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How do we know what policy choices are compromising the ability
of the next generation? For a decade, University of B. C researchers at
the Human Early Learning Partnership, a world-renowned Global Knowledge
Hub in research about the social determinants of child development,
have worked with kindergarten teachers in almost all classrooms, in all
school districts around the province. The data we collect show that 29
per cent of B.C. children are vulnerable before they reach
By vulnerable, I don't mean that kindergarten kids aren't the
next Mozart or Einstein. Rather, vulnerable children struggle with one
or more age appropriate tasks, such as holding a pencil, climbing
stairs, following instructions from teachers, getting along on the
playground and knowing 10 letters.
You might think that child vulnerability is primarily a problem
for the income-poor. But it's not. The majority of vulnerable B.C.
children reside in middle-or upper-income households and
neighbourhoods. Early vulnerability is a problem for mainstream
What is behind all this early vulnerability? The answer is that,
compared with other countries, we don't invest much to support families
to access the time, resources and community services they need to
fulfil their caregiving and earning responsibilities. The fact is that
Canada consistently places near, or at, the bottom of UNICEF and other
international rankings of child care, early learning, work-life balance
and family poverty policies. But most Canadians don't know this fact.
Why don't we know? Part of the reason is that we are a
boomercentric society. Much of our policy debate is dominated by issues
that speak to the aging demographic, especially medical care and
pensions. It happened again at the end of March: Federal Finance
Minister Jim Flaherty announced that his government was revisiting
whether the country's retirement income system needs improvement.
Opposition members responded by lamenting the slow pace of government
efforts to fix the alleged pension problem.
Pensions are being prioritized (again!) by the government and
opposition alike, even though the finance minister concedes that the
Canadian system is considered strong by international standards.
Without doubt, we can and should ensure our pension system
remains near the top of the international ranking. Baby boomers have
every reason to desire a comfortable retirement. But where is the
debate about policy issues for which Canada is ranked badly? We may
have owned the podium at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, but time and
time again, research shows that we can't even see the podium when it
comes to family policy for young kids. When do we question our poor
standing on this issue in the House of Commons, or the legislature?
- reprinted from the Vancouver Sun