Commentary on Response to Covid-19
In the short-term, our focus is immediate needs and caring for children in our circles of responsibility. While it may be hard to see now, this crisis could lead to some positive changes for children. Whether we learn from this crisis or go back to old ways will depend on what we reinforce as we come out of it. Below are some initial thoughts about constructive change that could be advanced, without minimizing the challenges of the moment and with support for those on the front lines of crisis response.
Caring Work is on the Public Agenda
Caring for children and support for care-givers are now high priority public issues, rather than being relegated to the private sphere where families alone are responsible for their provision. There is growing recognition that child care needs to be considered essential for some children and some workers. Wages and safe working conditions for care-givers are under scrutiny, as well as greater recognition of how much unpaid work sustains our society. Hopefully we can build on this for long-term public recognition of what is most important in society.
Modernizing Canada’s Social Safety Net
More changes in income support and social policy were made in the last month than in the last two decades; many of them are positive. The increase in the Canada Child Benefit comes closer to what is needed to end child poverty. The old Employment Insurance program is likely dead – finally! Its replacement will include a broader range of workers, including workers with precarious jobs or irregular income, which includes many parents. We could end up with the structures in place for a universal basic income program. How that unfolds warrants close attention.
The focus on direct support of vulnerable groups and community support programs, working from the bottom up instead of trickle down policies, provides an opportunity to reshape how the future economy and public services support children and their families. Some of what is emergency now should remain; ensuring that it does will require advocacy. A Child Rights Impact Assessment of the emergency support measures could help to keep the good and address gaps.
Child Voice in Education
One young friend told me he is learning more at home than he does at school; and his attitude to learning has improved. Other children are struggling and many parents find it challenging to guide their child’s learning. Teachers are a life-line for children who are not safe at home. New modes of learning are emerging; in the best of them, children are active agents in their own learning, drawing on guidance and wisdom from multiple adults.
Education system reform to better respect the active agency and rights of children is an on-going focus for the Coalition. Will crisis-induced innovation have long-lasting impacts for education?
Could physical distancing result in more intentional connections across generations and social groups? A common threat that requires communal action can lead to more social cohesion or widen existing divisions. The different generational impacts of Covid-19 heighten attention to differing vulnerabilities of seniors and children and how each can contribute to make it through. Being middle-class suddenly seems less important. Will it lead to a shift in our age-based culture?
Just a month ago any suggestion that fighting climate change might require giving up some personal profit was considered radical. Covid-19 dislodged the GDP from its throne as the measure of Canada’s success. Now public health leads, and everyone is conscious of how health, the environment, income, and social support are all linked and essential for our survival. Covid-19 has forced federal and provincial governments to close gaps and work together for the public good – that’s what children need for the long term as well. The integration of social, economic, and environmental policy is essential for child development. The shift in public discourse could also be beneficial for the fight against climate change, another common threat that requires communal action. Can it be maintained?
Children’s Rights: A Bridge from Crisis to a Better Future
While the immediate response to Covid-19 consumes government attention right now, it is not too early to think about coming out of it with a stronger foundation for children’s policy into the future. Recognition of our interdependence and the integration of health, economics, and social support point toward using comprehensive frameworks like the Convention on the Rights of the Child to build the kind of society that can deal with emergencies and climate change in a sustainable society that supports children well.
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