Today marks National Child Day across Canada, commemorated on the anniversary of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted in 1954 by the United Nations.
In the years since the Convention children around the globe have experienced tremendous progress in education skills, health care and economic well-being. Yet sadly, despite many giant steps forward, the universal rights of children remain an elusive goal in too many nations of the world.
Canada is not exempt from the gap between progress achieved and present-day shortcomings. Indeed, our children are far better off than those in nations elsewhere – especially in the developing world – but there is so much more that a nation as wealthy as ours, in human and economic capital, can do. On too many fronts we are failing our most valuable human asset.
In 2012 the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children (CCRC) released a disturbing report that seriously undermines the progress we believe we are making on behalf of children. The coalition’s findings included:
- Children (under 18) endure more violence, exploitation and abuse than adults in Canada;
- More than 67,000 children are in state care. Many leave that care at age 16 or 18 without the support that most other youth get from their families;
- A higher per cent of Canadian children live in poverty than in other comparable OECD nations;
- More than 50 per cent of children with disabilities lack access to aids they need because of cost;
- Canada spends less on early childhood development than in comparable OECD nations.
This information will hardly come as news to more than 3,600 child welfare workers who are members of OPESU. The findings of the CCRC come as a grim reminder that we are failing too many vulnerable young people and the crisis is growing owing, in large measure, to government neglect and underfunding. It is inexcusable that that these conditions should exist in a jurisdiction as wealthy as Ontario where inequality is in the rise.
We know that when there is a downturn in the economy families are squeezed and child welfare agencies have more children and families to support. The average Ontarian wouldn’t know that the government has implemented a new funding formula for children’s aid societies. The government says it wants to be more responsive to the local needs of children and families who need support from the child welfare system. And yet in 2013 the introduction of the new funding formula has produced $50.6 million in cuts, creating a crisis instead of strengthening child welfare. Prevention programs are being cut haphazardly across agencies and child welfare jobs are also being eliminated permanently.
Most recently, 40 jobs and a long list of prevention programs were lost at the London-Middlesex CAS. Caseloads remain the same and the population continues to struggle with growing poverty and unemployment. Chatham-Kent Children’s Services followed by cutting 17 positions and other prevention programs. The Ministry must realize that they are creating conditions that put children at serious risk if the sole motivation for a new funding formula is to spend less money on vulnerable children.
Next week I will be meeting with the Minister of Children and Youth Services, Teresa Piruzza, and again I will make the case as forcefully as possible that funding needs to support actual needs and that workload remains a systemic health and safety issue.
On Nov. 20, day child welfare workers have chosen to wear black in the workplace to send the message that we must put kids first and that the ministry is failing under the current conditions.
I want to commend OPSEU child welfare workers for their dedication, hard-work and resourcefulness. You take on responsibilities that often give witness to the dark side of the human condition. Child welfare workers are among the most selfless of our members. They are driven by the needs of the young people who they counsel, treat and guide. In this spirit it’s worth recalling the words of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on the occasion of the release in 2001 of the final report of the World Summit for Children:
"We were all children once. We all share the desire for the well-being of our children, which has always been and will continue to be the most universally cherished aspiration of human kind."
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union