Prepared by Kathy Vandergrift and Kate Butler
Early Learning and Child Care received a major boost in Budget 2021, with a $30 billion budget over 5 years and a commitment to long-term funding for a national system of support for young children and their families. From a children’s rights perspective, the commitment to equitable access and quality are important, as well as affordability. The details will depend on negotiations with each province, hopefully completed before the next federal election.
The stated intention to put the principles for a national child care system into legislation offers an opportunity to ensure it is child-centered and respects the rights of children, as well as reducing the risk of dramatic reversals after elections that have plagued early childhood policy for years.
While child care was a center-piece in Budget 2021, there are other provisions that will directly benefit children and some that require more details to be able to assess their impact for children. What is missing is an integrated approach to children’s policy that would tie the pieces together and maximize the benefit of the individual pieces. Below are both areas of strong potential and some missing links.
Indigenous Children: With over $18 billion in additional funding for Indigenous Services, as well as funds for Indigenous components of early childhood, mental health, and other programs, budget 2021 holds out the potential to make substantive progress toward closing gaps for Indigenous children; but, as cautioned by Indigenous voices, much depends on the details of implementation. While there are some funds allocated to follow up the Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, for example, there is still no National Action Plan. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action on child welfare also remain unfinished business, as does settlement of the Human Rights Tribunal rulings.
Mental Health: Additional funding for mental health in Budget 2021 includes a stated intention to develop national standards of care for mental health services and expanded services from prevention to an emergency suicide crisis hotline. Youth are identified as one group to benefit from $100 milllion for innovative mental health interventions, in addition to extension of funding for the Kids Help Phone. Hopefully the government will also address the lack of a youth focus in the existing national suicide prevention strategy. Considering the mental health impacts of Covid-19, special attention is required for young people from prevention through youth-friendly services.
Digital Access, Privacy, and Safety: $1 billion for expanding broadband services will benefit young people, especially in rural and remote communities. Issues of privacy and safety are supposed to be addressed in new legislation, to be introduced soon. Hopefully the right to privacy for young people will receive attention by the new office of a Data Commissioner.
Healthy Environment: Budget 2021 identifies the intergenerational benefits of its investments in clean energy. Young people will benefit from the more ambitious climate change targets; more details will likely be released during the climate change summit later this week.
Students: While most of the budget is focused on post-secondary school students and the transition from school to work, the budget includes a $118.4 million over two years to help vulnerable high school students through after-school programming. The Can Code program will be expanded, and there are a variety of programs designed to help young people find training and employment.
Food Security and Poverty Reduction: While children will also benefit from the continuation of pandemic income support programs, the extension of sickness benefits under Employment Insurance, more funds for affordable housing, and other incomes support programs, the continued piece-meal approach to income support does not foster a sense of security and stability for families with fewer resources. It is disappointing to see once again minimal attention to food security. While an additional $140 million is allocated for the Emergency Food Security Fund and the Local Food Infrastructure Fund, there is no commitment to a sustainable solution to the high level of food insecurity for Canada’s children.
Social Support Services: Children may also benefit from new investments in non-profit agencies, Black community services, funding for gender-based violence initiatives, and keeping more young people out of the criminal justice system.
Tools for Accountability: This budget includes a new Data Commissioner to monitor and protect privacy rights. It also provides for a climate lens to assess the impacts of new policies and programs on the climate across all departments. These provide more examples for the use of a Child Rights Impact Assessment and a Children’s Commissioner to better protect the rights of children. One likely outcome would be more coherence children’s policies.
Finally, there are larger questions about financial accountability, and the massive debt that will be left for children and future generations. In addition, individual pieces of this budget warrant more attention and analysis, so we will address this in commentary to come. Stay tuned for future posts.