Embrace the wisdom of investing in children

By Dr. Brian O’Connor

In a recent blog (‘It Doesn’t Have to Be this Way’, March 27th), Trevor Hancock, in a tribute to Clyde Hertzman, reviewed the policy platform of the Human Early Living Partnership (HELP) as contained in the 15×15 document.  Much of this speaks to the importance of ensuring adequate incomes for families and some of the key aspects of a poverty reduction plan.

One of Clyde’s colleagues at HELP, Professor Paul Kershaw, has put a unique twist on early child development and the need for adequate resources for families in terms of income, time and services.  Young people and young families have unique challenges in today’s social environment that present huge impediments in terms of the ability of children to develop optimally.  Professor Kershaw refers to the young families of today as the squeezed generation or GenSqueeze (www.gensqueeze.ca).  His thesis is that today’s young families, quite unlike their predecessors (boomer, gen x, etc.) are severely under resourced in terms of

1) the time they have available for optimal parenting

2) the lack of supportive services – the consequences of a paucity of sound social policies in support of today’s families such as universal, quality, affordable for all, day care – Professor Kershaw proposes a $10/day solution, a solution also promoted by the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC (CCCABC.bc.ca) and

3 ) income issues arising from discrepancies in wages and the cost of living over time leading to two working parent families with very long hours

Professor Kershaw has contrasted the social policy supports that as Canadian society, we have put in place for seniors as an example while at the same time we have not been as generous in our support for young people and young families.   While he is not trying to pit one generation against another, he does point out that our social spending on seniors comes to $45,000 per Canadian over 65, while a similar young family today is afforded social policy spending of only $12,000 per Canadian under 45.   He does not support reapportioning  spending  (maintain funding to existing social programs) but adding a mere $1000 per Canadian in additional spending which will as an investment bear vast return in mitigated costs from things such as reduction in costs from crime, education, avoidable absenteeism and improvements in human capital, and competitiveness.

It is interesting that our society has not fully embraced the wisdom of investing in children, the future of our province, by ensuring optimal early child development for all BC’s children.  While our universal Medicare program is a defining national characteristic and the support we provide seniors is never questioned, we can hear the negativity that arises when one proposes $10/day child care – “why do I have to pay for their child’s day care?”

So Professor Kershaw comes at the poverty reduction question in a slightly different way.  But it is anchored in the recognition that optimal child care development if not addressed through policy options that provide more resources, will perpetuate the continuum of poverty, poor child outcomes and increased health inequity.

Brian O’Connor is the Co-Chair of the Population Health Committee, Health Officers Council of BC

Additional Reading:

15 by 15: A comprehensive policy framework for early human capital investment in BC | Human Early Learning Project | 2009

Poverty is Bad for Your Health – Backgrounder and Q&A info series | PHABC 2012

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