CANADA’s CHILDREN AND THE POLITICAL WILL TO PUT OUR MONEY WHERE OUR MOUTH IS
What does political will have to do with the care we have for our children, you ask? Plenty, really everything.
Canada is a nation that since 1978 is part of the G8, also called the Group of Eight (now I guess G7, after Russia is kicked out due to taking over Ukraine’s Crimea). These are industrialized nations that have banded together in a group to protect the rest of the world (and of course themselves) from any influences that can put their welfare and wealth at risk. They met last month in Amsterdam in The Netherlands.
One could say much about the disparities within those nations and between those nations. I won’t get into those, except as it relates to children and child welfare. As a part of the G 7 club, it is well accepted that Canada is a rich county, with the federal government talking about ending the deficit next year, if not this year, and Canada not having had the 2008 financial crisis to the extent of other nations have.
We prided ourselves on that fact and thanked god for our regulated banking system that prevented the extensive fraud and consequent failure of banks, as took place in Britain and the US.
Those of us that invested in those American banks and lost a good part of our savings in our RRSPs were not happy; now we have to work longer before we can retire, or go back to work, even. To be clear, our public services and our social programs, that are funded by tax revenues of the nation designed to protect the most vulnerable, are in reality quite minimal, and are not that much of a drain on the government coffers, because business reigns in Canada. “Canada is open for business,” as our prime minister Harper likes to say. Evidence is his most recent trip last year to China where he took about 200 people with him including 30 oil executives, all on the tax payers’ dime, to talk trade. He announced with much fanfare (and diverted attention from an exploding Senate scandal of fraud by senators appointed by him) by announcing a deal with the EU that would bring jobs, jobs, jobs to Canada, contrary to what the pundits thought this deal would do for the nation.
Our federal government and the provincial governments are catering to the business world by keeping minimum salaries low. If needed, we can import even cheaper labour from other countries and employ temporary workers that are paid even less and have no protection from unscrupulous employers. Environmental standards are broken all the time to advance production of oil and gas, and governments justify breaking their own laws in that respect “for the good of all and creating jobs”, supposedly.
So, what’s with our children then? You’d think they should rank high on the welfare scale, one would think with all this economic benefit. So who’s on top? On the list of all countries in the word, Sweden is on top, next The Netherlands, and so on, and on, until Canada……ranks 60 from the top on the list of child well-being in the world. Yes, you read that correctly, # 60 from the top on the long list of all nations in the world.
On a UNICEF list of child wellbeing of the 29 richest, industrialized countries, Canada ranks 17, in the middle. The Netherlands (my home country) ranks first on this list, all of its measures consistently scoring in the top five. See more on http://www.unicef.ca/en/discover/article/child-well-being-in-rich-countries-a-comparative-overview
This number represents all children in Canada, included First Nations’ children. It is estimated that a 13.3% of Canada’s children live under the poverty line. The United Nations has commented on that in the past, and called for the Canadian government to address this scandalous situation. It has not happened yet.
How can that be? I will try to explain.
Children’s welfare is measured on five dimensions: education; health and safety; housing and environment; family income (material well-being); behaviours; and risks.
The legal minimum income in various provinces is so low that even when two parents are working at minimum wage, they still cannot meet the high costs of living and have to resort regularly to visiting the food bank to get free groceries. They will have a combined income that is under the poverty line.
I had never heard about food banks, until I came to Canada, and was flabbergasted when I first heard of those. Who in Canada needs to get handouts for food to prevent going hungry? And another question: what sort of food is that? That, however, is a question for a blog post on another day.
For now, it is sufficient to know that not only “lazy, no-good people” go to the food bank, but also those working families with children who rely on income assistance, as their salaries or income assistance benefits are not enough to cover the costs of basic living. Unemployment benefits (a federal responsibility) run out quicker each time the government makes a change–never more weeks, always less, never fewer weeks of continuous work time to qualify, always more. People with a disability, when unable to be accommodated in the workplace and unemployed, have that same low level of income as welfare (unless they were employed and fall under an insurance claim of some sort through their employer). If they have children, those children live under the poverty line.
Benefits for returning soldiers from Afghanistan have been cut back, and stopped when they cannot return to work due to PTSD or severe depression. Their children end up living in poverty on welfare. We hear of fathers shooting themselves in the head out of desperation.
Education is a cost that is paid for by public funds. We pay provincial and municipal taxes to fund education services. At the current movement towards more conservative policies, in an attempt to lower deficits, governments cut here: education, welfare and child protection. These areas fall under provincial jurisdictions and concern the most vulnerable people in society.
Education is in dire straits. Classes are full and teachers bunch up kids 33 to a class at elementary level, as the staff levels have been cut; this is not an unusual situation. For some years already, parents have had to chip in for school supplies and other fees. School buses have been cut back further and parents have to chip in with fees for transportation, or take their child to school. Children get only extra help in the class room when they are “designated” with a certain classification of the problem they have. If they don’t fall within the criteria, they are out of luck–and so is the teacher, having to accommodate all these children regardless of their challenges and disabilities together in one class. Children are on wait lists to be assessed by the school psychologist, sometimes waiting for years. Without an assessment, they get no help, a real catch 22 situation.
University and vocational schools for youth are not free for anybody, except for the few that are at the top and earn grants and scholarships. Most others start their working life with high levels of student loan debts, not secure in the knowledge of finding a job to pay those debts off. Unless their family is well off, completing a college, vocational, or a university education means hardship and is not accessible to everybody.
What other public funds are allocated to children?
Yes, we have Medicare in Canada – medical insurance for everybody. But, it is flawed in many ways. Regardless of income, it covers everybody. I wonder why rich people should not pay themselves for their costs, when health care costs are spiraling out of control and more and more treatments are requiring payment of some user fees and waits are getting longer for important and urgent matters.
As well, the costs of dental exams and treatments are not covered by the medical services plan, nor are cost of medications prescribed by physicians.
People on welfare get only their mental health medications paid for and basic dental care. Children living on welfare and in families under, or just above the poverty level do not get their medications paid for, as they should; there are no Medicare funds for that. So if little Tommy has the sniffles and a bad cough and bronchitis and it’s not all that bad, or if Johnny’s ADHD medication runs out and the rent is due, guess what? They do not get their needed medication.
By the way, fully employed people in good positions might have a separate, added insurance for medication and dental treatment, such as through Pacific Blue Cross that pays part of the most commonly prescribed medication and dental treatments. I have that, but we pay in for that off our salaries. I clearly am not talking about this segment of our society, the middle class.
Canada’s Medicare system and government social benefits are often quoted in the US as an example of better. The trouble is that those people have not looked farther than their horizon. Yes, compared by the barbarian situation in the US that lately has come to light with Obama trying to implement some sort of medical benefit for its population, Canada looks good. I suggest that they get in a plane and fly to Europe to see how people live and work and how their children fare, or do their research on the beautiful world wide web at their desk and include other nations in their searches. The US ranks on the list of all countries somewhere lower to the bottom, below Canada, on the global child well-being list. Concerning is that on the UNICEF list of the richest 29 countries in the world, Canada ranks on the measure of Health and Safety of children on # 27, near the bottom.
Canada’s population is concentrated in the southern part, in urban areas, as well as in agricultural and wooded areas between the urban centres spread out along the border with the US. Now, if we are widening our view and look at people that live beyond that southern stretch of land in more remote communities in the northern half of Canada, mostly on First Nation reserves, we see a different picture. Little known is the fact that these towns and communities might have electric power, but most often have no good drinking water. Children and adults get sick. TBC has been a recurring disease. Life expectancy there is so much shorter. Suicide rate among the young is high. Substance abuse is high as well, with little safety for children in those homes where substance abuse is a problem. This situation has been there since forever, since soon after the Europeans introduced alcohol and disease and
the Canadian government dismantled the existing societies with their own ways of healthy living to establish the mandatory “education” efforts and boarding schools for children according to European model. (The British model I wonder, where kids as young as seven get sent to boarding schools to learn the “stiff upper lip” lack of expression?) This situation of poverty and lack of drinking water and affordable food and housing is not fixed yet; it is a third world situation in a rich nation.
Our Aboriginal children and the Canadian government.
The federal government is responsible (under the antiquated and patronizing Indian Act, established in 1876) for all First Nations’ people in all of Canada, living on or off reserves. Funding issues are like ping pong balls batted back and forth between jurisdictions and deferred to the other authority. Provincial governments sit by idle and the federal government said it is a local issue; the politicians sit on their hands. Negotiations with First Nations’ representatives go on and on, without much impact.
Until last year when the grass roots movement “Idle No More” started, appealing to the general public and Canadian governments to stop being idle about these inequities between poor en rich that are getting larger, the average citizen feeling estranged and alienated from the governing process in Canada. The call is made by young and old, the First Nations’ activists among them prominent, to end poverty, and to end apathy among Canadians about this situation.
People on reserves and their children often live in poverty with, at some places, 98% unemployment, while the old ways of living off the land was destroyed in many places, due to environmental degradation and loss of habitat and wildlife. Half of all First Nations’ children live in poverty. Nationally that compares to 13.3% of all Canadian children living in poverty (according to a report from the UNESCO, also quoted on CBC website). The children on reserves have already many more strikes against them, due to our government ‘s history with forced assimilation and removing children at age 5 and over, to be brought up in Catholic and other religious boarding schools, far from their families for years, where the Indian-ness was beaten and “educated” out of them. Many were sexually abused as well, a shame that the Catholic church officials long covered up and still, the new pope is not clear and decisive about what to do with those priests that prey on children. A whole generation grew up that way and lost their cultural and emotional foundations. Their children pay for the Canadian government’s mistake to leave that education in the hands of the religious schools with their own agendas.
While services and funding for on-reserve children are clearly a federal responsibility, the federal government also provided some funding to urban Aboriginals. The off-reserve social support and services are distributed in the urban areas through so-called Friendship Centres that gets a core funding from the Government of Canada.
Children living off reserve fall under provincial child welfare policies. How are the authorities dealing with poverty, lack of housing and other systematic inadequacies, such as those that need help trying to find out which authority funds what services?
This systemic abuse and neglect of our First Nations is continuing and First Nations children are falling farther behind. First Nations’s youth (and adults) are over-represented in jails, as well as in foster care. It is clear there is a problem that is not going away.
The national Truth and Reconciliation Committee was established after advocacy from First Nations’ national organizations and some prominent Canadians with political clout.
The Truth and Reconciliation committee worked over the last 4 years to hear testimony from all over Canada from residential school survivors about the abuse perpetrated on First Nations’ children. The committee worked much like the South African committee of its namesake after the end of apartheid, to purge the evil and get the truth out, in this case about the terror and injustices of parents and children, and the abuse the children suffered at the hands of government agents and school staff. This major undertaking only was allocated $60 million to organize these hearings. In addition, each victim got allocated $3000 as compensation, to get some counseling.
Now those hearings are ended; the last one took place last Friday. And the results, you ask? How do you think such a person would feel, child victims then, after a life of suffering now in their sixties? I heard many felt bought off with a symbolic price that put value on a wrecked life of a First Nations person at the amount of $3000. Never mind the wrecked lives of their children, also adults now who did not receive the parental care they needed, because they
were too damaged and alienated from their history and culture to raise their own kids, and so on. Hence poverty and child abuse, children being taking int care, and so on.
What are those victims, their families and children going to do, get on with their lives? Is five years, $3000 and an admission by government they are sorry, and victims reliving the trauma leading to going to heal decades of hurt that affected at least two generations of First Nations people? How could they heal themselves when most are still living in poverty and are daily experiencing devaluation and many are not living in healthy families, and don’t have their children living with them, in many cases?
It needs to be said that at no time in history was a greater number of Aboriginal children in government care than at present, including the time of residential schools that affected roughly 150,000 children. At least 5100 died while in those schools. The number of dead children might grow, as documents are slowly obtained through court actions from government possession. At some schools 60%’of children died.
In the 2011 census, only 4.3 % of all Canadians were Aboriginal.
Almost half (48.1%) of all children aged 14 and under in foster care were Aboriginal children.
Nearly 4% of Aboriginal children were foster children, compared to 0.3% of non-Aboriginal children.
More information at the website http://www.fncaringsociety.com/publications/truth-reconciliation-transforming-legacy-residential-schools-2 and http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/nhs-enm/2011/as-sa/99-011-x/99-011-x2011001-eng.cfm.
Are we currently perpetuating a disaster to even to greater proportions than the residential schools disaster?
Just to provide some perspective on government spending, the following facts are enlightening: the British Columbia provincial government spent in the last few years $180 million on a new computer system for social services and child welfare that still is not working to keep BC’s kids safer, and makes it even more difficult than before, as it still is working poorly for that purpose, according to a report published by the children’s Commissioner of BC, Marie Turpel Lafond.
The BC government freely allocated millions to the capacity development of First Nations, to help them develop their own delegated child welfare agencies, so they could start managing their own child protection agencies in the future. These fund were provided without clear guidelines for the time frame of the funding and what the objectives in measurable terms were. Marie Turpel Lafond also reported on this in her report. Suddenly, this funding was cut recently and the plans towards First Nations organizations and authorities taking over the delegated child welfare work in BC has stopped, without notice. It it any wonder that government is perceived as “talking out of both sides of their mouth”?
In February 2014 the Canadian federal government cut the core funding of the Friendship Centres without notice. For forty years that funding had been in place. During that time programs improved and urban First Nations’ people that needed counselling or parental supports, etc. came to rely on those programs, delivered by staff of Aboriginal ancestry, for most part. The excuse is that the government of Canada isn’t into delivering programs and wanted to get out of that.
On the other hand, the Government of Canada subsidized the Olympics and athletic participation. Yes, that’s nice. Each year 62 million is provided, as is proudly explained on its website Own The Podium. So, for 4 years to work towards the Olympics, that is 248 million for the last one.
These government actions put spending towards child well-being in perspective, and it clearly shows where the priorities lie within our governments.
Prime minister after prime minister (federal), and premier after premier (provincial) promised to fix this situation and take care of all Canadians, not just the ones living in urban centres and/or non-Aboriginal, and promised to finally include equity for First Nations children in their mandate. It has not happened. Yet, as Dr. Cindy Blackstock, prominent advocate of First Nations and a member of the Salish First Nation of Canada’s west coast, points out: no area is too remote when it comes to mineral and oil exploitation. I guess oil is more important than water for the children of northern and First Nations’ residents.
Knowing all of this, it then becomes quite clear that it is obviously acceptable to Canada’s politicians that children get sick from the contaminated and undrinkable water, and it’s OK that they do not get access to clean water. It’s acceptable that First Nations children are not as valuable as other children and that when they live on a reserve, they get less health care and less education funding.
Children on FN reserves do not get the same medical insurance package and care as children living elsewhere: fly in doctors once a week, maybe, or the nurse will look after medical issues, as we can’t afford to station someone there. Handicapped kids can only get one implement or wheelchair part per calendar year, and not what they would need with no maximum, as under MSP for non-Aboriginal children: if they need it they get it.
First Nation children on and off reserve, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children of low income families, children of unemployed or low income workers, these all do not get equitable care.
When children of low income families stay sickly, due to poor food, and when not having their prescriptions filled, or do not get dental care, and do not as well in school, this all causes them as adults to have lower education, poor health, and have no, or low paying jobs, (if they do get work), and the cycle of poverty continues.
If children are hungry or sick, or even if they are healthy, but cannot participate in sports and expensive other recreational activities due to lack of parental income, the result will be that they are left behind, and again this puts them even lower on the grid of well-being.
This post tried to explain why Canada is doing so poorly on ensuring children’s well-being and ended up number 60 from the top on the list of all countries, and I am deeply ashamed for Canada. It needs to change.