New report paints gloomy picture of childhood in Canada

Jeff Lagerquist ,

Canada is the fifth most prosperous nation in the world but its youngest citizens are behind their global peers when it comes to poverty, exercise, infant mortality and several other key measures, according to a new report.

A survey by Children First Canada, a non-profit launching this week, paints a decidedly gloomier picture than most grown-ups acknowledge.

Two-thirds of the adults surveyed placed Canada within the top 10 countries to raise a child, but the country actually ranks 17th among 29 comparably affluent nations when it comes to children’s wellbeing, according to UNICEF’s global index.

Children First Canada says nearly one in five Canadian children live in poverty. One in three has experienced some form of child abuse. More than a quarter are obese or overweight, and one in five children has considered suicide.

The report is based in part on data from data UNICEF, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Children’s Help Phone, and Parachute Canada.

“These deeply alarming statistics reveal a magnitude of problems affecting a large portion of our youngest citizens,” said Sara Austin, founder and president and CEO of Children First Canada in a statement.

Indigenous children, kids from single parent homes, refugee children and youth in foster care were found to be most likely to fall through the cracks.

Poverty levels were most pronounced among indigenous children (40 per cent), followed by immigrant children (32 per cent), visible minorities (22 per cent), and non-immigrant and non-racialized children (13 per cent).

Canada received near-top marks for educational achievement and low smoking rates among children and youth, ranking second and third respectively among global peers. But Canadian kids fell very near the bottom on a several key measures like immunization (28), health and safety (27), inequality (26), an infant mortality (22).

To understand how Canadians’ views compare to statistics and global rankings, Children First Canada partnered with the Angus Reid Institute to conduct a randomized online survey of 1,701 Canadian adults and 831 Canadian children between Oct. 11 and Oct. 17.

Among the survey’s findings:

• Half of parents who have children under the age of 18 say that a lack of money is hurting their kids. This number rises to 55 per cent among middle-income earners, and 60 per cent among households earning less than $50,000 annually.

• The vast majority of Canadians (74 per cent of adults, 69 per cent of children) say they’re concerned their family cannot afford to pay for college or university. That number rises to 85 per cent of adults and 87 per cent of children in families with household incomes under $50,000 annually.

• 80 per cent of Canadians believe that the cost of licensed daycare is pricing out the families who need it most.

• The top three concerns for young people are bullying (40 per cent), cost of post-secondary education (37 per cent), and mental health, depression and/or anxiety (32 per cent)

The report calls on Ottawa to implement a national strategy to improve the lives of Canadian children that would include appointing an independent children’s commissioner, approving a budget to track national funding, and allowing greater participation from youth in shaping relevant policies.

“In a nation as prosperous as Canada, this is unacceptable,” said Austin. “Each statistic represents individual children whose lives and futures are diminished every day by preventable causes, and we need to do much better.”