New Report Reveals Top 10 Threats to Kids in Canada, Including 29% Increase in Food Insecurity

Annual ‘Raising Canada’ report includes urgent calls for action by government

Calgary, AB – As kids head back to school, a new report on the state of the nation’s children sounds the alarm on the top 10 threats to childhood. For the first time ever, the annual Raising Canada report incorporates primary research with youth and those that care for them. Among the key findings: half of Canadian youth experienced depression during the pandemic, and incidences of child violence, poverty and racism have increased significantly over the previous year. Given the ongoing rise of inflation, it’s also not surprising that food insecurity among young people increased by 29%.

The sixth annual Raising Canada report is published by Children First Canada, based on research conducted by the University of Calgary, the University of Toronto and McGill University. Researchers compiled existing data and conducted interviews with youth, parents and other subject matter experts.

“This last year kids have experienced unprecedented challenges due to the ‘tripledemic’ of RSV, Influenza and COVID-19, and they continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic with significant impacts to their mental and physical health,” says Sara Austin, founder and CEO of Children First Canada. “There is a persistent myth that Canada is one of the best places in the world to raise kids, but the facts show otherwise.”

Canada ranks 81 st among 193 countries on the Global Kids Rights Index, down significantly from 48 th in 2022. Additionally, a recent review by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2022 gave Canada a scathing report for its failure to protect the rights of children or to demonstrate tangible progress on recommendations issued in preview reviews.

Child experts and advocates are calling for immediate action to enact policies and invest in proven solutions that will make life better for kids. This report underscores the urgency.

The Top 10 Threats to Childhood in the Raising Canada 2023 report include:

Threat 1: Unintentional and Preventable Injuries

  • Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 14.
  • Injuries due to recreational drugs have increased by a third compared to pre-pandemic levels.
  • Rates of hospitalizations are higher among Indigenous children and youth who consist of 3.3% of the pediatric population yet comprise 30.9% of fatalities.

Threat 2: Poor Mental Health

  • 51% of youth aged 12 to 18 experienced depression and 39% experienced anxiety during the pandemic.
  • There was a 7.4% increase in self-harm injuries amongst youth aged 11 to 18 in 2020, in comparison with 2018-2019.
  • Children who experience adverse childhood experiences such as poverty, abuse, or discrimination, are more likely to experience poor mental health.

Threat 3: Violence Against Children and Youth

  • 60% of Canadians report experiencing some form of child abuse before the age of 15.
  • At least 548 students in K-12 schools in Canada reported an act of sexual nature between 2017-2021.
  • Internet sexual luring of children has increased by 815% in the past five years.
  • Indigenous youth under the age of 15 (15.2%) experience physical and/or sexual abuse by adult perpetrators at more than double the rate of non-Indigenous youth. (7.5%).
  • Children with an intellectual disability have 3.5 times higher of a risk in experiencing sexual abuse compared to children without an intellectual disability.

Threat 4: Vaccine-preventable Illnesses

  • Vaccination coverage for all vaccinations for 2-, 7-, and 14-year-olds remains below the 95% coverage standard to prevent outbreaks, based on analyses of the 2021 Childhood National Immunization Coverage Survey, released by Statistics Canada in June 2023.

Threat 5: Systemic Racism and Discrimination

  • The disproportionate and pervasive overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system remains a major concern based on publications released within the past year.
  • There was a 286% increase in reports of racist and discriminatory actions against Asian children in 2021 compared with data from 2020.

Threat 6: Poverty

  • Child poverty rates have increased sharply; 15.6% of children aged 0-17 (over 1.1 million children across Canada) live in low-income households – up from 13.5% in 2020, according to the most recent data from the Census Family Low Income Measure, After Tax.
  • Approximately 60% of families with low incomes say they feel ‘very concerned’ about meeting day-to-day needs, especially with the rising prices of essential needs, such as housing and food.
  • Approximately 1.8 million children under the age of 18 were affected by food insecurity in 2022, a marked increase from the 1.4 million in 2021.

Threat 7: Infant Mortality

  • Canada’s infant mortality rate has been persistently high compared to other OECD countries; notably the rates declined in the last year. According to the UN, Canada’s current infant mortality rate in 2023 is 3.943 deaths per 1000 live births, a 2.76% decline from 2022.
  • Rates of infant mortality are higher for Indigenous infants and immigrant infants from low socioeconomic status.

Threat 8: Bullying

  • Approximately 7 in 10 youth aged 15-17 years old in Canada experience bullying.
  • Evidence shows that Indigenous youth, adolescents from low socioeconomic status, and sexually and gender-diverse youth are more often the target of identity-based bullying.

Threat 9: Limited Physical Activity and Play

  • Only 2.3% of youth meet the 24-hour movement guidelines.
  • Children aged 8-12 from middle-class or high-income households averaged 1180 more steps a day than those from low socio-economic status.
  • During COVID-19, there was a 38% decrease in physical activity among immigrant communities in contrast to non-immigrant Canadians.

Threat 10: Climate Change

  • Half of Canadian youth (48%) aged 16-25 expressed feeling high levels of anxiety about air pollution and climate change, while three-quarters (73%) expressed fear for their future.
  • In the summer of 2023 alone, there have been multiple reports of child deaths due to extreme weather and pollution associated with climate change, and thousands of children have been displaced or had their daily activities disrupted due to wildfires and poor air quality.
  • An estimated 15,300 Canadians die prematurely each year due to exposure to air pollution.

The past year has further exposed the systemic gaps that exist in services for children and youth. The report stresses that we must address the “polycrisis” facing Canadian children, who have compounded, complex, and urgent needs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Children, their parents, and subject matter experts emphasize that the top 10 threats are interconnected and must be addressed wholistically.

Calls to Action

The following Calls to Action are a direct response to the findings in the Raising Canada report. They have been endorsed by Children First Canada’s Council of Champions, and developed with the input of children and youth from the Young Canadians’ Parliament:

  1. Lead For and With Kids: Establish a Federal Commissioner for Children and Youth, develop a National Strategy for Children and Youth, and develop a national Data Strategy on the health and well-being of young Canadians.
  2. Invest in Kids: Launch a Catalytic Investment Fund for Children over the next 4 years and publish a Children’s Budget.
  3. Raise Them With Rights: Support child rights education and provide children and youth with a platform to exercise their rights as leaders of today and tomorrow.

“When the pandemic ended, we expected life for our kids to get better. It didn’t. The research shows that children’s wellbeing has continued to deteriorate, and far too many kids are in a state of crisis. We cannot continue to ignore the serious threats that put children’s lives in jeopardy. Experts and advocates all agree that a better life for our kids is possible and we’re imploring all levels of government to take action now,” says Austin.

Children First Canada recognizes the generous support of MITACS, the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), CHEO, and the IWK for making the Raising Canada report possible.

For more information, please contact:
Natasha D’souza | M: 647 830 2943 |

About Children First Canada:
Children First Canada (CFC) is a national charitable organization with a bold and ambitious vision that together we can make Canada the best place in the world for kids to grow up. We are a strong, effective and independent voice for all 8 million children in Canada. CFC is harnessing the strength of many organizations 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.