Reprinted from the Young People: Transitions issue of Visions Journal, 2015, 11 (2), pp. 10-12
When we set out to create our report, Growing Up in BC - 2015, we had a clear question: how are children and youth in BC doing right now? It is essential to ask. We have to know how well children and youth are doing in order to support them appropriately. This is true for each individual child, and for all children and youth in BC.
This is the impetus for the second report on child and youth well-being in BC released jointly by the Representative for Children and Youth and the BC Provincial Health Officer. Similar to the first Growing Up in BC (GUIBC) report in 2010,1 the current GUIBC - 20152 provides vital information about how children and youth in our province are doing.
The report provides information on how prepared youth are to take the next step, whether it’s the transition to school, adolescence, post-secondary education or adulthood. It also updates information about two groups of children and youth who have historically done less well: those with experience in government care, and Aboriginal children and youth.
This report defines child and youth well-being as a multifaceted concept that includes six important domains:
physical and mental health
family economic well-being
family, peer and community connections
These domains were chosen through a review of the research on child and youth well-being in more than 120 reports from around the world and then by confirming the domains’ importance with youth in BC. The six domains reflect an understanding of child development that identifies well-being as a condition that is shaped by relationships and the wider environment.
Youth input and voice is an important component of GUIBC - 2015 and was gathered through 31 focus groups with 228 youth held in the fall of 2014. A few examples of youth input are included in this article.
GUIBC - 2015 also includes contributions from respected academic and community experts.
What follows are just a few of the key findings of GUIBC - 2015.
Life’s transitions are supported by a good start and healthy connections
Early vulnerabilities such as physical health problems, language difficulties and lack of social competence or emotional maturity have wide-ranging effects for later years. Children who have developed a range of key skills and abilities before starting kindergarten are more likely to do well academically, graduate and enjoy success as adults.3 Data reported in GUIBC - 2015 shows there has also been an increase in the percentage of kindergarten children identified as vulnerable in one or more areas of early child development.2
Research illustrates that healthy school, community and family connections can help prevent negative life outcomes among children and adolescents. In fact, a caring and supportive relationship with at least one adult is extremely important for healthy development and for promoting resilience in later life. GUIBC - 2015 shows that while many youth who were never in government care have an adult inside or outside their family to talk to if they have a serious problem, youth who had been in government care at any time are less likely to report this (82% vs. 73%). Of youth ages 12 to 19, 78% indicated they felt a “somewhat strong” or “very strong” sense of belonging to their local community. Most youth also felt “quite a bit” or “very much” connected to their family.
“[It’s important] having someone to talk to about all things that make you mad, happy or sad.”
“Be persistent in reaching out to youth. Children are better at hiding their issues than you might think.”
Educational outcomes suggest room for improvement
Reading, writing and math are the basics that can help students succeed in school and later in life. Higher levels of these skills increase income, health and participation in society, while low literacy and numeracy are associated with experiences of unemployment, poverty, involvement in crime and poor health.5
The Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) is administered by the BC Ministry of Education in all Grade 4 and 7 classes and is designed to evaluate how well children are doing in acquiring reading, writing and numeracy skills. GUIBC - 2015 shows us that, overall, scores on these tests have improved slightly from 2007/08 to 2012/13. But some students still struggle to meet academic expectations on these tests. In fact, fewer children and youth in permanent care of the government who wrote the FSA met or exceeded academic expectations when compared to their peers.2 Compared to children without a Continuing Custody Order (CCO)*, writers with a CCO were less likely to meet or exceed academic expectations on the Grade 7 FSA reading test. The same is true of Aboriginal test takers.7
“Teachers should speak to each other about students who are struggling and then make sure they tell that student ‘You’re not as dumb as you think you are.’ ”
“If you’re constantly readjusting, going from house to house, and if you’re constantly focusing on your home situation, how can you focus on your school life?”
Youth want life skills education and support as they try new behaviours in their teen years
Adolescence is a time when youth experience many emotional and physical changes along with key life transitions, such as entering and leaving high school, transitioning to post-secondary education and work, and so on.
Data from the 2013 BC Adolescent Health Survey tells us that many youth begin experimenting with new behaviours in their early teen years. Exploration at this age is important developmentally as youth try out new behaviours. It can, however, expose youth to risks, including those associated with alcohol and other substances and sexual activity.
Youth consulted for GUIBC - 2015 highlighted the importance of two things: supportive connections with adults, and early practical education on topics such as drugs and sex–both of which help youth make good decisions through their teen years.
“More education about sex, drugs and alcohol at an earlier age; Grade 10 is too late.”
Child poverty is a major concern
GUIBC - 2015 shows us that, between 2000 and 2011, the percentage of children living in low-income households peaked in 2003, decreased from 2004 to 2008, and remained relatively stable from 2009 to 2011.2 In 2011, BC and Manitoba had the highest percentage of children living in low-income households compared to other provinces. Children living in poverty are more likely to have lower academic achievement, to not graduate from high school and to experience health, behavioural and emotional problems later in life. These risks increase with the depth and duration of family poverty.2
“I feel that no child should go to bed hungry. So, that definitely should be prevented.”
Need to improve data collection on child well-being
Both the 2010 and the current Growing Up in BC reports have struggled with serious gaps in the availability of quality data. It’s particularly concerning that it has been more challenging to find relevant, reliable and accurate data for GUIBC - 2015 than for the original GUIBC. In some important areas, there is less information now on how well children and youth are doing than there was five years ago. Just one example includes the serious gaps in data about families living in low income, due to the federal government’s decision to discontinue the mandatory long-form census in 2011.
As the data experts in our report noted, government and non-government organizations can and should gather, analyze and use data to inform funding, policy and service-delivery decisions. Yet relevant, reliable and accurate data is increasingly hard to come by. It is imperative that this trend be reversed so public decision-makers can make informed decisions on how to foster the well-being of children and youth in our province.
What can you do?
A recurring message in GUIBC - 2015 is that the well-being of children and youth is both a barometer for the current progress of our province and perhaps the greatest contributor to the future vitality of BC. The time, energy and resources we put into understanding and supporting the well-being of children and youth is the most important investment we can make for assisting youth with transitions now and in the future.
The Representative for Children and Youth and Provincial Health Officer are committed to sharing and acting on the information in GUIBC - 2015. The report will inform the Representative’s advocacy and recommendations for services to vulnerable children and youth, as well as the Public Health Officer’s advice to government on public health and wellness issues.
The hope is that readers will ask themselves: “What role can I play to connect with the well-being of children and youth?” and “How can I assist children and youth to successfully navigate key life transition points?”
To read the full report, visit: www.rcybc.ca/guibc2015
* A continuing custody order or (CCO) is when the Ministry of Children and Family Development becomes the permanent guardian of a child. The child will be the responsibility of a child welfare worker until the child reaches 19 years of age.
About the author
Mary Ellen is BC’s first Representative for Children and Youth and guest editor for this issue of Visions. She is a judge on leave from the Saskatchewan Provincial Court. She holds a doctorate of law from Harvard Law School and a master’s degree in international law from Cambridge University, and is a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. She and her husband and four children live in Victoria, BC
Representative for Children and Youth. (2010). Growing up in BC. Victoria, BC: Author.
Representative for Children and Youth. (2015). Growing up in BC – 2015. Victoria, BC: Author. Available at: www.rcybc.ca/GUIBC2015.
Government of Canada. (2012). The well-being of Canada’s young children: Government of Canada report 2011. www.dpe-agje-ecd-elcc.ca/eng/ecd/well-being/ sp_1027_04_12_eng.pdf.
United Nations Children’s Fund. (2012). School readiness: A conceptual framework. www.unicef.org/earlychildhood/files/Child2Child_ceptualFramework_FINAL(1).pdf.
Morrisroe, J. (2014). Literacy changes lives: A new perspective on health, employment and crime. London: National Literacy Trust. www.literacytrust.org.uk/ assets/0002/3684/Literacy_changes_lives_2014.pdf.