The Clock is Ticking: The Child Mental Health Crisis Rages on While Parliament Breaks for the Summer and an Election Looms

40 days after child advocates called #codePINK, governments have failed to take urgent action

Ottawa, June 29, 2021 – Canada’s top advocates and experts united to declare a #codePINK (a term used for pediatric emergencies) and called on federal and provincial leaders for an emergency response to address the crisis affecting children’s mental and physical health. Forty days later, they are still waiting for help. With schools closing for summer and the House of Commons on recess, kids are left with limited support, and advocates are calling out the government for their inaction. Rumours of a federal election pose an even greater risk that action could be delayed until the fall, putting children at risk for months to come.

This week marks the beginning of the summer break, leaving many children that were sitting in front of computer screens for virtual school without any supports for their mental and physical health. Additionally, the lack of recreation facilities and a growing backlog of mental health and rehabilitation services and surgeries continue to leave children and adolescents in dire circumstances.

“We sounded the alarm and called on all levels of government to act. As each day passes, the clock is ticking,” says Sara Austin, founder and CEO of Children First Canada, which organized the #codePINK campaign with the support of children’s hospitals and other advocates. “When an emergency is declared and children’s lives are at stake, it’s hard to fathom that the call for help would be ignored. The decision to call off #codePINK is in the hands of government leaders who have the power to take action.”

Politicians might be tempted to think that the end of school means that kids will regain some sense of normalcy. But for many children, especially those whose families cannot afford daycares or camps, the social isolation will increase because they have nothing to occupy themselves with while their parents continue to struggle with full-time work and providing full-time childcare. “This disregard for marginalized and under-served children is distressing,” adds Austin.

Children’s hospitals have reported unprecedented admissions for suicide attempts, eating disorders, substance-use disorders, as well as other physical symptoms related to distress, known as a somatic symptom disorder. Outside hospital walls, general practitioners and pediatricians report similar concerns. Yet despite the best efforts of medical experts, advocates, and an outcry from parents and youth, legislators in several jurisdictions ignored calls to reopen schools and have failed to address the urgent mental and physical health crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a Canadian youth, I’m baffled and taken aback that my government feels it’s okay to stay silent after leaders in children rights have declared a pediatric emergency,” says Mégane Jacques, Chair of Children First Canada’s Youth Advisory Council. “For a country that prides itself on being modern and caring about its population, I am saddened to see that not more is being done. We’re 25% of the country population and 100% of the future, so why isn’t the government acting on this emergency?”

Although governments have collaborated with child experts and acknowledged the enormous sacrifices that children have made, bold action and leadership is urgently needed to address the crisis facing kids.

Children First Canada is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Premiers to call off #codePINK by taking urgent action to ensure children receive immediate and sustained support for their mental and physical health. Advocates reiterate their call for an emergency First Ministers Meeting to address the crisis and invest heavily in scaling up virtual care programs, reducing backlogs for surgeries and rehabilitation, supporting new models of mental health programs to meet the urgent and rising demands, along with committing now to safely reopen schools in the fall, and reopening camps, parks and other recreational facilities over the summer.

Every day, every hour, every minute can make the difference when children’s lives are at stake. With an election looming, the federal government must act immediately, and work with provincial and territorial leaders in ending #codePINK for children in Canada.

For more information, or to schedule an interview, please contact:

Andrea Chrysanthou
Director
NATIONAL Public Relations
Phone: 416-797-8194
Email: achrysanthou@national.ca

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.