The purpose of this toolkit is to support individuals and community groups in their advocacy for legislation, policy and practice that benefit children and youth and their families in the lead-up to the 2020 provincial election. First Call member organizations with expertise in different areas contributed many of the facts, ideas and recommendations in the kit.
The toolkit is structured around First Call’s 4 Keys to Success for children and youth. Each section highlights some of the current issues facing children, youth and families in BC and suggests solutions our provincial government can act on, in the form of questions to candidates.
Response to COVID 19: Establish a BC Children’s Safety and Wellness Task Force
First Call and Basics for Health Society is urging a coordinated response to children’s health during this COVID-19 pandemic. To date over 200 individuals and organisations – including over 100 physicians, the BC Teacher’s Federation and the BC Association of Social Workers – have signed an open letter calling on the BC Government to act now to create a BC Children’s Safety and Wellness Task Force, that will build resilience and support planning for a healthy recovery for children from the pandemic.
The Task Force would draw on the collaboration and expertise of a range of experts and those with lived experience, including the leadership of Indigenous organizations and communities, to lead provincial action to create resilient environments for children and the adults who care for them. This includes prioritizing funding for crisis supports and programs to support the mental and emotional health of children and families; to address poverty, food and housing insecurity, and systemic racism; and to enhance equitable opportunities for outdoor play, learning and connection.
Q: If elected, will you support the creation of a BC Children’s Safety and Wellness Task Force?
Key 1: Early Childhood
COVID-19 has increased already troubling gaps in support for infants, young children and their families. Data collected in the Early Development Instrument (Wave 7 EDI – 2016-2019) by the Human Early Learning Partnership at UBC shows the provincial vulnerability rate for young children in BC is 33.4%. This means 1 in 3 children, or about 14,000 Kindergarten students in BC, are starting school with vulnerabilities in one or more areas that are critical to their healthy development. This vulnerability rate was trending upward even before the pandemic hit.
Early childhood is a crucial, time-limited period of human development. Without supportive public policy and needed services, young families are stressed by the demands of caring and earning. All young children and their families should be able to access the supports and services they need. We know what will help and are looking for political commitment.
Increased attention must be paid to maternal and infant health and the existing inequities in access to prenatal and postnatal supports across the province, particularly in light of the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. There is growing concern from health professionals that increased parental stress from the crisis will have a negative impacts on parent-child attachment and the social and emotional development of young children.
- Q: If elected, will you increase investment in public health initiatives aimed to support maternal health and healthy infant development, ensuring these supports are available throughout the province and designed to reach families experiencing poverty and other threats to their ability to thrive ?
Family Support and Early Intervention
All young children and their families must have access to a basic set of Early Childhood Development (ECD) supports and services as needed. This means addressing the specific barriers that face certain families and the systemic barriers that limit the overall availability, affordability and integration of ECD programs.
There must be full inclusion of young children at risk of developmental delay and children with disabilities and complex needs. These children and their families require specific strategies and supports to ensure that they can participate in their local ECD community programs alongside their peers.
Early intervention services for young children should not have to rely on short-term funding agreements. Rather they should be an entitlement for all families to access prior to school entry. When young children with special needs languish on wait lists for assessments and early intervention therapies or access to child care, they are missing irreplaceable developmental opportunities.
Accessible, culturally safe drop-in and parent support programs for families with young children are vital in every community, especially for families that are isolated, low-income, newcomers and facing other challenges.
- Q: If elected, will you increase program funding and support for more equitable distribution of available resources to ensure families have timely, universal access everywhere in BC to: a core suite of early intervention therapies; timely assessments; family respite; health, medical and in-home supports?
- Q: If elected, will your party increase funding for non-barriered, free, community-based programs and services for all families with young children throughout the province, including rural and remote areas?
For decades, studies have concluded that child care in BC is generally unaffordable (high parent fees), inaccessible (few licensed spaces) and of inconsistent quality (low ECE wages).) The research consensus points to the need to move away from the privatized, market-based approach to a publicly-funded system as the most likely way to achieve high quality, affordable, accessible child care for all who choose it. Parent fees in five BC cities recently studied (Burnaby, Kelowna, Richmond, Surrey, Vancouver) were between 29% and 71% higher in for-profit programs than non-profit programs.
Based on this evidence, First Call is strongly supportive of the provincial investments to date in moving towards building a quality, affordable and accessible publicly-funded system of child care in BC, as outlined in the $10aDay Plan developed by the Coalition of Child Care Advocates and Early Childhood Educators of BC.
We echo their recommendations for action in BC’s pandemic recovery plan. The next BC government should build on progress to date by moving now to $10aDay child care, including further reducing and capping parent fees, raising ECE wages and expediting the creation of publicly-owned licensed spaces.
- Q: If elected, will your party commit to moving now to $10aDay child care, including further reducing and capping parent fees, raising ECE wages and expediting the creation of publicly-owned licensed spaces?
- Q: If elected, will you will you ensure universal access to inclusive child care supports to enable children with diverse needs to attend child care programs in their communities?
Key 2: Youth Transitions
Transitions are times of increased vulnerability when children and youth may need extra support to navigate them safely. Developmental transitions include moving into adolescence and into the expectations of adult life. Other stressful transitions include changes in family, such as when parents separate or divorce or are unable to keep their children safe. Dealing with a mental illness, being new to Canada or coming to terms with a minority sexual orientation are other examples of circumstances and transitions that require extra support. BC’s youth need a strong safety net of universal and targeted programs and services to be there for them when times get tough.
Ensure access to quality public education for all children and youth
The deficit in public education funding persists. Funding for special education assistants, lost programming in the arts, libraries, counsellors, school psychologists, custodial services, and deferred maintenance, among other areas, still require urgent attention in future provincial budgets.
Area standards used for new schools are resulting in schools that are 30% smaller than older schools resulting in dramatic restrictions or even elimination of music and arts programming, and no room for non-enrolling classrooms, quiet rooms and other educationally important uses.
The right to inclusive education for students with special needs is still significantly impaired. The lack of supports for children and youth with neuro-diverse special needs in the public school system is of great concern to parents and educators.
- Q: If elected, will your party restore funding for special education assistants, lost programming in the arts, libraries, counsellors, school psychologists, custodial services, and deferred maintenance, among other areas that still require urgent attention in future provincial budgets?
- Q: If elected, will you ensure Area Standards for schools will accommodate current and future use of schools and are designed to support the educational needs of students in all areas of the curriculum including science and the arts?
- Q: If elected, will you ensure that the Ministerial Policy on Inclusive Education is updated to bring it up to the standards set by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which establishes inclusive education as a fundamental right of children?
Healthy School Food Program
Children have a right to adequate and nutritious food to enable a healthy life; yet in BC, one in six children live in households experiencing some level of food insecurity. Students come to school hungry for many reasons, and less than four in ten Grade 7-12 students eat three meals a day on school days. Furthermore, children in BC consume insufficient and unhealthy diets, and only 15% of BC children eat the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables irrespective of their socio-economic status.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the crucial role many public schools have in mitigating food insecurity and other social supports required to allow children to focus on learning.
- Q: If elected, will you support the allocation of provincial funds towards a universal, cost-shared, healthy school food program for all K-12 students that is respectful of local contexts, connected to community and curriculum, health-promoting and sustainable?
Post Secondary Education
The average student in British Columbia can no longer afford post-secondary education on their own, or even with the help of their family. Annual tuition fees have risen over 200% in the last two decades and are now over $5,000 per year. Because the main financial aid available for struggling students in BC is loans, 50% of students now graduate with student debt.
- Q: If elected, what will your party do to reduce financial barriers for those in low-income to access post-secondary education?
Fostering Change: Youth Transitions From Care
As of December 2019, there were nearly 7,000 children and youth in care and on youth agreements in BC. Indigenous children and youth are over-represented in this population at more than 60%, as are young people with a disability and those who identify as LGBTQ.
Numerous reports on the deaths of young people in and recently leaving care point to a systemic failure to provide them with the emotional supports, permanency, cultural connections and mental health services they desperately needed.
Because youth transitioning out of foster care don’t have the family support other young people can rely on, they often need extra support in establishing a home of their own, finding employment, pursuing further education and connecting with needed supports in community.
Youth transitioning out of care need universal and comprehensive supports without barriers. They need guaranteed equitable access to household start-up costs, including counselling, to help make the transition into adulthood a dignified experience.
The prime mode of support for transitioning youth is called the Agreements with Young Adults (AYA) Program. Its eligibility criteria is so strict that it only serves 15% of the 1,000 youth who leave care annually. A Metro Vancouver youth homelessness count found that 50% of the homeless youth surveyed had experience in care. During the pandemic, youth turning 19 have been allowed to stay in their current care placements. This will end on March 31, 2021. Planning for homes for all these youth is a priority to avoid a large number of youth ending up homeless.
Visit the Fostering Change Campaign website to read the youth-developed election toolkit
- Q: Will your party support automatic enrollment of all young people transitioning out of care in an income support program that meets their basic living costs?
- Q: Will your party sustain the emergency extended supports for youth from care after the pandemic is over?
- Q: Will your party ensure access to comprehensive mental health services for all youth transitioning from care?
- Q: Will your party designate additional housing, created by BC Housing, for youth leaving care so they can afford to find an affordable, safe dwelling as opposed to homelessness?
Youth Mental Health and Substance Use
As we cope with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic — the job losses and reductions in many families’ incomes, as well as the public health interventions such as school closures, non-essential service shutdowns, and physical distancing measures – the mental health consequences for many parents, caregivers, and children and youth themselves, have become apparent.
Increasing toxic substance use is the other pandemic impacting families and youth. According to a March 2020 report by the Representative for Children and Youth, there is a dearth of detox and substance use treatment facilities for youth in BC. Those that do exist too often have wait lists. The representative reported that there was not a single publicly-funded substance use treatment bed for youth on Vancouver Island, in the Okanagan, the Kootenays, or the Northeast or Northwest sectors of the province.
- Q: If elected, will you continue to increase government investments in more accessible mental health services for young people in the post-pandemic period?
- Q: If elected, will you open additional youth-specific treatment programs for youth struggling with substance use?
Key 3: Increased Economic Equality
While COVID-19 has worsened family poverty, we know from 2017 data that many families with children in British Columbia were typically living far below the poverty line. In 2017, one in five children in British Columbia (19.1%) were still growing up in poverty, representing 163,730 children. Included in the total number of poor children, 51,760 were under the age of six. Over 50% of children living in lone-parent families were poor.
Raise the Rates
In 2017, there was an average of 38,044 children and youth in families receiving welfare in BC. This is an increase from the 2016 yearly average by over 1,900 children. For most of these families (66%), working is not an option, as they have medical conditions, multiple barriers, disabilities and other challenges that prevent them from working. Most of them are single parent families.
Current welfare rates, both income assistance and disability assistance, leave these families in deep poverty. The rates discriminate by not recognizing the added costs parents face when they are raising children with disabilities.
- Q: If elected, will you support increasing income assistance and disability assistance rates to bring them in line with actual living expenses and index them to inflation?
- Q: If elected, will you adjust income and disability assistance rates for families with a child with disabilities to recognize the costs associated with raising a child with extra support needs?
The majority of poor children in BC live with parents in the paid work force, some working full time, full year, yet they are still poor because their wages are too low. The current minimum wage of $14.60/hour still leaves a single parent with one or two children who works full time, full year thousands of dollars below the poverty line.
93% of minimum wage workers are in the service sector including retail and food service, many of whom are doing frontline work during Phase 2 of COVID-19. The majority of them are women. Job losses during COVID-19 have been dramatically higher for low-wage workers across the country.
As calculated by the Living Wage for Families Campaign, the wage needed for a family of four in Metro-Vancouver with two parents working full-time to pay for necessities, support the healthy development of their children, escape severe financial stress and participate in the social, civic and cultural lives of their communities is $19.50/hour.
- Q: If elected, will your party support paying living wages to all government employees and making sure government contracts pay living wages that allow employees to meet their basic needs, properly support their children and avoid chronic financial stress?
Paid Sick Leave
Many low-wage and precariously-employed workers have to make the decision to go to work when they are sick because they have no paid sick leave benefits and cannot afford the loss in income from missing work. Especially during the current pandemic this is contrary to public health advice, yet the provincial government has not stepped up to legislate paid sick leave to protect these workers.
- Q: If elected, will your party legislate employer-paid sick leave for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency and then legislate permanent paid sick leave to take effect following the emergency?
The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the digital divide between those who can afford the necessary devices and internet costs and those who can’t, as more of our access to crucial information and services relies on this connectivity. Beyond family finances, there are still rural areas and Indigenous communities in BC that are not well-served by high-speed internet connections, and there are many people who lack the literacy skills to navigate in this digital environment.
- Q: If elected, will you ensure families and youth have access to technology (both hardware and internet access) so that they are able to apply for financial assistance, pursue their studies and access other supports?
Affordable Rental Rates
Rents have become unaffordable in many BC communities, especially for people on fixed incomes and in low-wage and/or precarious work. We are seeing the results in rising homelessness, including among youth and families with children. Rents have been rising faster than inflation for several years.
The Residential Tenancy Act only limits rent increases for existing tenants. When a tenant moves or is evicted, landlords are free to increase the rent as they wish. The solution is to change the Act to tie rent control to the unit, not to the current tenant.
Market rental rates for larger families with children are completely unaffordable for many families and insufficiently available in the subsidized housing stock in BC.
- Q: If elected, will you support tying rent control to the unit and not to the tenant?
- Q: If elected, will your party support accelerating the building of affordable and safe public housing aimed as housing children and their families?
Key 4: Safe and Caring Communities
Families should be able to rely on provincial (and federal) legislation to provide minimum standards for keeping children and youth safe in all aspects of community life. This includes protecting them from predators, employment standards if they enter the workforce, and protective legislation to keep the physical environment clean and healthy for growing bodies. All provincial legislation and policy should prioritize the immediate and long-term best interests of BC’s children and youth based on the research evidence of potential harms and hazards. Child and youth rights and well-being should not be an afterthought or subordinate to powerful economic interests.
Child Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking
Even before COVID 19, child sexual exploitation and trafficking was increasing in BC. During the pandemic, even more adult predators are now focusing on reaching children and youth online.
A June 2020 Statistics Canada report notes the vast majority of victims of police-reported human trafficking are women and girls (97%); 73% of victims are under age 25 and nearly three in ten victims (28%) are under the age of 18. In many studies survivors report first being trafficked at the age of 13 or 14. BC youth workers currently report young teens and preteens being recruited and groomed into criminal gang activity, including being sexually assaulted and trafficked.
- Q: If elected, will you support increased funding for prevention education, early intervention, data collection, enforcement and dedicated services for underage victims of sex trafficking?
- Q: If elected, what will you do to address the dramatic increase in child sexual exploitation and trafficking during COVID 19?
- Q: If elected, will you increase funding for culturally-relevant support services for Aboriginal women and girls to help them escape sex trafficking? (Recommendation from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls)
Reduce violence against women and children
Violence against women, youth and children in BC is an ongoing public health and safety crisis that remains a devastating daily reality for many. Each year in Canada, up to 362,000 children and youth are exposed to violence in the home. More children are at risk of this during the current pandemic, as family stress rises and isolation and reduces access to supports. This violence affects people of all social, economic and cultural backgrounds, can result in lifelong impacts and creates an overwhelming health, social and economic burden mostly borne by women and their children.
According to the BC Society of Transition Houses, before COVID-19 more than 200 women and children were turned away each day due to lack of spaces in B.C. Due to the pandemic public health measures, some transition houses have had to reduce the number of people they can help at one time. Federal pandemic emergency funding has helped, but access and capacity problems remain dire.
- Q: If elected, will you ensure programs and housing for women and children fleeing violence are funded and meet current levels of need?
Regulations for improved employment standards for minors
Since the Employment Standards Act was amended in 2019 to increase protections for working children and adolescents in BC, we have been waiting for the new regulations to be established. First Call strongly recommends the Ministry of Labour take an evidence-based approach to establishing employment regulations aimed to reduce the number of accidents and injuries to minors. WorkSafeBC data indicate children under 16 are still being injured in trade and service sector occupations. Injury Hospitalization data up to 2014 tells us that youth between the ages of 15 – 19 died of injuries sustained while in trade and service areas, industrial and construction areas and on farms.
- Q: If elected, will you establish and implement regulations with respect to the hiring of children that are complementary to the new Hiring Children provisions of the Employment Standards Act based on the recommendations of First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy?
Implement a ban on cosmetic pesticides
More than 100 studies have linked pesticide exposure to both adult and childhood cancers.
Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of pesticides because they are closer to the ground, they are more likely to put things in their mouths and their bodies are still developing.
- Q: If elected, will your party bring in a complete province-wide ban on the sale and use of cosmetic pesticides?