Children as agents - more than vectors or objects of protection
The Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children (CCRC) is a network of Canadian organizations and individuals who promote respect for the rights of children. View this email in your browser
March 17, 2020
Responding to Coronavirus:
Challenge and Opportunity?
What difference could it make if children's rights were taken more seriously as we all think about the way we respond to the COVID 19 pandemic? I've been thinking about that and invite others to join in reflection - and perhaps action. What follows are early thoughts for reflection.
Children: Vectors, Group to be protected, Agents with evolving capacities
Seniors, not children, are more likely victims of this particular virus. That early assessment seemed like good news. Then the language shifted to children as vectors for the disease because they are "spreaders" and policies for all children seemed to be based on that descriptor.
Does spreading happen the same way in pre-school and high school? If young people were also treated as agents with evolving capacities, might there be different approaches for adolescents in high school, who could be helpful actors because of less risk, than for elementary school children and for pre-schoolers? I am hearing about some youth-organized helping initiatives that may spread to other communities.
Kudos to CBC Radio Ottawa for creating space for children to be reporters and for hosting a radio camp for young people to share their ideas of what they can do in this context. It is just one example of treating children as actors who can contribute in age-appropriate and creative ways to the common good. There are likely a host of other ways children as actors could be part of the solution instead of just being treated as objects to be protected or vectors for a disease.
Childcare as an Essential Service for Children
The reasons for closing licensed child care centers are legitimate, but what about children of health care workers and others who need substitute care in order to do other essential work? Are those children now at greater risk of being left in poor quality care because parents are left to fend for themselves with few options? What about children whose homes are less healthy than the child care centers where they spend a good part of their days? What is in their best interests? If child care was considered an essential service for children, then policies might make differences based on what is best for different groups of children. much as we now do with health care facilities. We don't close all of them; we keep essential services and reduce resources allocated to non-essential services.
Vulnerable Children: Will there be special provisions? Children who get one healthy meal a day through school food programs are more vulnerable to malnutrition when schools are closed for months. Some food banks are developing community-based delivery systems for the duration of school closures. There will be gaps. Children who live in the context of domestic violence may be at greater risk and more difficult to support when home is portrayed as the best place to be. What could be done for them, especially those without access to computers and smart phones? Children without access to playgrounds or outdoor spaces to play will need creative ways to get the physical exercise they need without disturbing adults in crowded living conditions. Thankfully the needs of children in isolated communities, such as First Nations, Metis, and Inuit children, are being considered. Our understanding of who is vulnerable and how they can be supported may need rethinking in the context of "social distancing" policies.
In my neighborhood a spontaneous program sprouted to encourage children to identify 10 objects in a treed lot and report them on-line. It is child-centered education that includes nature, physical activity, biology, and ecology. it is child-centered education in unusual times. Can it be sustained for months? Likely not, but perhaps education systems that have been slow to adopt child-centered approaches to learning will adapt and learn some new ways of teaching and learning. One positive outcome might be more respect for children's rights in education than many current systems show.
Children and Economic Pandemic
In 2009 governments tended to think bailing out banks and major companies was an adequate response to economic shocks and would trickle down. This time there are more voices, including corporate leaders, calling for measures to support precarious workers who have no EI benefits and other vulnerable groups. Some of these have households with children who are harmed more by short-term poverty and deprivation than adults are. It would be helpful to do a rapid Children's Rights Impact Assessment of the proposed economic support packages to be sure that they are also putting the best interests of children first.
Children's Rights as an Asset to Govern Well for Children in Times Like These
The lack of coherent approaches to public policies for children in good times and emergencies is a reflection of the lack of a systems approach to implementing children's rights in Canada. Putting systems in place to govern well for children is the major focus for the CCRC alternative report for the review of how Canada implements the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As its title suggests, we can Close Gaps through a Systems Approach: Implement Children's Rights in Canada. Other alternative reports address both general measures and specific issues. Together the alternative reports provide a strong basis for reform in Canada. Now the onus is on governments to take action. While the COVID 19 response is consuming government attention right now, it also illustrates the benefits of building a robust system to protect children's rights across Canada in good times and challenging times. The CCRC will continue to advocate for a robust response in Canada, as well as before the UN Committee.
These are just a few of the impacts for children and their rights. The views expressed here are my reflections, not official CCRC board policy. If you would like to share your thoughts, send an e-mail to email@example.com, and we can post other reflections.
Kathy Vandergrift, Co-Chair
Board Recruitment The CCRC thanks Tanja Suvilaakso, Plan Canada, and Karyn Kennedy, Boost Child Advocacy Center, for their contributions to the work of the board. Their work loads within their organizations expanded so much that they could no longer contribute to the work of the CCRC. The CCRC board is a working board; we are looking for persons interested in implementation of children's rights and able to contribute some time to contribute to our work. If you are interested, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive more information.