The Canadian Paediatric Society is calling upon governments at all levels to commit themselves to ending child and youth poverty in Canada. As part of its new report, Are We Doing Enough?, the CPS calls for a national child poverty strategy, with provincial/territorial targets and timetables to address disparities in income and opportunities.
"As Canadians, we insist on our right to universal health care, yet we do not recognize the right of children and youth to grow up with adequate resources," said paediatrician Dr. Andrew Lynk, chair of the CPS Action Committee for Children and Teens. "Good health outcomes for growing children are seriously compromised by poverty."
The CPS advocacy report, released today, highlights a number of areas where federal, provincial and territorial governments are failing to use their legislative and policy powers to protect young people in Canada. While all children and youth will benefit from public policy improvements in the areas detailed in the report, poor children are the hardest hit when governments fail to act.
"Poverty creates a cycle of obstacles that children and youth must overcome, including poor health," said CPS President Dr. Ken Henderson.
Children from low socioeconomic groups suffer higher infant mortality rates and have shorter life expectancies than their peers. Aboriginal, disabled and immigrant children and youth are especially at risk. In 2007, one in four Aboriginal children and youth in Canada lived in low-income families.
Poverty affects all health measures
Poverty has implications for all the health measures tracked in the CPS report, including injuries, immunization, smoking, mental health, access to health services and child care.
Research has identified gaps in income and socioeconomic status as the prime cause of health disparities among children and youth in Canada. The CPS calls for governments to engage in widespread social and political collaboration to eradicate child poverty, and points to a number of evidence-based solutions, including income support measures, training opportunities for parents, social programs, incentives for action and high-quality child care programs.
Good health requires adequate resources
The CPS believes child and youth poverty rates should carry the same political importance as rates of interest, inflation and employment, and wait times for adult health care. The report states that addressing child poverty makes economic sense, noting that the poorest quarter of residents uses twice the health care services as those in the wealthiest quarter.
Since an all-party resolution in 1989 to end child poverty by the year 2000, rates have barely budged. Twenty years ago, 11.9% of children in Canada lived in poverty; in 2007, the rate had dropped only 2.4% to 9.5%. These figures do not reflect the impact of the current recession.
British Columbia and Manitoba have the highest child poverty rates in Canada. B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, PEI, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut do not have child poverty legislation or strategies.
Rights of children and youth
Almost 20 years ago, Canada signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, yet it remains one of the only signatories - and the only developed nation on the list - that does not have a Commissioner for Children. MP Marc Garneau has presented a private member's bill calling for the establishment of a Commissioner, and the CPS urges all Members of Parliament to support the bill.
"If we are serious about caring for the young in our society, all policies and programs that affect children and youth should automatically be reviewed by an independent body designed to stand for their rights," said Dr. Lynk.
CANADIAN PAEDIATRIC SOCIETY