VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The COVID-19 pandemic is complicating the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
Children First Canada — an advocacy group — suggests family financial pressures and school closures due to the impact of the virus can mean increases in the rate of child poverty, hunger and even abuse.
“So many kids depend on schools for daily nutrition programs — whether it’s breakfast and lunch programs or snacks during the day to stay healthy and well — but there are also very grave concerns about the mental health of our children, as well as protection against violence,” says Sara Austin, founder and CEO of Children First Canada.
“For children whose families are already experiencing poverty, we know that a large number of them are being impacted by job losses. The economic stresses that is placing on parents and families is putting kids at risk for food security but also putting significant stresses on children’s mental health and well-being,” she tells NEWS 1130.
Austin points out that one-in-three Canadian children already experiences some form of abuse by the time they reach the age of 16.
“We’re worried that could get much worse during this crisis and, that many kids don’t have somebody outside of their home looking after them right now. There are no teachers or other caring adults in the lives of these kids who they can go to and seek help from right now.”
Austin applauds all three levels of government for trying to respond to the needs of all Canadians and meet the particular needs of vulnerable populations, but she believes more can be done.
“We know that the needs are very significant and there are many frontline children’s charities and kids’ hospitals who are struggling to meet the very urgent demands of children, let alone the huge surge these organizations will be facing in the weeks or months ahead. We really do need a much greater investment by federal and provincial governments to get through this,” she argues.
Austin also wants people to think about how they can be a safety net for all of Canada’s children.
“Of course families are concerned about the well-being of their own children, but we also need to be vigilant about looking out for the well-being of our neighbours and other kids in our community. If an adult is worried about the safety of a child, it’s really your duty to report that. Call your local child protection services and report a child who may be at risk.”
She says you can also help in other simple ways, whether by donating or fundraising for a local children’s charity or helping spread awareness.
“There’s a lot we can be doing to help look after one another’s children and be that virtual village for all of Canada’s kids.”
-With files from Jon Szekeres