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N.B. report sheds light on children, youth struggling with poverty, social exclusion

N.B. child and youth advocate releases ‘state of the child’ report
WATCH: After some startling statistics were highlighted in the throne speech, New Brunswick child and youth advocate says poverty and social exclusion are serious challenges in the province. Callum Smith reports.

The Office of the Child, Youth and Seniors’ Advocate released its 11th State of the Child report on Wednesday, which contains an overview of some of the challenges facing New Brunswick children and youth.

Nearly half of youth in poverty feel socially excluded, half of all youth say they have no one they look up to and one in four youth with special needs does not feel they belong at their school, the report revealed.

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“Currently, New Brunswick is one of the most indebted, most rapidly aging and least literate provinces in Canada,” Lt.-Gov. Brenda Murphy said during the throne speech on Tuesday, which is aimed at setting priorities for improvement.

“Approximately 25 per cent of our children live in poverty, and close to 34 per cent of New Brunswick households have incomes so low that they cannot pay taxes.”

Poverty one of report’s main concerns

The main findings from the report, which used food-insecure households as a marker of poverty in its data collection, also shed light on the concerns raised by the lieutenant governor.

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According to the report, the widest disparities and greatest vulnerability among young learners is with LGBTQ2 students and children in poverty, followed by Indigenous youth and students with special needs, all of whom continue to show some disadvantage compared to their peers, according to the report.

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The report also shows that 81 per cent of youth living in poverty feel they are not treated fairly in their communities, and 70 per cent of youth in poverty surveyed say they have been bullied.

In addition, only 33 per cent of youth in poverty say their parents or caregivers know a lot about them, more than half report recent symptoms of anxiety and depression and less than half say getting an education is important to them.

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When it comes to the importance of education, the report states 65 per cent of students in the province view education as important, a gap of more than 20 per cent when compared to food-insecure youth (42 per cent) and immigrant youth (69 per cent).

The report also states that only 31 per cent of New Brunswick students reported feeling as though they belong at their school. For LGBTQ2 youth, that figure was 19 per cent, while 18 per cent of children in poverty felt they belong at their school.

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Focusing on the importance of education

The report includes a special focus on education rights, with the office stating that schools do not always feel welcoming or respectful of children’s opinions.

“Children say they have at times experienced school environments where racism or intolerance is allowed to grow unchecked,” the office said in the report. “They tell us that speaking out for gender diversity and non-binary world views may lead to bullying by peers.”

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Moreover, the office said children have asked school administrations for the right to organize school assemblies through their student councils and that this has been denied.

“Our office is encouraging children’s inherent right to be heard in any decisions that affect them,” said Child, Youth and Seniors’ Advocate Norman Bossé in a media release.

“Over the years, the success of Rights Respecting Schools models, implemented in other jurisdictions, have shown proven results in developing children and youth who feel safe, respected and engaged in school. The government should aim to apply this model for the benefit of all New Brunswick children and youth.”

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This June, the office hosted a course on the right to inclusive education. In June 2020, the office will look at the right to education in relation to how it prepares children for lifelong learning and the transition to the workforce or post-secondary education.

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The report also illustrates ways in which to improve children’s lived experience of the right of education, particularity in their younger years.

“How many children are read to each night? How many parents listen to their children read them stories out loud? How many children are taught to sing at home? Or to learn an instrument?” the office wrote in its report.

Highlighting some improvements

Bossé also noted some improvements, especially when it comes to Indigenous youth.

“We see in the New Brunswick data how critically endangered First Nations languages are. But there is hope in the fact that, in our province, a significantly higher percentage of Indigenous youth view learning about their culture as important compared to non-Indigenous youth,” he said.

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“It is also very heartening to see that the number of incarcerated youths continues to drop and also that a new Department of Public Safety policy reverses the practice of Sheriff Services handcuffing and shackling all youth in transport,” said Bossé. “Now it is allowed only if it is justifiable in exceptional circumstances.

“Still, more work needs to be done, especially in relation to the troubling situations that are evident in the data for youth in poverty,” he said.

Bossé said the data presented in the report is part of the information needed by the provincial government to make informed decisions that ensure it is helping all young people, and especially the most disadvantaged.

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He also invited the government to continue to build on the improvements made to protect and respect the rights of children and youth while carefully examining the data within the report.

Child Rights Education Week in Canada is held from Nov. 17 to 23. This annual week aims to celebrate and promote the rights of children and youth and encourage activities to expand Canadians’ knowledge and understanding of children’s rights.

— With files from the Canadian Press