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Top 10 Threats to Childhood in Canada: Recovering From the Impacts of Covid-19

It is no surprise that the lasting impacts the Covid-19 pandemic will have on our children is a cause for concern. Children and youth have suffered devastating impacts to their physical, mental and emotional health as a result of the pandemic. Raising Canada 2021 is the fourth in an annual series of reports that track the top 10 threats to childhood. This year, the report highlights the impacts of the pandemic and provides policy recommendations for addressing each threat. 

“In what is now known as Canada, the health and well-being of children have been on a steady decline – putting the lives of children at grave risk and the future of our country at stake. Over the past decade, Canada has fallen from 10th to 30th place among 38 affluent countries for childhood well-being, yet there remains a persistent myth that Canada is one of the best places in the world to raise a child” – Raising Canada Report 2021

I had to read the above paragraph three times for it to truly sink in. As a parent, this is truly hard to read and the urgency to support the health of children and youth has never been greater. Over the past 12 months, a significant amount of new research related to the state of childhood health in Canada has been released. This report includes some of this new data, as well as contributions from a diverse group of subject matter experts that were engaged to form an interdisciplinary team. This year, Raising Canada 2021 provides recommendations for addressing each threat, indicating the various ways that government leaders and stakeholders can take action. This key addition harnesses the data to equip policy makers with the tools needed to improve the lives of young people in Canada.

I’ll share the Key Findings below:

Threat #1: Unintentional and Preventable Injuries

  • While there has been an overall reduction in children attending emergency departments with unintentional and preventable injuries, there has been a steady rise in the rate of children dying from opioid-related deaths and an increase in poisonings and cannabis ingestions.

Threat #2: Poor Mental Health 

  • Poor mental health was an existing concern before the pandemic, and the effects of school closures have accelerated this threat. Children are facing new or increased stressors, resulting in poor mental health that jeopardizes their survival and development.

Threat #3: Systemic Racism and Discrimination 

  •  The engrained and widespread impacts of systemic racism and discrimination have continued throughout the pandemic. Anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Asian racism, anti-Black racism, anti-Muslim hate and antiSemitism have become particularly prevalent.

Threat #4: Child Abuse

  • In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, scholars and child advocates have voiced significant concerns over rising and undetected rates of child abuse. In some jurisdictions, clinicians have seen twice as many infants for maltreatment-related concerns, specifically fractures and head trauma.

Threat #5: Vaccine-Preventable Illnesses

  •  As rates of vaccination against COVID-19 increase among young Canadians aged 12 and older, concerns about the re-emergence of vaccine-preventable illnesses due to routine immunization delays (among toddlers and adolescents) are heightened. In a recent survey, Raising Canada 2021 7 45% of clinicians acknowledged the pandemic has negatively impacted immunization services in their practices.

Threat #6: Poverty

  •  Rates of childhood poverty have continued to increase throughout the pandemic in certain populations. Close to one-third of children living in female lone-parent families were living in poverty, compared with less than one-tenth of children living in couple families.

Threat #7: Food and Nutritional Insecurity

  • During the pandemic, there has been a 39% increase in the prevalence of food insecurity in Canada. Households with children are more likely to face food insecurity compared to households without children.

Threat #8: Infant Mortality

  • In 2021, Canada’s infant mortality rate has increased. It is now the second highest among 17 OECD countries, at approximately 4.4 infant deaths/1,000 live births. This is a marked change from 1960, when Canada ranked fifth lowest.

Threat #9: Bullying

  • Children and youth are often bullied for the following reasons: identifying as 2SLGBTQ+, their race or ethnicity, newcomer status, disability, religion and Indigenous identity. Unfortunately, when student victims of bullying told someone about their experiences, resolution only occurred in about one-third of the cases.

Threat #10: Limited Physical Activity and Play

  •  For many children, physical inactivity has posed a significant concern during the pandemic, along with an increase in rates of sedentary behaviours. In all regions in Canada, parents reported that children exhibited a decrease in time spent outdoors and in outdoor play, with Ontario having experienced the greatest decline in both.

Reading this report, it has provided research and data to back up concerns and claims of parents, educators and any one that is concerned about the livelihood of children and youth – the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been considerable for children and adolescents, affecting essentially every aspect of their lives in significant and complex ways.

So, now what? What can we do with this information to decrease the negative impacts the pandemic has had on the health and well-being of children and youth? Children First Canada recommends making a big, bold plan to improve the lives of children growing up in Canada, ensure that children’s voices are heard and their concerns are prioritized, and put children at the heart of Canada’s pandemic recovery plans. 

I recommend all parents, educators, and anyone who works with children to read the report in full. There is a long road ahead for all of us to ensure the long-term effects of the pandemic are minimized and supports are in place to support child well-being. 

The full report can be found here: CFC-RC-Report-2021_Final.pdf (childrenfirstcanada.org)

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