National Child Day marks UN signing

Canada lags behind other wealthy countries when it comes to child care, and a presentation on Nov. 20 will look at the issue

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children was signed in 1989 by every country in the world except the United States and Somalia.

Canada was a signer and ratified the UNCRC in 1991. In Canada, Nov. 20 was set aside as a day to celebrate children and raise awareness about their rights. This year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the historic signing of this document.

More than 100 years ago, we made the decision that public education should be universally available to all Canadians, not just those who could afford to pay. Later we included a year of an early childhood program — kindergarten — within our publicly funded system to ensure that all children started school with the skills they needed to be successful learners. In some provinces there are two years of publicly funded early childhood programs available to all families — junior and senior kindergarten.

Extensive brain research in the past 20 years has proven without a doubt that the first five years of life are an absolutely critical time for brain development, with up to 90 per cent of brain development occurring during this time. Epigenetic research shows that the care and experiences that children receive during these first five years actually change brain structure, set the foundation for many areas of development and have a critical impact on health and well-being throughout the lifespan.

We know an educated population is more employable, more productive, less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system, more likely to raise successful, happy children and to have better health into their senior years. Despite knowing that the period from birth to five is so critical to healthy brain development and that healthy brain development is so critical to positive learning and health incomes, we have not made the same commitments to early learning as a province or a country. Early years investment results in lower remedial education costs, lower costs in the justice system and lower costs for health care. Enhanced family leave, quality child care and strong support for vulnerable aboriginal, newcomer and refugee families are extremely valuable investments in Canada’s future.

To commemorate National Child Day, we want to raise awareness about why quality, affordable, accessible child care is important to all of us whether we have young children or not. In the same way that public education is important for the greater good of society, so is ensuring that when parents are increasingly needing two incomes to afford the ever increasing cost of living including housing, child care, education and saving for their senior years, we need to ensure that early care and learning programs/child care are affordable, accessible, safe and meets the developmental needs of children to prepare them for success in school and in life. There is no more valuable resource to invest in than our future citizens.

The Early Development Instrument is a population-based measure of how children are doing in their early development and is conducted on all kindergarten children in the province. In School District 22 the vulnerability rate is 33 per cent, just slightly above the provincial rate of 32 per cent. School District 83 vulnerability rate is 34 per cent. Quality early care and learning programs can have a great impact on counteracting this alarming data. Child care will be an issue for the federal election coming up next year and can also be addressed in numerous ways at the municipal level. For instance, the City of Vancouver has a comprehensive child care plan that could be used as a guideline by other municipalities. The City of Vernon has endorsed the $10/day plan along with many other municipalities, businesses, organizations and individuals.

On Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Vernon library Community Room, Sharon Gregson will speak on the topic, “Who’s Looking After the Kids?” The spokesperson for the Child Care Advocates of B.C. will discuss the provincial child care plan and the child care crisis in B.C. Contact coordinator@noecdcoalition.ca for more information. Everyone is welcome.

C. Lynne Reside is the early years community development coordinator for the North Okanagan Early Years Council.