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Our kids are not OK. Child advocates say children need help now

Click to play video: 'Our kids are not OK. Child advocates say children need help now' Our kids are not OK. Child advocates say children need help now
WATCH ABOVE: We call our children resilient, but some of Canada's top children's hospitals say kids are in crisis. As Kendra Slugoski discovered, doctors warn we can no longer ignore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young people and we need to act now. – May 20, 2021

Our country’s children are in crisis. That is the sobering message child advocates and major children’s hospitals have sent to Ottawa.

Children First Canada (CFC) launched #CodePINK, a campaign to bring attention to the mental and health crisis facing young Canadians as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on.

The term code pink is used in hospitals to declare a pediatric medical emergency, but CFC said that emergency has spread to homes across the country.

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“The statistics are deeply disturbing,” said Sara Austin, founder of CFC. Austin, a mother herself, said she we can’t ignore all of Canada’s eight million children.

“To know that suicide is now the leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 14 keeps me up at night and it leaves me deeply worried as a parent.”

That is according to 2018 Leading Cause of Death numbers released by Statistics Canada. There is not yet data for 2020.

Children’s Healthcare Canada said in a January 2021 survey of 14 children’s hospitals across the country, that on average, admissions for suicide attempts among children had doubled.

Read more: COVID-19: Doctors worry ‘social malnutrition’ is affecting kids as teen emergency visits rise

“There was a crisis in mental health services even before the pandemic and now we are seeing even higher demand for services and more serious illness in children and youth,” added Kimberly Moran, chief executive officer of Children’s Mental Health Ontario.

“Long wait times for mental health treatment programs has meant too many children, youth and families presenting in crisis at hospital.”

Then there’s substance use, child abuse, self-harm, eating disorders, along with cancelled surgeries and rehabilitation programs put on hold.

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Read more: Is your teen addicted to drugs? Family support group tells parents to ‘trust your gut’

“The rates are skyrocketing,” said Austin. “Not a single day or week that goes where I don’t hear from a family in my immediate circle, let alone people I’m interacting across the country with, a child who is in that desperate state of crisis.

“The crisis is particularly impacting the most vulnerable, including First Nations, Métis and Inuit children, Black and other racialized children, and children and youth with disabilities and complex medical needs.”

Nicolas Allen, a psychologist at Human Integrated Performance in Edmonton, Alta., hears from teenagers in crisis every single day.

“We’ve definitely seen a large increase in depression and anxiety in my practice,” said Allen, “as well as eating disorders.

“Overall, across the board a large increase in those referrals compared to pre-pandemic.

“We’re seeing a lot of stress and worry about what’s happening with school — not being able to connect with people. I’m hearing lots of comments about, ‘What’s going to happen? Are my friendships going to stay? Am I going to lose those friendships?'”

Read more: All Alberta students K-12 returning to classrooms May 25, except for 1 region

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Allen said the uncertainty has led to more fear and anxiety and losing sports and social connections can be damaging. He added not having that escape from home life can also be detrimental.

“We always consider that they’re very resilient and that they can adapt, but they’re struggling just as much as adults going through this process. I think it’s really important that kids have supports and access to supports to talk about those fears, to talk about those worries to work through them and develop some coping strategies and some action plans.”

CFC is calling for “urgent action” and said so far the needs of children and their parents have been ignored.

It wants the prime minister and premiers to call an urgent meeting to map out a crisis plan and commit to more investments for mental health supports.

“We want to see a plan of action to get kids back in school as safely and quickly as possible,” said Austin. “We can’t afford to leave this planning for the summer or the fall. We need a plan right now.”

Austin also pleaded with parents to keep speaking up for their children.

If necessary, Austin urged parents to take their children to their local children’s emergency room or call the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.

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