Maritime children in crisis amid pandemic, experts say

Click to play video: 'How can N.S. better protect children?' How can N.S. better protect children?
WATCH: A report issued this week by a children’s advocacy group has found that one in three children in Canada do not enjoy a safe and healthy childhood and the impact of COVID-19 has made things worse – Sep 3, 2021

A recently released report by Children First Canada reports children’s rights have been violated during the pandemic. Experts in the Maritimes say action is needed.

The report paints a frightening picture of what children all across the country are facing — issues that have only intensified over the course of the pandemic.

Some of the threats listed in the report are food insecurity, mental health, child abuse, systemic racism and poverty.

Sara Austin is the founder and CEO of Children First Canada and she believes the government and society have failed children in a colossal way.

“Kids have made enormous sacrifices throughout the pandemic to protect their elders and keep our communities safe. They gave up school, birthday parties, sports and so much more,” she told Global News from her office in Calgary.

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Read more: COVID-19: How New Brunswick students, parents can prepare for the new school year

“When it came time for us as adults to do our part for children, sadly, as a society, we have failed them. In spite of the overwhelming evidence that the kids are not alright and that the kids are in a state of crisis, so little has been done.”

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
Our kids are not OK. Child advocates say children need help now – May 20, 2021

With the federal election around the corner, Austin says she is appalled that political parties have largely ignored children’s issues — it’s something that keeps her up at night.

“Quite crassly, one of the factors in this is that kids can’t vote. Kids aren’t decision-makers when it comes to electing our officials and so it can be quite easy to discount these issues,” she said.

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Read more: Child abuse, suicide attempts in Canada rose during COVID-19 pandemic: report

Nova Scotia is currently the only province in Atlantic Canada that doesn’t have a child and youth advocate position in government. However, the newly appointed Minister of Community Services, Karla MacFarlane, is adamant about moving forward with this.

In the cabinet meeting on Thursday, she said she thought having the position was important as it gives youth a say.

“It gives them a voice and a connection directly to government and shows that we care and that we want to listen to concerns that they have.”

Read more: Nova Scotia should have a child and youth advocate, says community services minister

Child psychologist Dr. Jill Chorney, who works at the IWK Health Centre, echoes the importance of the role.

“Children and youth have voices and their voices need to be heard and considered in how we’re making decisions going forward. We’re doing a lot to try and engage youth and families in making decisions about their care,” she said. “It’s important we engage youth and children in how we run our services as well.”

Child poverty

According to the report, over the past decade, Canada has fallen from 10th place to 30th among affluent counties for childhood well-being, yet there remains a persistent myth that Canada is one of the best places in the world to raise a child.

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Almost one in five Canadian children lives in poverty which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Read more: Over 41,000 children living in poverty in Nova Scotia, and numbers rising, says study

Alec Stratford is the executive director and registrar for the Nova Scotia College for Social Workers. He told Global News that Nova Scotia has one of the lowest rates of income assistance as well as one of the lowest wages in the country, thus leading to food insecurity.

Click to play video: 'Food insecurity in Canada at ‘crisis level,’ says expert' Food insecurity in Canada at ‘crisis level,’ says expert
Food insecurity in Canada at ‘crisis level,’ says expert – May 28, 2021

“We have very few food policies in Nova Scotia. When food banks came into play, in the ’80s and ’90s, they were meant to be a stop-gap measure. They were meant to be for emergency use and we would build social policy to help alleviate that issue,” he said.

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“They have now become a staple in how folks access food. They are very stigmatizing.”

Minister MacFarlane said the child poverty rates in Nova Scotia are very concerning and said it was her number one priority to reduce child poverty levels.

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