The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was signed by 193 countries. The Convention was held in 1989 and Canada ratified it in 1991. Only two countries abstained — the largest number of signatories to a convention in the UN’s history.
The 1989 document ensures global agreement on children’s rights. Countries are required to review their laws and practices to ensure that they comply and to report back to the UN. In 2004, A World Fit for Children was held at the UN to look at how countries were doing — Canada followed up with A Canada Fit for Children. The Halfway There document shows where we are failing such as access to quality early care and learning. In the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report, Canada ranks last of 20 developed countries in the percentage of our GDP spent to support healthy early childhood development. On May 10, 2012 a summit called Cities Fit for Children will be held in Kamloops for municipal leaders and early childhood practitioners. Delegates from our community have been invited to participate.
Often the best place to start is at the community level. The UNCRC has many articles that address healthy child development. Each year, a different article is spotlighted — for 2011 it is “the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health.”
We know that even in Canada, one of the wealthiest countries, we have communities that do not have consistent access to clean drinking water. A great barrier to a high standard of health is income inequality. We have seen these issues highlighted by the Occupy movement and we know that many families in our own community and province are unable to maintain good physical and mental health due to the stress of trying to find work/life balance, the cost of housing and issues around food security. The cost of owning or even renting a home can be so high that it requires two working parents to maintain adequate shelter. With both parents working, child care is essential, but in very short supply. Currently, we only have enough regulated child care spaces for 20 per cent of the children and families who need it. The cost of child care is equivalent to a second mortgage or post-secondary education.
Contrary to public opinion, the majority of poor families are working families. We know that children who live in poverty are much more likely to struggle with school, resulting in school drop-out, poor job prospects, and issues with marital breakdown, addictions and crime. In the North Okanagan, and every school district in the province, the EDI (Early Development Instrument) is used to measure children’s vulnerability upon school entry. Our children are doing slightly better than the provincial average, but with vulnerability rates between 25-33 per cent, that is more than one in four children who arrive at school without the skills and attributes to succeed. The generation between 25-45 years of age, in all socio-economic situations, are really struggling to balance raising children, maintaining gainful employment and attaining economic stability through education and home ownership.
Today is National Child Day, and we want to highlight children’s rights and celebrate and encourage children and their families. We know that what is good for children is almost always also good for seniors, persons with disabilities, newcomers and the general public, whether it be transportation, parks, affordable housing or crime. We all have a vested interest in ensuring every child grows up healthy and becomes a good citizen of our community.
Today, wear a blue ribbon, attend a special event with a child, ask a child for advice, introduce your child to your place of work, plan a special visit to your child’s class or child care program or send a card to a child, caregiver or teacher. Explore ways to make your neighbourhood a safer place for children, donate to a children’s organization, share a book with a child, cook a celebration dinner, talk about your own childhood, reflect on children’s rights in our community and around the world, talk to local politicians, tell a neighbour, friend or family member about National Child Day and consider ways you can make the North Okanagan a better place for children.
The North Okanagan Early Childhood Development Coalition (NOECD) and the Early Childhood Educators of BC are working in your community to make this happen. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or if you have a thought to share. For information about NCD activities for families, caregivers and teachers see http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/ncd-jne/kit-eng.php.
Lynne Reside is coordinator of the NOECD.