Bullying and child abuse cost Canadians billions: report

Advocate hopes event and pair of reports released on National Child Day serve as a call to action

Children and youth from across Canada are gathering in Toronto today to discuss and urge governments, not-for-profits and businesses to seriously consider the plight of Canada’s children.

The event was organized by Children First Canada, a national non-profit that advocates for the rights and needs of children. The organization also led the creation of the Children’s Charter, a call to action to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of children. In addition to the charter, the organization is also releasing a paper on the economic implications of not investing in children. The report puts the price tag of various issues impacting children at billions of dollars in socio-economic costs and in the cost of lost productivity.

The event and the release of the reports coincide with National Child Day, celebrated today, Nov. 20, across Canada.

Children First Canada founder Sara Austin said today’s actions are about celebration children and recognizing how much work still needs to be done.

“We are releasing the new version of the Canadian Children’s Charter and it’s really a plan of action being created by children for children around the areas where Canada falls furthest behind,” she said.

“We’re trying to put a focus on the areas in Canada that need urgent action, and calling on our governments, the Canadian charitable sector and business leaders around where we need to put our attention in approving the lives of all of Canada’s children.”

The charter was created using feedback from youth from across Canada. The first draft was released at the National Summit in November of 2017.

The charter calls:

for a clear voice and opportunity to lead in schools, families, governments and communities ;

access to local health care, regardless of cost and free from discrimination;

access to mental health services and treatment when it’s needed;

an end to discrimination and exclusion; a stable and secure future;

high quality, safe and accessible education including support for first nations, Inuit and Métis schools to provide instruction of the language of their community;

An end to bullying and protection from all forms of violence and abuse and

A true commitment to reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

The group’s findings also highlight the possible dire consequences if Canada fails to act. A study done in partnership with the O’Brien Institute for Public Health puts a price tag on various issues affecting Canadian children.

“The research clearly shows us that investing in the early years of life pays huge dividends and we also know that the failure to act today will cost us significantly, whether it’s in our health care costs or on social welfare or even broader impact to the cost of the business and economic sectors,” Austin said.

“It’s been estimated through our new research that bullying can cost Canadians up to $4-billion a year in terms of the impact for their economic potential as adults. We learned through our research (that) child abuse has a very hefty price tag associated with it. One in three Canadians has experienced some form of child abuse, and the costs associated with that is estimated to be $23-billion annually. That’s very significant.”

The study also found that childhood obesity costs Canada up to $22-billion per year in lost productivity and increased health costs. About 28 per cent of youth in Canada report being overweight or obese.

“Clearly there’s not only a moral imperative to act, there’s a strong economic imperative for all Canadians to be taking action for the well-being of our children,” Austin said.

Those actions, she stressed, can’t just exist as adults making decisions without any input from young people.

“It’s really important that we don’t just create these plans for children, but we involve children directly, hearing from them around what it’s like to grow up in Canada these days, hearing the challenges they are experiencing and getting their input and their ideas around the solutions that are needed.”

Austin said that as Children First Canada conducted the research for its studies and its charter, they found children had interesting perspectives as to what it means for them day in and day out.

“For me as an adult, as an advocate for kids (it) creates a sense of urgency for action because when we speak to kids we are reminded that every single day matters in life for these children, whether they’re going to school hungry or experiencing bullying or abuse,” she said.

“They’re facing daily threats to their well-being and the protection of their rights. And they need our help today.”

Not only that, but children have a basic human right to participate in decisions that affect their lives, Austin said. She added that it’s encouraging that more and more, agencies seem to be taking the opinions of young people into consideration.

The Saskatchewan Child and Youth Advocate did just that last December when he published a report that included observations and ideas from northern Saskatchewan youth about how to end the suicide epidemic.

And while the individual solutions might vary from province-to-province and region-to-region, Austin said many of the issues are universal, and the call to action is universal too.

“Whether it’s preventable accidents and injuries, or infant mortality, poverty or abuse or bullying, these are issues that kids experience from coast to coast to coast,” she said.

“We need action at all levels of government, and the Children’s Charter was really created with input from kids from all walks of life from across the country, where they are really looking to our federal government for leadership and action.”

The charter is being released publicly today and will be sent to all MPs and senators. It is available in English and in French at www.childrenfirstcanada.com