Children are any society’s most important resource and it is time we started to commit to the policies, practices and supports that recognize this.
Being an educator for almost 30 years has allowed me to witness the societal changes that have occurred which are creating a society where the needs of children are either forgotten or neglected. Those people who have been paying attention didn’t need the recent Child and Family Services Report about the increased number of children in care or the data about child pornography, cyberbullying, child poverty, human trafficking and educational scores that are putting the future of our children and local and global communities at-risk to know we have a problem.
Click here to read numerous articles in the Free Press in regards to “Failing Our Children”
We seem to look at the data individually rather than recognizing all of the evidence is inter-related and will require comprehensive and systematic changes to how we support children and families.. The greatest indicator of academic and positive life outcomes for people is economic status. Simply put, if you are poor the chances are you will struggle academically and in life. This is not a result of intelligence, but rather a result of a combination of factors including environment, mental stress, lack of opportunities, poverty, and hunger. Our newspapers seemly report daily about children being abused physically, mentally or sexually, murdered or missing, neglected in their homes and by the agencies entrusted to support them. Factors such as cyberbullying, child pornography, and the sexual exploitation and victimization of children is making it more difficult and more imperative we rethink how we support, educate and protect our children. The goal of creating healthy communities for children is what needs to be our mandate in not only my community but all communities.
Read “The Price of Poverty“
We need to develop a more comprehensive set of policies that create a balance of supporting children, families and their communities. We need all levels of government and our local communities to become vigilant in setting and meeting our goals to support children but create environments at home, in schools and in our neighbourhoods where children are safe, valued and allowed to grow into capable citizens. This will require for us to create systems that support children and families but also we must no longer tolerate those individuals that victimize children.
We can no longer protect individual rights at the cost of societal rights and the rights of children. We need to develop the appropriate policies and broaden our judicial powers in regards to supporting and protecting children.
It is often easy to identify the problems as we read about the results of what is happening because of society ignoring children’s rights to an education, health and safety. Below I will look briefly at a few areas and propose required solutions. There will be those who say it can’t be done, but if we look at the evidence of what is happening to too many of our children, it is hoped you as well will become a voice, an advocate for the changes that must be done to improve the lives of all children.
Children in Care
The number of children in care in Manitoba is more than twice the national average.
In Manitoba, there were 18.4 children per 1,000 in foster care on Census Day in 2011 — the highest in Canada, said Trocme, pointing to information gathered by Statistics Canada. The national average is just over eight kids per 1,000. He noted the provinces with the largest aboriginal populations listed the most kids in care but Manitoba had by far the highest number.
We have a system under stress. We have social workers with unmanageable caseloads as well as jurisdictional battles in regards to the care and support of Canada’s aboriginal people and children. Poor living conditions that result in poverty on Reserves across Canada have our fastest growing population group living in third world conditions.
What can be done?
- Federal Responsibility of Aboriginal People on and off the reserve. The Federal Government needs to pay the costs of supporting and empowering First Nations People to build healthy communities. Education costs of all First Nations children need to be paid by the Federal Government whether they live on or off the reserve, including child welfare costs and supports.
- Federal, Provincial, Municipal and First Nations having shared responsibility for funding and developing Urban Reserves that are sustainable with the long-term goal of self-sufficiency. Changes aren’t done to them but done by them with support as needed.
- Follow and implement the recommendations of the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry. We need trained workers, provide needed supports to assist families and communities to keep their children at home. We need to assist mothers and fathers become healthy and strong so they are able to support their children.
- If children need to go into Foster Care the homes need to be safe and foster parents adequately trained. All agencies supporting children need to be accredited following established protocols in regards to service delivery.
- Change the support systems based on age of the child, youth or young adult. We need to develop transition programs to support youth and young adults as they move out of care. We need to provide opportunities to teach independence and work.
- Better and more transparent data. If we don’t look at the data in detail we won’t be able to do the targeted interventions required. We need to target our supports and interventions to make our investment work.
Crimes against Children
Creating healthy and safe environments for children to live, learn and grow in is essential if we are to ensure the long-term sustainability of our societies. Crimes against children through physical, neglect or sexual abuse will require determination and the commitment of every one to say ‘No More’.
What Can Be Done?
- Education of appropriate computer use that is founded on respect of self and others.
- Teaching young boys and girls to value each other. We must change the sexual objectification of girls and women.
- Put an end to child pornography. We must be diligent in our pursuit of those who sell, buy and produce sexual images of children.
- We must hold Internet Service Providers more responsible for the content on the web.
- We must all report those individuals that are victimizing children.
- We must change our attitude that we can’t control the content of the Internet
- We must put an end to Human Trafficking and Sex Slavery
- We must strengthen our support for healthier lifestyle choices. Consequences for all crimes against children especially those in regards to sexual exploitation and abuse must receive harsher punishments.
In all my years as an educator I have never had a student say to me “When I grow-up I want to be a Prostitute.” I also have never had a parent tell me they want their son or daughter to grow-up to be a prostitute. We want to ignore the data that prostitution is usually not a choice. Prostitution generally continues the marginalization of people who have already been victims. We need to change our attitude about prostitution and recognize the societal cost as well as that the majority of prostitutes began by being exploited long before the age of 18. It began when they were children. We need to support the victims of prostitution as well as support the legislation required to make it illegal to victimize women.
Ending child prostitution will require a combined effort of punishing those who are involved and make money from victimizing children but education and policies that support human rights of all children.
Despite 25 years ago a commitment of government to end child poverty, it hasn’t happened. It can happen but we ignore what needs to be done. It can start by changing our tax policies.
What Can Be Done?
- We need to increase tax credits for young families (Visit Canadians for Tax Fairness)
- We need to create jobs – change business tax structures to encourage job creation and heavily tax money that is not re-invested into jobs or training. Provide incentives for businesses that invest in building communities.
- Joint efforts of government and business to assist with day care and education. Universal day care program which will include increasing day care spaces in schools as well as in larger companies. Providing opportunities for day cares to be at people’s work places. Imagine if your employer had a day care where you not only worked but recognized the important role you have as a parent and you had the opportunity to have lunch and breaks with your children.
- Business and government involved in job training initiatives which focus on people under the age of 35
We need to put people back to work. Youth unemployment is too high. Wages have not kept up with inflation. We need to develop systems that encourage people to work and be self-sufficient.
We can blame poor results in reading and math on societal issues. In the end that won’t change results. We need to accept the data and make the changes required to bring about better scores.
What Can Be Done?
- We need to increase the time students write and read
- We need to focus on the foundational skills of numeracy
- We need to create safe and inclusive school environments
- We need to collect data from a variety of sources to see if students are learning
- Province funding education 100% allowing School Divisions to implement the mandated policies regarding class size, curriculum and supports for student services.
- We need to create positive learning environments
- We need all teachers to be trained in teaching numeracy and literacy
- We need to focus on those strategies that work and stop doing those things that don’t
I can hear people thinking how much will this all cost? The question should be however, “How much will it cost if we don’t do anything?” This isn’t about ideology. This is about recognizing that children matter. This is about recognizing that as adults we all have responsibility to ensure we have healthy and strong environments for our children to flourish in. This is about recognizing we all need to advocate for children. This is about recognizing our responsibility to children and the future.
This is about recognizing that CHILDREN MATTER.