UNICEF report card a wake-up call for Canada


Queen’s professor Wendy Craig says a UNICEF report card on Fairness for Children around the world is a wake-up call for Canada. (Steph Crosier/The Whig-Standard)

A UNICEF report card on Fairness for Children around the world places Canada 17th out of 29 of the world’s wealthiest countries for overall child well-being. The placement should dispel Canadians’ illusions of their country, says a local child development expert.

“I think every Canadian needs to read this report,” said Wendy Craig, a professor and head of the psychology department at Queen’s University as well as scientific co-director of PREVNet, a network of Canadian researchers, organizations and governments working together to eliminate bullying in Canada.

“I don’t think we as a society, or as individuals living in this society, get it. I think if we do, and people do read it, then we would be doing a lot more than we are doing.”

Craig said the report portrays a really sad story for Canada.

“We have this preconception that we’re this really generous and compassionate country,” Craig said. “About 17 per cent of Canadians are living in poverty, and that hasn’t changed over time. Those people who are living in poverty live at about half the income of those who live in the middle.

“It’s just not a pretty story.”

Craig said children living below the poverty line are behind in health, education, physical well-being and income. Children below the poverty line are 26 per cent more likely than a middle-class child to experience poor physical health such as headaches, dizziness, nausea and stress.

“When you look at us in an international ranking, even the average Canadian isn’t doing well.” Craig said. “If I take that same rating as physical health, it’s about 24 per cent of all Canadian children and youth are reporting experiencing health problems every day.”

The top three countries for overall child well-being are the Netherlands, Norway and Iceland. The three worst countries were Lithuania, Latvia and Romania.

The report also places Canada 26th out of 35 for child inequality. The top three in dealing with child inequality were Denmark, Finland and Norway; the worst were Bulgaria, Turkey and Israel.

“If you think about inequality, Scandinavian countries always do well,” Craig said. “In their education system, they have a comprehensive school-health model, teacher is a very prestigious profession, and so when kids go to school they are getting a lot of support. And all kids are getting the same level of support.”

It comes down to supporting children and youth, Craig said. She said all levels of government have good policies in place, but they aren’t great, and they aren’t yet fully developed. Kingston is not immune in its lack of support for children.

“Behind the policies we have to have the programming, strategies and services that kids need,” Craig said. “When I think about child and youth mental health in Kingston, there’s just not enough support to meet the need that’s in our city. We need to invest more and have more services and programs for kids.”

Craig hopes the UNICEF report card is a wake-up call for Canadians.

“We need to be a more compassionate, more caring society, and take care of the most vulnerable,” Craig said. “We also need to focus on youth and children in general because we are not meeting their needs, and these are the next generation.”

By Steph Crosier, Kingston Whig-Standard