The statistics on children’s welfare in New Brunswick are in and they are heartbreaking.
Twenty-eight per cent of kids in this province are fat; 40 per cent get practically no daily exercise at all. Seven to 13 per cent of those in middle and high school smoke cigarettes either occasionally or regularly. Nearly five per cent admit to taking methamphetamines, at least once in their tender lives.
Meanwhile, the injury and hospitalization rate for children in New Brunswick is almost twice the national average (41.4 cases per 10,000 inhabitants, compared with of 25.8 for the country as a whole).
And, as if these facts weren’t bad enough, there are the morbid metrics about ritual abuse to consider.
As the Telegraph-Journal’s Chris Morris reported on Wednesday about the seventh, annual “State of the Child Report” from the province’s Child and Youth Advocate Norman Bosse, “Two in three girls in New Brunswick say they have been bullied. The rate of children and youth who are victims of family violence in New Brunswick is much higher than the national average (365 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to the national average of 267).”
Then, there’s this appalling finding: “The rate of New Brunswickers charged with sexual offences involving children is much higher than the national average (seven per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with 4.3 per 100,000 inhabitants for Canada as a whole).”
What, in the name of God, are we doing?
That’s the question Janelle Vandergrift, a social policy activist, asks in her recent blog post for the Huffington Post Canada, to wit:
“Twenty-five years ago this month, our (Canadian) government unanimously made a promise to end child poverty by the year 2000. A promise that has been is broken – today the number of children living in poverty in Canada is the equivalent to the population of Calgary.
In a country as wealthy as ours, one million children currently experience poverty and all that comes with it including poorer health outcomes, educational disadvantage, poor nutrition, and exclusion.”
She continues: “Most would agree that child poverty is an appalling Canadian reality. In fact, eight out of ten Canadians believe the federal government has a role to play in ending child poverty. . .If we hope to make any progress on reducing poverty in Canada, a focus on kids is critical. Not only does Canada have human rights obligations specifically to children, but ending child poverty would have positive implications for the future of our society and the future of those children. Childhood is a particularly influential time: kids who grow up living in poverty are more likely to experience health problems throughout their lives, have lower incomes and be in trouble with the law. Ending child poverty will help to break the cycle of poverty.”
And, yet, what do we have?
A federal government that seems to think that the best way to raise a kid is to give his or her parents a paltry sum each month to cover the cost of whatever the “true experts on child-rearing” deem appropriate.
Provincial governments that are so woefully underfunded they can’t begin to wrap their bureaucratic minds around the notion of an integrated, universally accessible, evidence-based, publicly funded system of early childhood education.
Health-care providers who would relish the opportunity to agitate on behalf of children, but for the muzzles their various administrators, government factotums and political operatives fix to their mouths.
Sill, Mr. Bosse sings a muted tune of hope. “Twenty-five years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, New Brunswick can and must serve as a model of respect for child rights by giving children a voice, guaranteeing equal opportunities for all children, and providing them with a safe place where they can realize their potential,” he writes. “If we get better at having a coordinated effort around key areas, we will get better at doing the other things, as well.”
We adults always make nice words when the evidence of our collective failure, neglect and outright malice is too painful to face.
It’s time we stop breaking our hearts, and start building our communities all over again.