A Promising Start: Improving the Health and Wellbeing of Canadian Children and Youth
Published April 15, 2019 in The Hill Times
C-441 marks a promising start in the effort to make Canada a world-leading country for kids. A private member’s bill tabled on April 9 by Anne Minh-Thu Quach, NDP MP for Salaberry-Suroit, aims to move the needle for Canada’s children through the establishment of a federal Commissioner for Children and Youth. Members of Children’s Healthcare Canada and many champions of Children First Canada support this initiative. This bill responds to the numerous recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for the Canadian government to establish an independent children’s commissioner.
Children’s Commissioners are a non-partisan and evidenced based approach to improve child wellbeing, including children’s health and safety, and reducing child poverty. Children’s Commissioners have been established in more than 60 countries, including Sweden, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. It’s a proven strategy to improve results for children; in the UK, the Children’s Commissioner helped improve their international rankings for child wellbeing by 5 points. That’s measurable change for children.
Children have unique rights. The establishment of an independent Commissioner would go a long way towards ensuring that their best interests are protected and that they receive the support required to survive and thrive.
In establishing the Office of Federal Commissioner of Children and Youth, Children First Canada and Children’s Healthcare Canada recognize that it is essential to work nation-to-nation, respecting and including the self-governance rights of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.
While many Canadians believe Canada is one of the best places to raise a child, the evidence paints a much different picture. Canada lags far behind most wealthy nations when it comes to the well-being of children, ranking only 25th out of 41 wealthy countries according to UNICEF.
The Canadian Income Survey confirms that 12.1% (LIMAT) of our young people live in poverty. According to the Raising Canada report, 1 in 5 Canadian children experience mental illness, including considering suicide. 1 in 3 children has experienced some form of child abuse and even more staggering, one child dies every nine hours from a preventable injury.
With a mandate to promote, investigate, advise on legislation and policies impacting children and youth, and defend the rights of children and youth across federal jurisdictions and ministries, a Federal Commissioner would have the authority and autonomy to influence significant and positive changes with respect to child health outcomes in Canada.
While many provinces and territories have established independent offices for child and youth advocates, they vary significantly in terms of their mandates and the services offered, and most focus primarily on matters of child welfare.
Now is the time to put the interests of children first and take much needed action to advance Canada’s international standing with respect to child health and wellbeing.
Sara L. Austin, Founder & Chair of Children First Canada
Emily Gruenwoldt, President and CEO of Children’s Healthcare Canada
About Children First Canada:
Children First Canada has a bold and ambitious vision that together we can make Canada the best place in the world for kids to grow up. We are working to improve children’s wellbeing by building greater awareness amongst Canadians about the urgent needs of kids in our country, and mobilizing government, lawmakers and influencers to change the status quo.
About Children’s Healthcare Canada:
For Canadian leaders in children’s healthcare, we are the only national association that enables local improvements and contributes to system-wide change by building communities across the full continuum of care. Our members deliver health services to children and youth, and include regional health authorities, children’s tertiary/quaternary and rehabilitation hospitals, community hospitals, children’s treatment centres and home/respite care providers.