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Dialogue between Canadian government officials and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child revealed many gaps in support for some children in Canada to develop their full potential.   The lack of coherence in policies that affect children was highlighted when the committee, composed of experts in child development and children’s rights, reviewed reports from Canada and asked questions of Canadian officials.   Everyone will go away thinking about improvements we can make in Canada.

A repeated concern throughout the sessions was making federalism work for children.  In presentations by officials the discourse has moved from blaming federalism as a reason why we cannot fulfill children’s rights to saying today that federalism is an advantage for children’s rights because it allows for diverse approaches, innovation, and more local control.  But neither of these approaches provide good answers for questions about children who are falling through the cracks of fragmented support systems or questions about equitable treatment for all children in Canada.  These are the questions that persisted and need to be taken seriously to give every child in Canada a good start in life.

There is a third way, in my view.  Children’s rights could be an asset to federalism.  Taken seriously, they could improve the way our system of governance works for children.    They  provide a comprehensive framework and  tools for measuring outcomes and impacts of programs and policies without requiring the same program in every province.  Through comparisons, they can help to identify good practices that can be shared across the country.  They shine a light on gaps and vulnerable groups of children to help ensure that no children are left behind.  All Canadians and all levels of government would benefit by treating children as whole persons with dignity and rights. 

Instead of viewing children and children’s rights as the problem, they could help show the way toward a federalism for the future, built on the best of Canadian values. 

Kathy Vandergrift, after observing 9 hours of dialogue with too many excuses for why we can’t fulfill children’s rights.

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