Marking National Child Day in Nova Scotia
In the lead up to National Child Day on November 20, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has made a devastating move against children in that province by eliminating the Office of the Child Advocate. The watchdog was responsible for protecting the rights of children by recommending solutions to grave issues including high suicide rates, child abuse and neglect, deaths of children in care, and more.
Across the country, Canadians believe that children are doing well in this country. Yet, repeatedly, against many measures, our children are not benefiting from Canada’s prosperous economy and stable government. Overall, Canada is ranked 25th out of 41 affluent nations for our children’s well-being according to UNICEF. Canada is at the bottom of the ranking for challenges that seem inconceivable to many – children’s health and safety, child poverty, hunger, and abuse. The source of this inequality for children disproportionately affects and creates the most vulnerable children who rely on systems like mental health, child welfare, and juvenile justice.
How does a Child and Youth Advocate help to address inequities in children’s well-being? Advocates are independent of government and have mandates to ensure that their respective provinces and territories are doing the best they can for their most vulnerable citizens. They are responsible for promoting the views and preferences of children and youth. Having someone with the specific role to collect data, analyse the systems, services, and programs affecting children and youth and recommend solutions on their behalf results in gains across social and economic measures for all children, families, and communities.
In Canada, there have been far-reaching examples of what provincial and territorial child and youth advocates can do. They work with children and youth to understand better what matters to them, what they want changed, and support child and youth-led initiatives to create sustainable systemic change. In 2017, the Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth, in response to a suicide epidemic, consulted with over 1000 young people across the province to produce a report “Shhh we have something to say”, which clearly highlights youth priorities for their communities. In New Brunswick, the Office of the Advocate for Children and Youth recently supported a presentation by young refugees and immigrants to the New Brunswick legislature. An Advocate’s Office for Nova Scotia could lead research on key issues facing our youngest citizens, which isn’t being done by any other government department. Child specific issues are not being consistently or thoroughly monitored or reported in our province. Evidence based decision making for the betterment of all children is not possible without this analysis.
In Ontario, the Office of the Child Advocate has been an extraordinary voice for children in that province. They have led the way in innovative youth engagement, giving voice to young people who typically were not heard. They significantly elevated the concerns of Indigenous youth. They tracked and investigated the deaths of children in care, and even before a spate of tragic deaths of children in foster care last year, the Advocate was ringing the alarm bell about increased vulnerability among youth.
In Nova Scotia, the need for a Children’s Advocate has been recognized by those working with and for children. The Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman can work with young people if there is an administrative issue that needs to be resolved in terms of access to and quality of provincial services. However, the Office is not responsible for monitoring and reporting on all systems affecting children. To address the gap in children’s well-being in Nova Scotia, this past September the New Democratic Party introduced a bill to create a Children’s Advocate to better protect children in Nova Scotia.
Canada also does not have a national Children’s Commissioner or even a children’s budget to acknowledge the value we place on children in our society. Wisdom2Action has been working nationally to advocate for the creation of effective national oversight for all children and youth from coast to coast to coast. In the current Canadian context where all national efforts need to contribute to reconciliation and respect the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the federal government, it’s not clear where a single Commissioner position, a multi-stakeholder Commission, or some other model is most appropriate. But it is clear that children’s health and well-being must to be elevated as a higher priority to address the gaps in access to care.
There is an obvious need to make Nova Scotia and Canada more accountable to young people so that the next generation can grow up strong, resilient and prepared to live life to reach their full potential.
November 20 is National Child Day in Canada – let’s use this National Child Day to consider how we can do better for our most vulnerable citizens in Nova Scotia and across Canada.
Kayla Bernard, Indigenous Youth Advisor, Wisdom2Action, Student at Dalhousie University.
Lisa Lachance, Executive Director, Wisdom2Action, doctoral student in Health, Dalhousie University.
Pamela Lovelace, Project Manager, Wisdom2Action, Dalhousie University.