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Representative for Children and Youth believes it’s possible to help Aboriginal youth, but not without a plan

The province’s Representative for Children and Youth repeated her call for a national children’s commissioner to advocate on the behalf of at-risk Canadian children, Aboriginal children in particular, yesterday when she gave the Dr. Richard Splane Lecture in Social Policy at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver campus.

Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-LaFond, who also serves as chair for the Canadian Council for Provincial Child and Youth Advocates, says Canada is not living up to the standards for kids outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was signed 21 years ago November 20.

“We are missing something important in Canada, and that is a national children’s commissioner,” Turpel-LaFond says, adding that most countries that signed the convention already have one. “The notion of the UN Convention and the notion of duty and care is we must care about the well being of all children.”

Last month Turpel-LaFond and Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall released Growing Up In B.C., which Turpel-LaFond referred to as the most comprehensive report on child outcomes in the country. The report found that while 80 per cent of the children in the province were doing well, there was a wide gap between them and the well-being of the other 20 per cent—particularly Aboriginal children.

“There is incredible disconnect between the outcomes for Aboriginal children and non-Aboriginal children in every domain,” says Turpel-LaFond, referring to the report’s domains of health, learning, safety, family economic well-being, family, peer, and community connections, and behaviour.

The report found that Aboriginal children were more likely to be subjected to substances such as drugs and alcohol in the womb, more likely to smoke, met academic expectations less often than their non-Aboriginal peers, and were more likely to be put into government care at some point in their lives.

Turpel-LaFond has referred to the welfare of Aboriginal children in Canada as a “humanitarian crisis,” but she is confident that through recognition and targeted investments in children’s well-being can turn the situation around, starting with a concrete poverty reduction plan in British Columbia.

“It is possible, with effort, to change the learning experience and environment for Aboriginal children,” she says. “But childhood is very short, only 988 weeks. So we have to be quick.”

Katie Hyslop writes about education for The Tyee

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