FREDERICTON (GNB)— Child, Youth and Seniors’ Advocate Kelly Lamrock has identified Three Challenges – the title of his latest report – needing government’s attention as part of the run-up to International Children’s Day or National Child Day on Nov. 20.

Speaking at the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation annual Research Week, Lamrock identified three areas where children deserve better.

  • Ensuring that children can read and learn by the time they are eight years old.
  • Providing teens the mental health services and strong communities they need to feel safe and secure in preparing for adulthood.
  • Giving the next generation of citizens the tools to learn about and shape the world around them as they find their voice.

“International Children’s Day is an excellent opportunity to reflect upon what we owe children,” said Lamrock. “These are three areas where children deserve better than the status quo.”

Early Childhood Literacy

Lamrock said, after steady improvement between 1999 and 2011, early childhood literacy rates are dropping in New Brunswick schools. He called for urgent action to reverse the decline, including:

  • Placing a renewed focus on early literacy and taking steps to ensure consistent school improvement, including the use of literacy specialists, professional learning communities and school improvement plans at the local level.
  • Addressing the issue of classroom composition by giving teachers resources and ensuring equality in classroom composition is a core principle in educational decisions.
  • Undertaking research to identify at-risk groups to address the needs of children with unique literacy challenges.
  • Ensuring the necessary tools are in place for early detection and assessment of learning and behavioural challenges in the transition-to-kindergarten phase, including specific resources to address behavioural issues and challenges.
  • Addressing family literacy and providing community resources to families to support early curiosity and reading, including expanded use of family resource centres and social pediatrics in addressing parental capacity to facilitate learning.

Youth Mental Health

The advocate noted that this year’s indicators suggest a surge in the need for mental health services for young people.

“Today, young people are experiencing more stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions than any generation before. The growth of mental health needs is outpacing our collective capacity to respond,” said Lamrock. “In particular, adolescents are losing their sense of safety, security and stability.”

Numerous indicators show an increase in young people seeking care for depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions and a decline in feelings of safety and knowing where to turn. Building on his recent update on mental health services, Lamrock recommended actions, including:

  • Ensuring a level of accessible primary care for mental health issues.
  • Implementing a credible plan to train scarce health professionals, such as psychologists.
  • Undertaking research into the root causes of the increase in mental health issues among young people.
  • Partnering with municipalities to create child-friendly communities with social and recreational spaces that allow children to interact beyond online activities.

Community and Youth Engagement

Lamrock said this year’s data indicates the current generation of young people is engaged, compassionate and desirous of becoming citizens. They express interest in voting, pursuing post-secondary education and volunteering at record-high levels. They are compassionate to each other and embrace diversity like no generation before.

The advocate expressed concern that New Brunswick children do not receive instruction in social and governing institutions until late in their school career, with a social studies curriculum that predates the online and social media explosions.

Lamrock challenged leaders to:

  • Revitalize civics education from a citizenship lens, giving children early exposure to logic, researching and democratic problem-solving skills.
  • Place topics such as diversity and human rights within the historical and social context that explains our democratic institutions and how they work.
  • Encourage active citizenship through school community engagement, entrepreneurial learning and volunteer education.

World Children’s Day and National Child Day are celebrated each year on Nov. 20, commemorating the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; it states that all children should be treated with dignity and respect, have a voice, be protected from harm, be provided with their basic needs, and enjoy every opportunity to reach their full potential.