Toronto, June 2, 2021 – The Ontario government announced today that students will not return to in-class learning before September, meanwhile plans to reopen the economy – including non-essential businesses – are still underway. Children First Canada calls upon the Ontario government to make children and youth a priority and reopen schools. Children need access to in-person learning not only for their education, but also nutritional programs, physical activity, social and emotional support, and safeguards against abuse that they desperately need.
On May 29, the Ontario Science Table issued a joint statement with the Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health (on behalf of all Medical Officers of Health), children’s hospitals and child health agencies calling for a regional reopening of schools. Today’s decision to keep schools closed but reopen non-essential businesses ignores that advice and sends a clear message that children are not a priority.
“It is a false dichotomy to pit children against the economy. The decision to keep schools closed represents a colossal failure that jeopardizes the health and well-being of the children and youth who call Ontario home,” says Sara Austin, founder and CEO of Children First Canada. “The closure of schools has had a direct impact on the economic productivity of parents and other caregivers, and there are short- and long-term moral and economic costs associated with failing to support children’s education and protect their mental and physical health.”
Kids in Ontario have been out of school longer than any other province – and few places in the world have endured school closures as long as in Ontario. Kids are in crisis. Admissions for suicide attempts and substance-use disorders for children and youth have soared since the onset of the pandemic, in addition to increased admissions for injuries associated with child abuse. Wait times for surgeries and rehabilitation services for children and youth have also ballooned. The urgency to support young people has never been greater.
Children First Canada and its partners recently launched a campaign to call for an emergency response and declare #codePINK (a term used for pediatric emergencies) in light of the crisis facing kids.
Although we were pleased that Ontario announced an investment in mental health services for children and youth this week, this is not enough. We continue to call on the Prime Minister and all Premiers in Canada to hold an emergency First Ministers Meeting to take immediate action to address this crisis facing the 8 million kids in our country. This includes safely reopening schools, sports, camps, parks and other recreational facilities as quickly as possible. We also strongly urge government leaders to scale up virtual care programs, reduce backlogs for surgeries and rehabilitation, invest in new models of mental health programs to meet the urgent and rising demands. Kids can’t wait. The government must plan now for a safe return to school in the fall.
“Our most sacred duty as a society is to ensure the survival and well-being of our children,” says Austin. “Today’s decision demonstrates that children continue to be a low priority when policy decisions are being made. We call upon the provincial and federal governments to put children at the heart of their pandemic recovery efforts.”
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About Children First Canada:
Children First Canada (CFC) is a national charitable organization that serves as a strong, effective, and independent voice for all children in Canada. CFC harnesses the strength of many organizations and individuals that are committed to improving the lives of children in Canada, including children’s charities and hospitals, research centres, government, corporations, community leaders, and children themselves. Visit childrenfirstcanada.org for more information.
The #codePINK campaign has been organized by Children First Canada, a national charitable organization that serves as a strong, effective and independent voice for all 8 million children in Canada. Children’s health organizations from across the country have joined this effort, including Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, Canada’s Children’s Hospital Foundations, CHEO, Children’s Healthcare Canada, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, McMaster Children’s Hospital, The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and the Young Canadians Roundtable on Health. Visit childrenfirstcanada.org/codepink to learn more.