment and greater mutual understanding. First Nation communities and institutions are working to support a culture of learning across the country. First Nations reach out in partnership with others to support this effort through institution-building, support for programming and fostering greater mutual understanding and support.
If First Nations children are to truly prosper and succeed, then we must work together to ensure they have access to the same opportunities as other Canadians.
MARY ELLEN TURPEL-LAFOND
B.C. Representative for Children and Youth
The responsibility to see to it that children have the opportunity for optimal development belongs to all of us -- parents, neighbours, teachers, health-care professionals and the community in general. Government sets the stage with its decisions about public policies and expenditure of public funds. What do children need from us to have the best start in life?
-First and foremost, they need our time. Today's world operates at a furious pace and there are endless demands on most parents' time. At an individual level, that means making the kids our priority, taking a positive interest in our neighbour's kids and the kids in our children's school and family. For government and business, it means workplaces with family friendly policies and adequate childcare options so that a caring adult is always present.
-Children also need the security of safe homes and communities, fresh air, clean water and healthy food. Families require an adequate income to provide the necessities of life. As long as B.C. has the country's worst child-poverty record, many of our children will not get the best start in life. We urgently need a child-poverty plan, with identified strategies and measurable outcomes, to make sure we are a society of equal opportunity for all children.
-We especially need to understand what works for our most vulnerable children, including children with special needs, children in care and aboriginal children. Many children in vulnerable communities require additional supports outside the family and the community tailored to their circumstances.
Aboriginal children especially require us to be respectful of their culture and language but also supportive of the journey their families face to overcome the impact of intergenerational trauma, abuse and racism. We need to listen carefully to aboriginal families and support them in creating opportunities for their children to overcome several generations of exclusion and to expect the best for aboriginal children at school, at home and in our neighbourhoods and communities.
How do we give children the best start? First, we make it a priority to reduce B.C.'s appalling child vulnerability rate of 30 per cent. By "we" I mean governments, parents, community and business leaders.
Attacking this problem on a piecemeal basis will not work. Initiatives like full-day kindergarten and StrongStart are important, but they are only part of the puzzle. We must embrace a comprehensive new approach that reflects the needs of children and families in the 21st century. And we must commit to funding and implementing such a system as quickly as possible.
The roadmap we need to achieve our goals already exists in a recent report by the UBC Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP). This report calls for bold new policy thinking and lays out six key measures that would reduce child vulnerability to 15 per cent by 2015.
The cost of implementing these measures would be substantial. But the costs -- both to children and our economy -- of not taking action are much greater. And the benefits of this investment would outweigh the costs by more than six to one over 60 years.
A provincewide poll commissioned by the YWCA shows overwhelming support for significant public investment to reduce early vulnerability. HELP's proposed measures for more affordable, quality childcare spaces were endorsed by 89 per cent of respondents, and 83 per cent backed financial support for low-income families.
As parents and as citizens, the most important thing we can do is advocate for the full realization of this vision. In so doing, we will level the playing field for all children and position B.C. as a leader in the global knowledge-based economy.
President and CEO, United Way of the Lower Mainland
We all believe our kids are our future. But what is that future without our help? I believe four critical things must happen for kids to reach their full potential.
-We need to support parents and families so they have the knowledge, resources and programs they need. Families require financial stability to provide opportunities for their kids. They require free time to be involved in their children's development. And they need welcoming communities, where kids feel they belong. Nineteen per cent of B.C. children live in poverty, but kids are vulnerable across all income levels. That's why supporting families and whole neighbourhoods is key.
-Problems may start elsewhere, but their impact is felt closest to home. And that's where the smartest solutions can be found. The best community services are planned, delivered and co-ordinated locally. With our resources limited, organizations need to work together to ensure effective services. Volunteerism needs to become popular again.
-We need to invest in smart policy -- the kind that recognizes the needs of children and families. This can include opening schools after hours with programs people can afford. Or making quality childcare available so parents can participate in the workforce. We need to work toward achieving affordable housing, a clean environment and safe neighbourhoods.
-Most importantly, we need to invest in prevention, not only crisis intervention. Readying kids to make good decisions in life will allow us to stop reading so much about -- and paying much more for -- crime, addiction, homeless-ness and other issues.
President and CEO, Business Council of B.C.
As a parent, and now as a grandparent, I have the luxury of being able to do more than speculate when it comes to deciding what parents and governments can do to give our children a better start. By the time you're a grandparent you can see the proof standing in front of you, and you know right away whether you've hit the mark when it comes to preparing your children and theirs' for the future.
-When it comes to parents, it's important to spend daily time with kids and books. Literacy is the key building block to getting children ready for school.
-Never assume that someone else is going to teach your children such basics as dressing and caring for themselves later in life. It's amazing how many children never learn how to care for themselves.
-My final tip for parents is to ensure your children get enough sleep and restrict their use of electronic games in favour of play. Kids need sleep, lots of it, and they like the stability and security provided by routine, particularly in the evening as they wind down their day.
-Governments should join parents in investing in quality, affordable and content-rich childcare. Next, government should look to expand kindergarten to age three. Finally, child-leave provisions should be expanded beyond one year, with some bridging income to encourage more parents to stay at home with their kids longer.
Today, when I watch my daughter with her son, I see a lot of myself in how she's raising him. Those moments give me, and every grandparent, a wonderful sense of accomplishment, particularly when we see practical parenting tips being passed between generations. It would be equally exciting if we could see that same long-term commitment in our governments.
Education policy researcher, Fraser Institute
Our children are, undoubtedly, our greatest resource. While the primary responsibility for child-raising falls on the parent, all members of civil society -- government, business, non-profit organizations and individuals, can assist families in raising happier and more successful children.
-For example, governments can eliminate tax inequities that make it more difficult for families to have one parent at home caring for their young children. Surveys have shown that the majority of parents believe that the best caregiver is a parent who stays home. Yet our tax system is clearly biased in favour of dual-income families.
-Business organizations can and should take a much more active role in helping children understand why a successful business community is an essential part of any advanced society. It is a sorry fact that in most of Canada's provincial education systems, the critical role of business in ensuring the continued prosperity of our nation is largely ignored.
-Non-profits play an enormous role in children's development and might well participate in other areas where children remain underserved. Programs such as the Donner Awards for excellence in the delivery of social services are critical in celebrating the success of outstanding non-profit social-service agencies.
-Parents -- with help from grandparents and other family members -- might think about the skills that their children should acquire and then encourage their kids to acquire them. Skills in such areas as critical thinking, debate and public speaking, the art of persuasion, individual and team sports, leadership and foreign languages will stand any child in good stead throughout life.
KIMBERLY A. SCHONERT-REICHL
UBC associate professor and area co-ordinator for the Human Development, Learning and Culture program (HDLC)
Middle childhood -- the time between six and 12 years of age -- marks a distinct and critical period in human development. During these years, children experience important cognitive, social and emotional changes that establish their identity and set the stage for development in adolescence and adulthood. If the goal is to promote the competence and well-being of all children, multiple directed strategies need to be considered, ranging from efforts to promote child capabilities to preventions and interventions directed at optimizing development.
-Scientific evidence has confirmed that, if children are to succeed, the development of social and emotional competencies is just as important as academic learning. Middle childhood is an opportune time in which school-and community-based prevention programs designed to promote this development should be implemented to stave off mental-health problems before they arise and to promote positive human qualities such as optimism, empathy and altruism. Programs such as Roots of Empathy, Friends for Life, MindUp, Second Step and Emotional Literacy should be available to all children during their elementary years.
-¦ After-school time is important. It gives children the opportunity to learn social skills, develop interests and competencies and form relationships with caring adults. Quality after-school programs should be made available to all children regardless of income level.
-Positive relationships with adults in the different social worlds of home, school and community play a significant role in promoting children's sense of well-being and competence. Opportunities should be provided for adults to learn about their importance in the lives of children.
Tell us what you think
We want to hear your comments on our series and your ideas for the future of B.C.'s children.
Go to the " What do you think" section at theprovince.com/news/growing-challenge or send an email to email@example.com.Please be sure to include your full name and hometown.