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Media release: One Chance to Be a Child: Report provides first comprehensive snapshot of the well‑being of young people in Nova Scotia and offers key steps to prioritizing their rights
Tuesday, April 26, 2022 (Halifax, NS) -- A new report by researchers at Dalhousie University is providing the first comprehensive snapshot of child and youth well-being in Nova Scotia, yielding critical insights into their security, development, and physical and mental health.
The One Chance to Be a Child data profile represents the work of a multidisciplinary team of service providers, academics and community leaders across Nova Scotia that was led by Dalhousie’s Department of Pediatrics and the Healthy Populations Institute.
The group used various datasets and consulted with young people to for the first time uncover what is known about the well-being of children and youth in the province, while offering a suite of recommendations that would address areas of concern.
The report's title reflects the critical nature of childhood -- a period that lays the foundations for lifelong health and well-being.
“Children have one opportunity to experience childhood, but we have multiple opportunities to honour their dignity and potential in the decisions we make as a society," says report co-author Dr. Laura Stymiest, a pediatrician and director of Advocacy for Children and Youth for Dalhousie’s Department of Pediatrics.
"We believe it is essential that children’s rights be central to the decision-making process and that public policy be driven by quality data about child and youth well-being. This report highlights areas where we can act now to improve the lives of children, who are the future of our province.”
In line with the Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being produced by UNICEF Canada, One Chance to Be a Child uses a child-rights lens.
“The United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child was ratified by Canada in 1991, but child rights discourse has been missing from decision-making in Nova Scotia. We must ensure that children and youth in the province experience the full breadth of their rights so they can flourish in childhood and beyond," says Dr. Sara Kirk, scientific director of the Healthy Populations Institute at Dalhousie University and another report author.
"When children’s rights are fully respected, well-being follows.”
Based on the 2019 UNICEF Canada report, the data profile asks six key questions about children and youth well-being in Nova Scotia:
Are we secure? Are we learning? Are we healthy? Are we happy? Are we connected to the environment? Do we belong and are we protected?
To answer them, the authors assessed the most robust data available and spoke directly to children and young people across the province.
The researchers found that while many young people in Nova Scotia are doing well, too many are being left behind. For example, one in five children and youth reported low life satisfaction, that they were living in a food-insecure household or felt unsafe or threatened at school due to bullying, according to a series of surveys carried out across Nova Scotia in 2018-2019.
About one in four children is missing important skills in their first year of school, while just one in four is meeting daily physical activity guidelines.
The report team was especially concerned about the state of childhood poverty in the province.
In 2019, a staggering one in nine children and youth was estimated to live in homes experiencing poverty where children were deprived of their most basic material needs like food, clothing and shelter – a rate among the highest in Canada.
In the same year, one in four children and youth in Nova Scotia lived in families with such low incomes relative to other Canadians that they were likely excluded from a range of opportunities due to poverty.
While the authors see a number of positive steps being taken to improve the lives of children, such as affordable daycare, universal pre-primary programs and a modest investment in the Nova Scotia Child Benefit, they say much more needs to be done.
“We can and must do better as a caring society. If we want to create a healthier, more equitable future for Nova Scotia, we must really invest in our youngest generation and make sure they have the things they need to be well,” says co-author Dr. Andrew Lynk, chair of Pediatrics at Dalhousie University.
The report puts forward six key recommendations and 12 actions that address broad issues like racism, discrimination and poverty, but also entail specific actions. They include asking governments to invest in a system to collect and monitor key data about children, use child rights impact assessments when making key decisions and pass legislation to keep the issue of child poverty reduction on the agenda of future governments.
The group is also calling for the establishment of an independent body dedicated to children’s rights and well-being in the province – something the current Nova Scotia government has signaled it is considering.
The findings are already being put to good use. The group recently submitted its work to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child for a review of Canada’s performance on children’s rights.
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About the Healthy Populations Institute:
The Healthy Populations Institute (HPI) at Dalhousie University is a Senate-approved institute that involves the faculties of Health, Medicine and Dentistry. Research within HPI aims to improve population health and health equity in Atlantic Canada and beyond by understanding and influencing the complex conditions that affect the health of communities.
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