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Investing in Children and Youth:
A National Children's Agenda

September 1998

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Table of Contents

A. Introduction

B. Guiding Principles for the National Children's Agenda

C. Action Plan

  1. Income Security
  2. Social and Community Supports
  3. National Research and Monitoring
  4. Building Capacity

D. Conclusion

Appendix 1 - Summary of actions

Appendix 2 - Members of the National Children's Alliance

 

A. Introduction

The National Children's Alliance (NCA) is a group of national organizations with an interest in the well-being of children and youth. The group meets monthly to share information, work co-operatively, devise strategies to promote a national children's agenda and to respond to concerns and issues affecting children and their families.

The NCA was established in the spring of 1996. Since that time the it has been promoting discussion of policy issues based on the document "Investing in Children - A Framework for Action" developed as a result of the November 1996 Canada's Children…Canada's Future conference.

Growing public awareness and the consequent political interest has increased pressure to develop a national children's agenda. The NCA has spent the past year meeting members of the federal Cabinet, MPs from all parties and officials interested in, or responsible for, children's issues at the federal level. In order to keep children and youth a priority issue, members of the NCA are working together to identify key components of a national children's agenda.

Although children and youth in Canada represent our country's future, the NCA is acutely aware that many children and youth are living in poverty - denied the opportunity to develop to their full potential because families are not receiving the range of supportive services they need. Families have the primary responsibility to care for, nurture and guide children throughout the various stages of development; however, all Canadians have a collective responsibility to support families in creating opportunities for children to develop and grow. Guiding principles have been adopted by the NCA to illustrate what we believe should be used to develop Canada's action plan for children and youth.

Mindful of competing priorities for limited public funds, the NCA is nevertheless confident that the federal government has the will to breathe life into those key principles and into its own long-standing and repeated promises with regard to the betterment of children's lives in Canada. While some of the measures recommended in this submission should be implemented immediately, others could be part of an incremental process over the next few budgets. May we stress that all actions in the short-term or long-term must flow from a solid commitment by the federal government to a specific plan, which needs to address the issues outlined herein.

 

B. Guiding Principles for the National Children's Agenda

Policy directives and initiatives intended to enhance the well-being of children and youth must balance employment opportunities, income support and social services based on the following common guiding principles:

  • Investing in children and youth is the key to a strong economy and a healthy civic society;

  • A life-cycle approach to investment must be adopted which responds to the changing needs of children and youth throughout their development;

  • Investment in children requires the allocation of additional resources;

  • Strong inter-sectoral partnerships are necessary to ensure that the needs of all children, youth and families are adequately met;

  • Equitable, quality and accessible services and supports must be provided in communities across the country;

  • As a key partner, the voluntary sector must be strengthened in order to play a central role in supporting the needs of children and youth;

  • Building broad public commitment and an open consultative process is critical to a sustainable children's agenda;

  • Addressing the needs of children and youth must be based on sustainable commitment and a long-term plan including targets, benchmarks and outcomes;

  • Policy and program decisions must be evidence-based and evaluated rigorously and regularly;

  • The broad determinants of health must provide the foundation for the national children's agenda.

 

C. Action Plan

A national children's agenda is a recognition of Canada's collective responsibility to support families in creating opportunities for children to grow and develop to their potential. The time has come for the federal government, in collaboration with the provincial and territorial governments, to take a leadership role in making this a reality. As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Canada has an obligation to address the needs of our children. The implementation of a national children's agenda will flourish with the collective action of governments, the voluntary sector, communities and individuals.

Through a co-ordinated approach, a national children's agenda can be developed within a public policy framework to deal with the urgent needs of families in Canada. The children's agenda must be a collaborative effort by federal and provincial governments. The NCA is focusing on the components of this agenda where the federal government has the capacity and the responsibility for leadership. However, we recognize the importance of working collaboratively with the provinces and territories, both with governments and with communities. The proposed federal action plan therefore is inclusive of direct income security measures as well as family support, child development and youth services.

The federal government has a key role in ensuring an effective national infrastructure grounded by a federal policy framework that supports: a national research and social reporting agenda, building capacity in the voluntary sector, family supportive legislation, a public engagement strategy and effective coordination mechanisms.

The components of the federal action plan, therefore, should include:

  • Income Security
  • Social and Community Supports
  • National Research and Monitoring
  • Building Capacity

The federal government, in partnership with governments at all levels, must lead the way in creating mechanisms to achieve this goal. The NCA is committed to playing a key role in this process through active partnership with the federal government and by keeping the concerns of children front and centre at the national level. In order to begin the dialogue, we have drafted what we perceive as the essential components of a federal action plan.

 

1. Income Security

There are five federal initiatives that could provide a solid basis for a coordinated income security strategy:

  • National Child Benefit
  • Non-refundable Child Tax Credit
  • Review of Tax Policy for Families of Children with Special Needs
  • Improved Income Security through the Employment Insurance Program
  • Improved Parental Leave Benefits

  • Indexed National Child Benefit

    The cornerstone of a strategy to address child poverty is an indexed National Child Benefit. In the 1998 budget Minister Martin committed $850 million to the National Child Benefit System (NCBS) over two years, in July 1999 and again in July 2000. We are asking for an acceleration of the investment timetable so that the amount be doubled to meet the urgent need of children in poverty ($850M in 1999 and $850M in 2000). This meets an overall investment target of 2.5 billion by the year 2000. In addition, we are asking that the NCBS be indexed to inflation.

    ACTION: Invest an additional $850 million and index the National Child Benefit

     

  • National Child Benefit for all low-income families

    With the current structure of the National Child Benefit System, provinces deduct the entire amount of the benefit that families on social assistance receive (except Newfoundland and New Brunswick). We are asking that low-income families with no earned income receive some financial assistance.

    Some social assistance rates force families to live in poverty; their lack of entry into the labour market is due to lack of sufficient jobs that pay a living wage and lack of programs to support labour market participation (affordable, quality child care for example). Although some families may be better off financially by staying on social assistance than accepting low- wage employment, the solution must be to improve the labour market rather than penalizing the poorest families (and hence the poorest children) in Canada by not providing them with any additional income support.

    ACTION: Expand the National Child Benefit to all low-income families

     

  • Non-refundable Child Tax Credit

    Canada is one of only a few industrialized countries that do not recognize the cost of raising children in its tax system. Previous income tax provisions such as the tax exemption for families with children (converted into a non-refundable child tax credit in 1988) and the refundable child tax credit were eliminated by 1993. A child tax credit recognizes the costs of raising children for families with a parent at home or in the workforce. In order to support families with children we are asking for a non-refundable $2,000 tax credit, co-ordinated with the National Child Benefit, for each child under 18.

    ACTION: Invest $2,000 per child through a tax credit

     

  • Review of Tax Policy to Support Children with Special Needs

    The NCA recognizes the financial challenges involved for families with children with special needs. At this time we are asking the Finance Minister to review the impact of tax policy for such and make recommendations for improving fairness within the context of a national approach to home care to ensure that the needs of these families are considered.

    ACTION: Review the impact of tax policy on families with children with special needs

     

  • Improved Income Security through the Employment Insurance Program

    With the introduction of the new Employment Insurance system in 1996, changes to eligibility regulations have radically reduced the number of workers who can draw on EI maternity and parental benefits (as well as other EI benefits). Between 1996 and 1997 the number of maternity and parental beneficiaries fell by 7% compared with a drop in the number of births of only 2%. Employment Insurance is the only program through which financial support is available for families with infants and young children, and the 1996 changes further limit the number who have such access.

    The federal government should - at a minimum - restore the pre-1994 conditions of entitlement, benefit duration, replacement rate, and the maximum insurable earnings level.

    ACTION: Immediately restore parental leave to pre-1994 levels

     

  • Improved Parental Leave Benefits

    In Canada, statutory rights to unpaid parental leave is provided through provincial and federal labour legislation. In addition, paid maternity and parental benefits are provided through the Employment Insurance system.

    Currently, women are eligible for 15 weeks of benefits (after a two-week waiting period), and both parents are eligible for 10 weeks of parental leave. These paid benefits replace 55% of previous earnings (averaged over a set period of time), up to maximum insurable earnings of $39,000/year. This is inadequate to ensure the financial needs of families and the developmental needs of infants in the absence of accessible quality infant child care.

    The NCA recommends that targets and timetables be set for the development of a comprehensive maternity and parental income replacement program to ensure one year of leave at 75% of previous earnings up to a maximum of insurable earnings.

    ACTION: Implement a timetable to increase parental leave to 75% of earnings and one year of eligibility

     

2. Social and Community Supports

Families need a range of support services to assist them in enabling their children to reach their potential. Critical community-based support services which need to be co-ordinated through the National Children's Agenda must include:

  • a Coordinated National Strategy
  • Social and Community Supports

A Coordinated National Strategy

Accessibility to a range of community-based social and community services is critical to support the healthy development of children and youth who may be at risk of not reaching their potential. Services need to be responsive to family needs and therefore integrated and accessible within social and health services at the community level. The federal government has traditionally played and continues to play a critical role in service delivery through funding Canadian Health and Social Transfer (CHST) and through direct program delivery. A coordinated national strategy is urgently needed for early childhood care and education, child welfare services, family support services and youth services.

The Liberal Party acknowledged in the Red Book II Securing our Future Together that youth from low-income environments face the most formidable challenges in establishing themselves in the job market. Youth at risk drop out of school at alarming levels; 20% of 20 year-olds drop out of high school; 40% of those who leave are 16 or younger; 62% have grade 10 or less. The key issues of youth at risk need to be addressed before they drop out of school. Enabling high-risk youth to successfully make the transition to adulthood requires multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral preventative approaches that begin pre-youth to support children and families. Today, Canada's child welfare system which serves our most at-risk children and youth is in urgent need of support.

In Securing our Future Together, the challenges facing families today were recognized: "High unemployment, the changing nature of work and workplaces, and the increasing number of single- parent families and families with both parents working all contribute to the stress experienced by modern families." The need for income support was recognized and in addition "Community-based services play a critical role in helping parents ensure the healthy development of their children. By helping young children get off to a good start and preventing problems before they occur, these programs significantly decrease the need for far greater spending in the future." Canada urgently needs a national child care strategy to address the needs of children and families today.

ACTION: Develop a National Strategy to address urgent issues of child care, youth at risk and child welfare.

 

Social and Community Supports

The NCA is recommending that the federal government develop an integrated approach to support community services which would, in turn, support community-based programs that deliver integrated/co-ordinated services to meet the needs of children, youth and families in their communities. Building on Community Action Program for Children (CAP-C) and Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program (CPNP), this type of funding model facilitates collaboration between federal, provincial and territorial governments, and enables communities to deliver programs and services that have been identified as critical components of the national children's agenda.

The outcome of supporting flexible delivery systems based on community needs will be an integrated approach to services at the community level. The types of community-based program sites that could be eligible to apply for funding to deliver services should include: family resource programs, family services agencies, child care centers, public health programs, schools and community organizations in order to build on existing community strengths. The CAP-C model could be enhanced in order to deliver a range of integrated community-based support services and to increase accessibility of the programs to children, youth and families. The national strategy needs to include:

  • Family support programs; programs for peer support, information-sharing, parenting, pre/postnatal nutrition, family strengthening etc.;
  • Early childhood care and education; early intervention for children at risk, accessible child care for at-risk families including the economically disadvantaged;
  • Youth services; youth employment programs, transition from school to work, mentoring and co-operative placement programs.

ACTION: Immediately invest in integrated community-based services to meet the needs of families, children and youth

 

3. National Research and Monitoring

Accountability depends on our ability to link the outcome measures for children and youth to policy changes. Information and research are key to monitoring whether the situation for children and youth in Canada is improving or deteriorating. It is therefore critical that Canada work towards developing:

  • A National Research Agenda
  • A National Mechanism for Reporting and Monitoring of Children's Health and Well-being

National Research Agenda

In Canada today, there is a lack of co-ordination for the diverse research on children's issues and in some areas an urgent need for Canadian data. It is critical that research gaps be identified at the national level. There is a critical gap in research and development in the area of policy and program evaluation for community-based services and psycho-social research. The federal government is in a unique position to work collaboratively with governments, foundations, NGOs, universities and the voluntary sector to develop a national research agenda.

ACTION: Develop a collaborative process to identify a national research agenda on children's issues.

 

National Mechanism for Reporting and Monitoring of Children's Well-being
At the federal level, the implementation of a national children's agenda needs a coordinated approach to children's issues among federal departments and provincial/territorial governments. In particular, the creation of a mechanism for assessing the impact of federal policy on children and youth is needed. A coordinating structure will enhance the federal government's ability to collaborate on the development, implementation and monitoring of the key strategies in the national children's agenda.

ACTION: Develop and implement a federal coordinating mechanism for national research and monitoring.

 

As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Canada has an obligation to monitor the health and well-being of Canada's children in order to determine to what extent the Convention is being implemented. It is therefore critical that Canada develop a social reporting process to monitor the well-being of children and youth and track actions taken to improve outcomes. Measures should include health, environment, economic status, education, learning etc. For this purpose, it is critical to develop and maintain a comprehensive national data collection system. Current initiatives, such as the National Longitudinal Survey and Centres of Excellence, should be built on and integrated into a comprehensive national mechanism.

ACTION: Develop a national reporting and data collection mechanism to monitor children's health and well-being.

 

4. Building Capacity

A national children's agenda cannot be implemented without the active participation of the voluntary sector NGOs at both the national and local levels. In order to facilitate successful implementation the following national mechanisms are needed:

  • Collaboration Strategy for the Development and Implementation of a National Children's Agenda
  • Building Public Commitment through a Public Education Campaign on Healthy Child development.

Collaboration Strategy

The cornerstone of a national children's agenda is the policy framework, which should be based on the guiding principles. The federal government with provincial/territorial governments and the voluntary sector can show leadership in the planning and implementation of a policy framework that balances social services, income support and employment opportunities for all families.

ACTION: Implement a collaboration mechanism for the development and implementation of a policy framework for the national children's agenda

 

Canada has a rich tradition of civic and voluntary activity. The voluntary sector is working at all levels of society to enhance the well-being of children and youth through community development initiatives. Governments are recognizing the key role that the voluntary sector plays in policy development, social service delivery, citizen engagement and healthy communities. Successful implementation of the national children's agenda will be dependent upon a vibrant third sector to collaborate in the planning, implementation and evaluation phases. The voluntary sector's role in national information-sharing is crucial for dissemination of best practices in program delivery and evaluation.

ACTION: Develop and implement a National Policy and Funding Strategy to enable capacity-building in the Voluntary Sector

 

Building Public Commitment

Raising awareness among Canadians about the critical determinants of healthy child development through public engagement will serve to mobilize individuals and communities. The success of Campaign 2000 and ParticiPACTION are examples of how educating the public can inspire positive social change at the individual, community and national levels.

ACTION: Develop an integrated public Education campaign on the determinants of child health.

 

D. Conclusion

The NCA is a consortium of organizations representing many sectors with considerable expertise in matters affecting the health and well-being of children and youth. We applaud the Liberal Party platform which was set out in Securing our Future Together in the following terms: "The federal government welcomes this opportunity to develop a broader more comprehensive framework for federal, provincial, and territorial children's initiatives. Given the strength of the current consensus on children's issues, there is every reason to believe that together we can establish clear national objectives for Canada's children, as well as to achieve them." We now hope that the federal government will seize the opportunity to provide immediate leadership in the development and implementation of a national children's agenda. It is time to translate good intentions into action. The children of Canada deserve no less.

 

Appendix 1

SUMMARY OF ACTIONS
Income Security
Action
Indexed national child benefit Invest an additional $850 million and index the National Child Benefit
National Child Benefit for all low-income families Expand the National Child Benefit to all low income families
Non-refundable child tax credit Invest $2,000 per child through a tax credit
Review tax policy to support childrenwith special needs Review the impact of tax policy on families with children with special needs
Improved income security through the Employment Insurance Program Immediately restore parental leave to pre-1994 levels
Improved parental leave benefits Implement a timetable to increase parental leave to 75% of earnings and one year of eligibility

Social and Community Supports

Action

A coordinated national strategy Develop a national strategy to address urgent issues of child care, youth at risk and child welfare
Social and community supports Immediately invest in integrated community-based services to meet the needs of families, children and youth

National Research and Monitoring

Action

National research agenda Develop a collaborative process to identify a national research agenda on children's issues
National mechanism for reporting and monitoring of children's well-being Develop and implement a federal coordinating mechanism for national research and monitoring

Develop a national reporting and data collection mechanism to monitor children's health and well-being

Building Capacity

Action

Collaboration strategy Implement a collaboration mechanism for the development and implementation of a policy framework for the national children's agenda

Develop and implement a national policy and funding strategy to enable capacity-building in the voluntary sector

Building public commitment Develop an integrated public awareness campaign on the determinants of child health

 

Appendix 2

Members of the National Children's Alliance:

  • Active Living Canada
  • Adoption Council of Canada
  • Big Brothers, Big Sisters Canada
  • Canadian Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance
  • Canadian Child Care Federation
  • Canadian Council on Social Development
  • Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children
  • Canadian Association of Family Resource Programs
  • Canadian Association of Social Workers
  • Canadian Institute of Child Health
  • Canadian Nurses Association
  • Canadian Parents for French
  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association
  • Canadian Public Health Association
  • Canadian School Boards Association
  • Canadian Teachers Federation
  • Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada
  • Child Welfare League of Canada
  • Coalition of National Voluntary Organizations
  • Frontier College
  • Family Service Canada
  • Learning Disabilities Association of Canada
  • National Anti-Poverty Organization
  • National Youth in Care Network
  • Scouts Canada
  • SOS Children's Villages Canada
  • The Vanier Institute of the Family
  • UNICEF Canada
  • United Way of Canada - Centraide Canada
  • YMCA Canada

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