Opinion

Building our children’s future today

COVID-19 has demonstrated once and for all that the Canadian experience is not the same for everyone, least of all children, youth and families, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

For more than a year now, children, youth and families have experienced the real and negative impacts of what happens when the educational, childcare, community, familial, social, economic and health-care structures they count on are profoundly disrupted.

Unfortunately, the situation for this country’s 8 million children and youth has been deteriorating for years. In fact, UNICEF Report Card 16 (2020) – which highlights pre-pandemic numbers – ranked Canada 30 out of 38 of the world’s wealthiest countries in terms of the health and well-being of children. The pandemic has worsened inequities, and without collective, thoughtful action, generations to come will suffer.

It doesn’t need to be this way. The pandemic has offered us an opportunity to rethink how we establish priorities as a country. Measurably improving the health and well-being of children, youth and families must be near the top of this list.

Children’s Healthcare Canada, UNICEF Canada, the Pediatric Chairs of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s (CIHR) Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health, spent eight months engaging with thousands of youth, parents, researchers, educators, advocates, policy-makers, service providers and community leaders across the country to identify and agree on a new path forward.

The result is Inspiring Healthy Futures: A Vision for Canada’s Children, Youth and Families. It’s a commitment to take an unprecedented, collective approach to move the needle in Canada, forging a path for our nation to become a leader on the global stage and measurably improving the well-being of our children, youth and families.

Since the Inspiring Healthy Futures initiative began in September 2020, partners have heard that many children and families are suffering badly – and in ways we did not imagine or fully anticipate. But we have also heard incredible energy, optimism and an overwhelming sense that collectively, we cannot wait one moment longer to act on behalf of young people in Canada.

From these conversations emerged an unprecedented and unified vision to create a better Canada for our children, youth and families.

A Canada where racial and gender equity and belonging can be taken for granted and where everyone has access to the basics of life, including adequate income support.

A Canada where climate change is a priority, where science and research are well-funded and used for action, and where the voices of children, youth, and families are invited and fully engaged in shaping decisions.

And a Canada where children with disabilities and complex needs have access to a flexible health and support system that fosters autonomy and resilience, and where First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities can take for granted clean water and access to education, with health and developmental services guided by their cultures.

The thousands of voices that contributed to Inspiring Healthy Futures will be at the table as we turn our vision into reality, aligning our priorities, forging themes of our individual work into collective action, and thinking big. Together, we will be the relentless and vocal champions our children, youth and families deserve, now more than ever before.

The road forward will be bumpy, testing Canadians to work and think differently. It will require working together like never before and making innovative choices right now that create a more integrated, decolonized system of health, social services and social protection.

We are committed to this vision, and hope you are too. We owe our children a future where they’ll remember being a part of pandemic history but will not have their lives defined by it.

We can, and we must, create this future – today.

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Authors

Emily Gruenwoldt

Contributor

Emily Gruenwoldt is the president & CEO for Children’s Healthcare Canada and the executive director of the Pediatric Chairs of Canada.

Lisa Wolff

Contributor

Lisa Wolff is the director of policy and research at UNICEF Canada, with a mission to advance the rights of Canada’s children to develop to their fullest potential, consistent with international human rights standards. Collaborating with government, institutions, civil society, researchers and private sector partners, Lisa works across issues and sectors to advocate for and with children and youth. Lisa received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal from the Governor-General of Canada in 2012.

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