Child well-being panel stresses access to support for children through pandemic

·3 min read
Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says recommendations from the Child and Youth Well-Being Review will be turned into an action plan in the new year. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC - image credit)
Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says recommendations from the Child and Youth Well-Being Review will be turned into an action plan in the new year. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC - image credit)

A panel looking into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the physical and mental well-being of Albertans under 19 released its report Friday.

The Child and Youth Well-Being Review was launched in May and gathered information through literature review, consultations, virtual townhalls and surveys, hearing from over 10,000 Albertans over the summer.

The 68-page report details the panel's conclusions and provides 10 recommendations, such as increasing access to mental health supports and improving broadband service.

At a press conference in Calgary Friday, Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz said the report is a blueprint for action from the province.

"The next step is to review the results and create an action plan, guided by the panel's very specific recommendations," Schulz said.

Mental and physical health

Panelists were struck by the limited availability of health-system data describing the impact on children and youth, the report noted.

However health professionals told panel members they have seen significant effects on children and youth due to interruptions by public health measures.

They reported "increased stress, anxiety, grief, depression, eating disorders, self-harm, suicide and suicidal ideation, and substance misuse among children and youth," the review said.

"Some suggested that the stresses of the pandemic have been responsible for mental health concerns in children and youth who had not previously struggled with their mental health."

A study cited by the panel found seven in 10 youths aged 12-18 in Alberta were responding to the pandemic in developmentally and psychologically normal ways but that females and older youth — aged 15-18 — were more likely to report negative effects.

In surveys, 73 per cent of young people reported they were less physically active, 51 per cent reported they were eating less healthily and 48 per cent reported getting less sleep.

Around 60 per cent of parents indicated their children's physical wellness had worsened or significantly worsened as a result of the pandemic, primarily due to less physical activity, according to the report.

One recommendation from the panel was to offer more opportunity for youth to access to cultural, sports, arts and recreational activities.

Disproportionate impact

Childcare providers told the panel they had specific concerns related to the social development of younger children.

It also makes reference to the "shadow pandemic," the increase of violence against women and girls.

Indigenous service providers told the panel that family violence had increased due to issues of poverty, food security and overcrowded housing which made families less resilient.

Indigenous youths and youths of colour were also more likely to be disproportionately impacted by compounding effects of marginalization, the panel was told by participants.

As well, the pandemic has disrupted learning, the report said, citing emerging data that showed statistically significant declines in numeracy and literacy among Grade 3 students,.

'Sense of urgency'

Rakhi Pancholi, NDP children's services critic, chided the government for failing to a offer funding to implement the recommendations.

Pancholi pointed out Alberta has already seen more deaths of children receiving intervention this fiscal year than in any other in more than a decade — 35 as of Nov. 27.

"I truly hope that the minister will apply a sense of urgency that is clearly needed during this time, commit to do her job, and make real investments to address the recommendations in this report now," she said.

Schulz said work is already underway to address issues raised by the report.

She said the recommendations cross various ministerial jurisdictions and that she expects a more detailed plan to be released in the spring.

"At that point, we'd probably be in a better position to talk about actual dollars that are needed here," Schulz said.

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