Ottawa, April 14, 2021 – As a third wave of COVID-19 sweeps the nation, Children First Canada and our Council of Champions are calling on the federal government to make children a high priority in Canada’s COVID-19 response and economic recovery plans in Budget 2021.
Canada currently ranks 30th out of 38 OECD nations for protecting the well-being of children. This marks a sharp decline from Canada’s rank of 10th place in 2010. One of the primary reasons for Canada’s previous success was due to dedicated federal leadership and the investment of financial resources to tackle the top threats to childhood.
Prior to the pandemic, the statistics concerning kids in Canada were alarming: 
· One-third of children in Canada do not enjoy a safe and healthy childhood
· One in three Canadians reports experiencing abuse before the age of 15
· One in five children lives in poverty
· Suicide is now the leading cause of death for children aged 10 to 14
The pandemic has made a bad situation much worse. Children and their families are now facing unprecedented challenges because of the economic crisis and ongoing restrictions, including school closures. We are failing children and youth in Canada.
All children and youth have been impacted, but some have been particularly hard hit. This includes First Nations, Métis and Inuit children, Black and other children of colour, children growing up in poverty, those with complex medical needs and disabilities, and children who experience abuse in their homes.
Here are a handful of examples of the devastating impact of the pandemic on children:
· Less than five per cent of children met their daily physical activity guidelines during the lockdown.
· Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children conducted a study, released in February 2021, which found that roughly 70 per cent of children experienced a deterioration of their mental health during the pandemic.
· The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa, and Ottawa Public Health, reported that CHEO has seen more than twice as many infants (children under one year) for maltreatment concerns – specifically fractures and head trauma – since September 2020. The Children’s Hospital of British Columbia also reported a spike in cases of severe child neglect, including starvation.
· The national tip line for reporting online sexual exploitation of children noted an 88 per cent rise in reports of sextortion during the pandemic, as kids are spending more time at home and online.
The federal government has rightly identified the need for a Canada-wide early learning and childcare (ELCC) system, but this must also be coupled with strategic investments in the health and well-being of children. Jurisdiction is often cited as an impediment to action. While the provinces and territories have the mandate for issues such as education and child welfare, the federal government has jurisdiction over several areas such as family and criminal law.
Additionally, the federal government has a duty to provide national leadership to ensure the full implementation of children’s rights within the UNCRC. This would include establishing an independent Commissioner for Children and Youth whose mandate would include:
· leading a comprehensive national strategy for children with the cooperation and support of provinces/territories to implement children’s rights, tackle the top 10 threats to childhood and address the impacts of the pandemic,
· ensuring the investment of federal resources and providing transparency through a children’s budget, and
· measuring what matters through the collection of disaggregated population-level data through the Canadian Health Survey of Children and Youth (CHSCY) and by leveraging the real-time aggregate data of Kids Help Phone.
Canada’s economic recovery plans must put children at the centre. Children represent nearly one quarter of our population and 100 per cent of our future. Failing to invest in the health and well-being of children will impede Canada’s ability to recover both in the short- and long-term.
Canadians care deeply about the well-being of our children and strongly support the need for action. A recent poll by Abacus Data commissioned by Children’s Healthcare Canada revealed that the vast majority of Canadians are deeply worried about the future of children and youth, and 92 per cent fully believe that children should be a priority as the Canadian government develops its COVID-19 recovery plan.
This will require bold leadership, an investment of additional resources, and a child-focused lens on policy to build back better. We remain committed to work in collaboration with the government and directly with children and youth to ensure that all 8 million of them have the support they need to survive and thrive.
Kids can’t wait. They need urgent support and attention now.
Government Relations Advisor
c: (613) 581-4584
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.
List of Signatories:
Sara Austin, Founder and CEO, Children First Canada
Matthew Chater, National President & CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada
Irwin Elman, Former Ontario Child Advocate, Global Strategic Champion, Until The Last Child
Christine Hampson, President & CEO, The Sandbox Project
Katherine Hay, President & CEO, Kids Help Phone
Mark Hierlihy, President & CEO, Canada’s Children’s Hospital Foundations
Krista Jangaard, CEO, IWK Health Centre
Valerie McMurty, President & CEO, Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada
Alex Munter, CHEO, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and the Ottawa Children’s Treatment Centre
Holden Sheffield, Chief of Pediatrics and General Pediatrician, Qikiqtani General Hospital, Iqaluit, Nunavut
Lori Spadorcia, Executive Vice-President of Public Affairs and Partnerships, Chief Strategy Officer at CAMH
Katie Taylor, Chair of the Board of RBC and Former Chair of SickKids Foundation
Leah Zille, Executive Director, The Treehouse Vancouver Child and Youth Advocacy Centre
Umayangga Yogalingam, Co-Executive Director, The Young Canadians Roundtable on Health