SPPA Adjunct Professor Mary Bartram  publishes an op-ed with Kwame McKenzie (University of Toronto)  “The Kids Aren’t All Right” is a call to action — and action is what our children deserve     in the Toronto Star, Nov 9, 2023.

Too many kids aren’t all right. If we care about their futures, and our own, now is the time for action.

The Star’s “The Kids Aren’t All Right” series painted a bleak but fair picture of the world that too many Toronto children live in. Toronto is the child poverty capital of Canada where living in inadequate housing, lack of access to green space, being uncertain where your next meal is coming from and long waits for health services is common.

Allowing these situations to persist undermines our humanity and is short sighted.

Kids who are abused, neglected, or have other adverse childhood experiences are less able to make the most of themselves. They are more likely to come into contact with the police and they are more likely to develop health issues, mental health problems and substance use health issues as adults.

The impact on well-being and loss of human potential is not just an individual or family issue. From an economic perspective, failure to invest properly in children is a failure to invest properly in our collective future. If you are not all right as a kid, you are less likely to be all right as an adult. Which means more people unable to fully contribute to society. That will come at a social and economic cost.

It is often said that it takes a village to bring up a child, but it is also true that bringing up a child makes a village.

“The Kids Aren’t All Right” is a call to action. And action is what our children deserve. We should not wring our hands at the current situation, we should roll up our sleeves and answer the call by making changes.

There is much we could do.

The federal and provincial governments could raise their game by not just lifting children out of poverty but moving families toward a thriving income that promotes health and well-being. We could create nurturing environments with housing policies that favour kids. Our planning and zoning laws could be used to ensure access to green space and we could answer the calls for a national school food program to ensure that all children have a minimum of one nutritious meal a day.

And while we travel the politically arduous road toward prevention of future problems we could also improve the support and treatment of kids and families who need help now. The mental health impact of the environments that our kids are brought up in is predictable. The added needs linked to the COVID-19 pandemic are palpable. The situation is now urgent.

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Dr Kwame McKenzie is CEO Wellesley Institute and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto. Dr. Mary Bartram is the director of Research and Evaluation with Stepped Care Solutions and an adjunct research professor at Carleton University.