Opinion: On World Children’s Day, let’s recognize that children’s rights include mental health

Excerpt: Canadian studies show that nearly 25 per cent of parents report that their children’s mental health has decreased during COVID-19.

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World Children’s Day is Nov. 20, when we celebrate the importance of children’s rights and of safeguarding adequate physical, mental, spiritual and social development for every child around the world.

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These rights, laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, should be universally accepted and supported, but this is often not the case for many children, even in wealthy nations such as Canada. In fact, Canada continues to fall behind regarding the mental health and well-being of children, ranking 30th out of 38 wealthy nations in UNICEF’s 2020 report card on the state of children and youth worldwide.

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The poor standing of mental health and well-being of children and youth in Canada highlights the need to invest and prioritize mental-health supports and services for children and their families — a call that predates COVID-19. The best time to act was then; the second-best time is now.

Children’s mental-health challenges have been exacerbated during COVID. Evidence shows that substance use, eating disorders, and anxiety and mood difficulties have increased. Pediatric hospitals in Canada saw an increase in the number of cases presenting to emergency departments for mental-health concerns.

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Canadian studies show that nearly 25 per cent of parents report that their children’s mental health has decreased during the pandemic. Children’s mental-health service providers across the country have reported extensive increases in mental-health service demand, including a doubling of calls for services and waiting times.

This pandemic has been described as a generational catastrophe, particularly for children and youth from equity-deserving groups, including First Nations, Métis and Inuit children, children from racialized communities, gender and sexually diverse youth, and young people with disabilities. Every child, regardless of background, social status or location, should have access to high quality mental-health support.

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• Preventing mental-health challenges. Earlier is better: Targeting the early years of life makes sense because most mental-health difficulties in early adulthood have their origin in childhood. As such, improved access to early childhood services, and support and education for caregivers and community providers, are critical.

• Supporting children and adolescents by supporting adults: The most consistent assets of resilient children are caring families, healthy schools and good peer relationships. Prevention efforts must therefore not only address children, but also the environments in which they grow. The adults in children’s lives must be healthy and supported for children to flourish. Resilience isn’t ingrained; it’s fostered by strengthening individuals and families. If it takes a village to raise a child, we need to build and maintain a village that promotes resilience.

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• Increasing funding for child and family mental-health services: The Canadian Mental Health Association and other allied groups have put forward a call for increased funding for child and youth mental-health services. In addition to the benefits for individuals, results show that the return on investment for every dollar spent on preventing and treating mental-health difficulties in youth is $23.60. These investments not only lead to increases in well-being, but are also good economic policy.

• Improving service access: With increased funding and support, mental-health promotion and intervention in schools can provide increased access for children and adolescents. Alternatively, continuing access to virtual approaches to mental-health services can provide accessible and efficient options.

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In addition to World Children’s Day, in Canada National Child Day is also celebrated on Nov. 20. This day is also a good chance to take a moment to look back on the commitments, initiatives and policies that have actually been implemented, as well as look forward to those that should be put in place. Now is not the time to wait. Our children’s future starts today.

André Plamondon is professor, Faculty of Educational Sciences, Université Laval. Nicole Racine is assistant professor, School of Psychology, University of Ottawa. Tracy Vaillancourt is Canada Research Chair in School-Based Mental Health and Violence Prevention, University of Ottawa. A version of this article originally appeared at theconversation.com, an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community. 

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reference: theprovince.com

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