Question Period: Health and Well-being of Children

By: The Hon. Jim Munson

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Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, I thought I was going to follow Senator Moodie on the question dealing with children, but why not? Here we are, Friday. Every second Friday, it’s nice to have a gathering of senators, but this is a serious issue and it deals with Canada’s children.

Senator Moodie and I have worked very hard in continuing what the Senate has talked about in terms of a report indicating that we should have a children’s commissioner, and it seems to go by the wayside. We have had reports from the Senate — Senator Andreychuk and others — and members of Parliament who have been pushing for a children’s commissioner. If there was ever a time for a children’s commissioner, it is right now during this pandemic. There are serious issues concerning children in terms of domestic abuse.

My question is to the Government Representative in the Senate. Half a million children in this country live in poverty, and the pandemic is likely to increase challenges for families in this situation. Furthermore, there is an interruption in their school routines, and social distancing is having an impact. Many children can’t go outside and play normally, so there are also serious mental health issues.

I applaud the government for providing funding to the Kids Help Phone. Anything is helpful, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be enough. Many front-line charities, hospitals and organizations find their resources stretched as the need for services is increasing. Does the government intend to fund more groups at this time? I also have a short supplementary question.

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question and your ongoing commitment to this important cause. The government continues to evaluate the programs it has introduced and I think it is revealing itself to be willing to make adjustments when gaps are identified. That said, a number of programs the government has introduced have direct and indirect benefits to children, whether living in difficult economic circumstances or affected by intimate partner or domestic violence. There has been funding to shelters, as you know. Equally important, the funding to individuals who have lost their jobs makes it possible for families to continue to get by, to buy groceries and pay rent, and that is to the benefit of every family and child.

To return to your question, the government continues to look at ways to ensure the most vulnerable in our community and country are taken care of, and continues to carefully examine whatever gaps may be revealed in its programs.

Senator Munson: I have a brief supplementary question. Sara Austin has been a champion for children. She is the founder and CEO Children First Canada. Recently, she said:

For children whose families are already experiencing poverty, we know that a large number of them are being impacted by job losses. The economic stresses that is placing on parents and families is putting kids at risk for food security but also putting significant stresses on children’s mental health and well-being.

I think that’s the focus we need to have today. In terms of vulnerable children, children with autism or other intellectual disabilities, I was pleased to see that Minister Qualtrough put the autism community on her advisory board after she appeared here. The autism community was not there, and now it is.

Senator Gold, do you know of any specific government plans that may be coming to take care of all of Canada’s children during this crisis?

Senator Gold: I’m not aware of any specific programs that are in the pipeline. We benefit, as Canadians, from regular announcements from this government. I repeat that the government remains committed to ensuring that the programs it is putting in place or will put in place take care of the most vulnerable. I will watch with interest to see what further announcements may be made.

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