B.C.’s children’s watchdog and researchers at Simon Fraser University say the B.C. government must make children’s mental health a high priority in the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a report completed by the province’s Office of the Representative for Children and Youth and SFU released on Monday, researchers concluded decisions must be made to ensure children “do not experience additional avoidable adversities due to either the pandemic or the public health responses.”
“COVID-19 is an unprecedented public health crisis. Yet it also presents an unprecedented opportunity — to make B.C. a place where the social and emotional well-being of all children is highly valued and where children are the focus of sustained collective efforts to ensure their healthy development,” the report reads.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has often cited the mental health of children as why she has made certain decisions. This includes the return to school plan that saw a vast majority of kids return to the classroom in September.
The new report points to some key objectives for the province. It calls on the government to provide additional necessary prevention and treatment services and ensure that public investments go towards effective interventions.
The researchers are warning lawmakers to prevent avoidable childhood adversities including reducing socio-economic disparities, and that a key to avoiding problems is tracking children’s outcomes so that all British Columbians can see the progress.
“Failing to address children’s mental health now will lead to greater costs in the future if mental health problems are allowed to persist into adulthood,” the report reads.
The expectation is the pandemic is already or will impact anxiety, depression, behaviour problems and post-traumatic stress in children, researchers say. The report suggests the province should work on monitoring those conditions and create population-based short surveys conducted in representative samples of children.
“Our review also suggests that many children who experience mental health problems after disasters eventually recover. So tracking outcomes is also a way of measuring success,” the report reads.