Covid-19: Re-opening for Children: Short-term Actions and System Change

Re-opening for children:  Short-term Actions

Safe Space for Children to Play: as Important as Space for Business

Getting back to business is now a top priority for government attention. Meanwhile, children’s services continue to advocate for extra funds to pick up the pieces, as collateral damage.  What difference would it make if children’s policy was given equal priority instead of being treated as secondary to economic growth, for the next stage of Covid-19 policies?

A top priority would be making it safe for children to go out and play.  Some countries are giving a high priority to safe policies for letting children play in parks and public spaces.  Children’s right to play, which is often minimized, is essential for children’s health.  The International Play Association of Canada has resources on its website to help families and suggestions for governments.

A second priority would be ensuring that children can maintain or have meaningful connection with at least one significant adult outside their primary home, with special attention for children at risk.  Research shows that children who are connected with someone who “has their back” and can be trusted to protect their best interests in times of trouble are more able to cope with the kind of challenges presented by Covid-19.  With the increased reliance on virtual connections, children’s right to privacy also needs to be a high priority.

 Learning from Covid-19: System Change

Covid-19 has exposed the cracks in many of the support systems for child development in Canada.  Some of the policy changes introduced as emergency measures should become long-term policy. Before we forget about the gaps that Covid-19 exposed, plans to remedy them should be high on the public agenda.

We have seen federal and provincial ministers in other areas come together in new ways to improve policy coherence in Canada.  Federal and provincial ministers responsible for children’s policy should meet soon and develop plans to close serious gaps in the following five essential support systems for children:

1.  Early childhood Care and Development
Integrate income supports and essential child care services to provide a solid foundation for families with young children, by expanding the current federal/provincial/First Nations framework for  Early Childhood Care and Development.

2.  Children’s rights to education and within education systems
One silver-lining of Covid-19 is increased focus on child-centered learning, more holistic and innovative approaches to learning, and questions about what is most important to learn.  This may be a window to advance reforms in education that better fulfill children’s educational rights as articulated in Articles 28 and 29 of the Convention, rather than going back to out-dated systems that are not child-centered.

3.  Reform of Child Welfare to Protect Children’s Rights 
Covid-19 is exposing cracks in provincial systems to protect vulnerable children and it highlights the importance of preventive measures as well as crisis response.  Children at heightened risk during the emergency were already at risk of falling through cracks in existing fragmented support systems.
More band-aid solutions seems to be the most likely response to immediate needs.  Hopefully system reform will receive as much attention as more funding for band-aid solutions.

4.  Transition from Adolescence to Treatment as Adults
Immediate responses to Covid-19 tended to treat all children the same. Maintaining the mental health of adolescents requires different policies to respect their evolving capacities, an important principle in the Convention that gets too little attention in Canadian public policies. Completion of the National Youth Policy is an opportunity to develop a more integrated framework that goes beyond the transition from school to work to better respect the rights of adolescents as actors in all areas of life as well as future workers.

5.  Access to Justice
Covid-19 has highlighted the lack of youth-friendly avenues for children to reach out when their rights are being violated and receive appropriate help.  More funding for Kids Help Phone is essential but not an adequate response to ensure that children have age-appropriate access to justice.  Some of the language being used in the response to Covid-19 suggests a return to old ways of seeing children as objects of care or privatized behind closed doors, rather than persons with rights in our society.  Age-appropriate avenues to be heard and have one’s concerns appropriately addressed within all the major systems that affect the lives of children would be a strong gain to show that Canada takes children’s rights seriously. .

Children’s Rights:  A Bridge from Crisis to a Better Future

The review of children’s rights in Canada, while it seems a lower priority right now, can help to bridge from crisis response to a better future. The CCRC continues to advocate for systemic change to end up in a better place on the other side of the Covid-19 crisis. A summary of our full report highlights what a new approach could provide: Close Gaps through a System Approach: Implement Children’s Rights in Canada; An Executive Summary.

Commentary by Kathy Vandergrift, Co-chair of the Coalition

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