IWK CEO calls for government leaders to improve health of children


Child advocates across Canada, including IWK Health Centre CEO Dr. Krista Jangaard in Halifax, are calling for federal political leaders to address issues threatening Canada’s children, such as poverty and abuse.

A report called Raising Canada: Elections 2019, released Tuesday by the national non-profit Children First Canada with research from the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, pinpoints the top 10 threats to children’s health and safety.

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The report lists obesity, suicide, bullying, immunization and preventable injuries as some of the threats, with the purpose of urging leaders of federal political parties and all candidates seeking office to take urgent action.

“We believe that Canada is a wonderful place to live but there are risks that still face our children and are preventing them from having a healthy happy childhood,” said Jangaard, a member of Child First Canada’s Council of Champions.

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Dr. Krista Jangaard is the CEO of the IWK Health Centre in Halifax. She’s also a member of the Council of Champions. IWK Foundation

The Council of Champions includes “Canada’s leading voices for children’s rights and well-being” who work together to raise public awareness on issues affecting children across the country, according to the organization.

“We rank 25th out of 41 countries [for children’s well-being] and we know across Canada there are variations by where you live,” explained Jangaard.

“Many of those variations are really focused on those social determinants of health. So, how secure is my food? Do I live in poverty? Do I have the things that I require to be healthy?”

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Impact of health threats on children

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For example, between nine and 12 per cent of Canadian children grow up in poverty, and nearly 50 per cent of Indigenous children are in poverty, according to the report.

It also mentions that Nova Scotia has the highest rate of child poverty at 17.1 per cent compared with Alberta, which has the lowest child poverty levels at five per cent.

“As we start to move into an election, we want the federal government to think about the impacts on children,” Jangaard said.

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Some of these impacts are suicide, which is the leading cause of death for Canadian children. According to the report, Canada was one of the five countries with the highest teenage suicide rates, at a rate of over 10 per 100,000 teens. Twenty per cent of youth in Atlantic Canada have had suicidal thoughts.

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In addition, the report says one-third of Canadians experience some form of child abuse before the age of 16. In Nova Scotia, the rate of child and youth victims of police-reported family or non-family violence increased 21 per cent from 2016 to 2017.

“I would think that the findings in the report may be surprising to those who look and say in Canada we are a wonderful place to live, and there’s lots and lots of things that we are doing quite well in,” Jangaard said. “But there’s still some things that we need to think about differently say and continue to pay attention to.”

Call for action

Jangaard said child advocates are calling for the government to take three actions outlined in the report, including the appointment of an independent federal commission for children and youth to raise the profile of children in Canada.

“We want to promote the rights of children, particularly as we look to some of our disadvantaged populations and to those where we know some of these problems may be more prevalent, as in some of our remote communities [and] in our Indigenous communities,” she said.

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Raising Canada: Elections 2019 also calls for a pan-Canadian strategy for children led by the federal government in consultation with the provinces and territories that would tackle the top 10 threats to children’s health and well-being and ensure the full implementation of the Canadian Children’s Charter and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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Jangaard said the third action calls for a children’s budget to ensure adequate resources are directed toward addressing the top 10 threats to childhood.

“We are asking [the government] to publish a children’s budget so that there’s full transparency from the federal lens on the expenditures for children.”

She’s also urging people to use their vote to urge federal leaders to take action to improve the lives of children.

“A vote for children is a vote for Canada… They’re our future,” Jangaard said.

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