Early childhood development in Canada: The evidence is there, but the dollars are not
Dec 22 2009
OTTAWA - The latest issue of the Canadian Paediatric Society journal spotlights the state of early childhood development in Canada, which contributors say isn’t measuring up to its potential to benefit not only individual children and families, but society as a whole. Scientific evidence supports the impact of early childhood development on health, well-being, learning and behaviour—not just in childhood, but later in life. Yet Canada ranks last among economically developed nations for investment in early childhood programming.
“It’s time for Canada to close the gap between what we know and what we do in the early childhood years,” write guest editors Dr. Clyde Hertzman, Director of the Human Early Learning Partnership at the University of British Columbia and Dr. Robin Williams, Medical Officer of Health for Ontario’s Niagara region.
“Every day, paediatricians and family doctors see children and families in an endless line with behavioural problems, emotional problems, and sickness from an illness or trauma,” the editors warn. “Doing nothing will increase health care and education costs, to say nothing of lost prosperity, increased social service costs and incarceration costs.”
The articles in the issue focus on the economic and evidence-based case for increased and sustained investments in early childhood development in Canada. The following are a few highlights:
Quality is free: A cost-benefit analysis of early child development milestones
This article demonstrates that while high-quality early child development programs are expensive, their returns on investment are enormous and effectively pay for themselves. Why? First, early childhood interventions result in children staying in school longer, which results in adults who are more employable and who can earn more. Second, providing programs and services in early childhood reduces the need for expensive remedial programs later, such as special education and medical treatment. The authors of this article estimate the resulting increases in tax revenues and reduced government expenditures at $13.1 billion.
The state of child development in Canada: Are we moving toward, or away from, equity from the start?
The state of early child development in Canada is not improving. In fact, it may be on the decline. Canada ranks last (tied with Ireland) among 26 developed countries when it comes to early development programs and services for children, mothers and caregivers, according to a 2008 United Nations Children’s Fund Innocenti Research Centre report. The World Health Organization International Commission on the Social Determinants of Health recommends that governments strive to build universal coverage for comprehensive early child development programs and services—regardless of the parents’ socioeconomic status. Canada’s public policy response to increasing evidence as to the importance of the early years has been the weakest among developed countries. This article explores how Canada can begin to clean up its act by addressing early child development in a serious way.
Best practices for parents: What is happening in Canada?
Research demonstrates that child care and parenting are the primary influences on children’s development. But even though more than 90% of parents agree that parenting is the most important thing they do, they know very little about how children grow and develop. That’s one of the findings of the Invest in Kids National Survey of Parents of Young Children. The survey also reveals the many gaps in parenting education, which tends to be short-term, superficial information and does not usually document who receives it or whether it was effective.
Improve health by reshaping public policy
The Canadian Paediatric Society is calling upon governments at all levels to take action on evidence-based policies and interventions to address the basic issues that determine good health for children and youth. This summary of the CPS 2009 status report, Are We Doing Enough? addresses critical areas for improvement, including early learning and child care. For the first time, the report assesses poverty, which is one of the biggest factors in ill health. When kids live in families that have difficulty providing the basic necessities, children’s health suffers. Other critical areas include smoking, mental health, injury prevention and paediatric human resources.
About the Canadian Paediatric Society
The Canadian Paediatric Society is a national advocacy association that promotes the health needs of children and youth. Founded in 1922, the CPS represents more than 3,000 paediatricians, paediatric subspecialists and other child health professionals across Canada.