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About Sickkids
About SickKids

November 20, 2009

Child health equity shared responsibility, says panel

TORONTO – There’s “a coalition of wills and skills” to improve the development, health and well-being of children in Ontario, said Dr. Charles Pascal at a panel presentation at SickKids today. The presentation marked National Child Day and the 20th anniversary of Canada signing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Pascal, Executive Director of the Atkinson Charitable Foundation and Early Learning Advisor to the Premier, recently authored the report, With Our Best Future in Mind, which lays out a comprehensive plan of action for early learning in Ontario. “The investment (in early learning) is a no brainer,” he said. “Early learning makes big economic sense.”

His plan calls for what he describes as a 'fundamental re-engineering' of child services, including the creation of full-day learning for four- and five-year-old children. Currently, as many as 28 per cent of children in Ontario start grade one significantly behind their peers. A comprehensive, integrated strategy means we will, among many other things, increase children’s school success and decrease family poverty, said Pascal.

“Child health equity starts before conception,” said Dr. Denis Daneman, referring to the many social determinants of health. SickKids’ Paediatrician-in-Chief said the conditions of birth, income, gender and the availability of health services all have a big impact on a child’s life.

“Scientific evidence shows us that the early years of life, when experiences are literally shaping the child’s brain, are an important time to improve children’s opportunities and achieve health equity. Confronting the source of disparity in early physical and mental health may produce greater effect than attempting to modify behaviour or improving health care later in life.”

Creating better child health equity is a challenge that we all have to take on, said Dr. Robin Williams, Medical Officer of Health for Niagara Region Public Health. The longtime advocate for early childhood development said, “The science is in front of us…We have a vision. But at the end of the day, we all have to own it.”

The panel presentation was a joint initiative of the SickKids departments of Paediatrics, Social Work and Child Life.

Some facts: (Source: Council for Early Child Development)

Science shows that a good beginning to life is the foundation for future development, health and well-being.

In Canada:

  • Over one quarter of children start kindergarten with challenges so entrenched many are at risk of not graduating high school
  • Canada ranks 21st out of 30 OECD nations in terms of infant mortality; it ranks 27th out of 29 in childhood obesity.
  • Four in 10 adults do not have the literacy skills necessary to adapt to the growth in knowledge and technology of the 21st century.
  • Five-year-olds from low-income families in Monterrey, Mexico are better prepared for school than the average Canadian child.