'Report on B.C.'s kids: We have a very serious problem with inequality'
Report on B.C.'s kids says 15 per cent are struggling, especially aboriginals, and one in four say there's no one in their family they can talk to about a serious problem
B.C. claims to be the best place on Earth, but for thousands of children growing up poor, in care or geographically isolated, B.C. is far from the promised land, according to a report by the provincial youth and children watchdog.
The 80-page inaugural report, titled Growing Up in B.C. — the first such report in Canada — provides a compelling snapshot of the state of B.C.’s children and youth.
Citing recent studies, the report said that children on Vancouver Island, in the Interior and in northern B.C. are more likely to be living in poverty; that in 2008, 22 per cent of children in care told of going to bed hungry; and that in 2007-08, only 20 per cent of boys in care completed high school, compared with 76 per cent overall.
The report, scheduled to be released today at the two-day Champions for Children and Youth Summit in downtown Vancouver, found that most of B.C.’s kids are doing well, but an estimated 15 per cent — many of whom are caught up in the “vortex” of poverty, being in care and being aboriginal — are struggling.
“We have a very serious problem with inequality,” said Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who co-authored the report with provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall.
“It’s not fair and it’s not fair to the kids that a very significant percentage in the minority aren’t doing well, and we can’t blame them and say, ‘It’s your fault.’”
The report used 30 indicators of well-being to evaluate how B.C. kids are doing in six domains: health, learning, safety, family, the economic well-being of their family, family-peer community connections and behaviour.
It found children living on Vancouver Island, in the Interior and in the north fare worse even before they are born, because they have the greatest risk of being exposed to smoking or alcohol while still in the womb.
Aboriginal children are twice as likely to be exposed to some substance in utero and more likely to be exposed to second-hand smoke compared with other kids.
Impoverished children are more likely to experience delay in vocabulary development or have vision, hearing, mobility and speech problems. They are less likely to complete high school and are more frequently unemployed as adults.
Health-wise, rates of youth suicides have decreased, noted Kendall.
“Most kids are pretty healthy, but there are issues of concern,” he said,
citing obesity and binge-drinking, which
are both on the rise.
In terms of education, it found aboriginal children lag behind their peers by up to 18 per cent in Grade 4, with the gap widening further by Grade 7.
For aboriginal children and children living in poverty, many markers “continue to flatline in the sense we’re not seeing significant improvement,” said
Turpel-Lafond. “Our attention needs to be in serving children and targeting supports more effectively to help vulnerable children do better.”
The report also reveals that a quarter of all youth reported not having an adult in their family they could talk to about a serious problem, and more than 20 per cent of 15-year-olds interviewed reported feeling their teachers didn’t care or cared very little about them.
“That tells us that in our health and education and child-welfare services, we need to make sure we are talking to the kids and that they’re not just something we work on,” said Turpel-Lafond.
The report, for which 200 youths across the province were also consulted, contains other positive findings, such as high rates of volunteerism among youth and a 34-per-cent drop in the number of youths charged with serious crimes between 2000 and 2007.
Turpel-Lafond said the report provides baselines the provincial government can use to measure progress every two years.
“Now that we know how we’re doing, the government needs to take this and move it forward,” she said. “I want to see the child at the centre, with all the systems working together to target support, especially for vulnerable kids, so there is equality in B.C.”
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