Statement made on 20 November 2007 by Senator Trenhome Counsell (retired)
Hon. Marilyn Trenholme Counsell:
Honourable senators, I too wish to speak about children. Today, as we know, is a day of celebration in recognition of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; a day made even more special in this country because we too have made our own declaration: A Canada fit for children.
The children of Canada are our future. All that we do for them during our lifetime will be reflected in their lives. All that we fail to do will also be reflected in the span of Canada's years. The majority of Canada's children are healthy. They are succeeding at school and many are bringing glory to our nation through scholarship, the arts and sports. Our youngest citizens ask the most important questions. They may also offer the most insightful answers. In human rights, global issues, the environment and sheer goodness, they have much to teach my generation. However, too many of our children are being left behind and are not reaching their full potential.
Therefore, honourable senators, on this day dedicated to Canada's children, I am bound to reflect on why this is true: first, poverty in a million Canadian homes; second, a failure to make children a national priority; and third, all too often an unwillingness to acknowledge the latest research and non-fulfillment of our duty to act, especially by governments.
We cannot accept that as many as one third of our children are vulnerable. They are the orphan's orphan when it comes to mental health and addiction. Maternal depression is said to be the single greatest contributor to childhood vulnerability, regardless of socio-economic status.
One path of action stands above all others if we are to do our utmost as individual citizens and as a nation to respect the rights of each child to reach her or his potential. That path is early childhood intervention. It must begin with our youth, even before they enter into parenthood, followed by maternal and prenatal health taken far more seriously than ever before in Canada.
Every child must be assessed as soon as possible after birth and then at two to three years for signs of health and developmental disorders. Physical and mental challenges must be identified at the earliest possible stage, with appropriate interventions and sustained follow-up. Parents must be involved continuously. There must be an enlightened will at the national, provincial, territorial and community level to make early childhood development a priority in our homes and wherever child care is provided in our communities.
From the Governor of the Bank of Canada to this nation's foremost researchers and educators, from neuroscientists to social scientists we are hearing the same message: Children are our greatest investment. Every dollar spent now will save $6 to $8 in the future, yet this message falls on deaf ears all too often.
Parents of children with learning disorders, autism, FASD, ADHD and the new one, CAPD, chronic auditory processing disorder, anxiety disorders, depression, and even bipolar and schizophrenic symptoms, are crying for help yet Canada all too often offers tokenism instead of commitment and generosity.
Aboriginal parents desperately need education and prenatal care. Their children need a head start in every sense that such programs can be developed. Canada can and should become a leader in public education.