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Statement on the Impact of COVID-19 School Closures on Children — Children First Canada

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Ottawa, April 9, 2021 – As a third wave of COVID-19 sweeps the nation, ongoing debates about infection rates, community transmission and school closures continue. Toronto recently transitioned to distance learning and additional jurisdictions are likely to do the same. This will take a heavy toll on children and youth who continue to bear the burden of pandemic-related restrictions.

Children First Canada and our Council of Champions support the calls by medical experts to urgently contain the spread of the virus, while better protecting children from the harmful impacts of the pandemic. The Children’s Health Coalition, Ontario Hospital Association, the Ontario Medical Association, and the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, among others, are urging governments to take immediate action. Schools should be the last to close and the first to open. We are failing children and youth in Canada.

We support the call from the Children’s Health Coalition for specific measures and urge that they be applied across all provinces and territories in Canada, including but not limited to:

  • Implementing the strictest measures to reduce community spread and reverse the trend, including paid sick days for essential workers

  • Refocusing our vaccine strategy on prioritizing essential workers in hot spot neighbourhoods, including teachers and early childhood educators, other education staff and caregivers of kids with serious illness or chronic conditions

  • Ramping up efforts to ensure strong infection prevention and control strategies, partnered with robust testing, tracing and prioritization of the highest risk communities

  • Putting in place supports to minimize the negative impact of school closures on the education, health and well-being of all children across the socio-economic spectrum with a health equity lens

  • Launching a provincial campaign to improve vaccine confidence and increase uptake of COVID-19 vaccines, especially for those who have been disproportionately impacted

In addition, governments should employ all tools at their disposal to make informed decisions – including the interactive tool released by Statistics Canada in collaboration with Children First Canada in March. This tool was created to help better understand the ways in which children and youth have been made vulnerable because of school closures during the pandemic.

We know that closures significantly impact children’s academic success, mental health, protection from abuse, food security, physical activity and many other areas. All children and youth have been impacted by school closures, but some have been particularly hard hit. This includes First Nations, Métis and Inuit children, Black and other children of colour, children growing up in poverty, those with complex medical needs and disabilities, and children who experience abuse in their homes. Many children, especially those in low-income families, do not have access to computers or wireless internet to participate in online schooling. This creates a significant barrier to accessing education.

Policy makers and industry leaders can use the interactive tool to make informed decisions based on data in their regions. Click here to access the interactive tool. For more information about the tool and the partnership between Statistics Canada and Children First Canada, click here.

“Children and youth have been disproportionately affected by COVID-related restrictions. While many adults are feeling hopeful that we are close to turning the corner on the pandemic due to the role of vaccines, there is less reason to feel optimistic for children,” says Sara Austin, founder and CEO of Children First Canada. “Vaccine trials are still underway for children, and it’s predicted that children under 12 won’t be vaccinated until early 2022. Children and youth have already felt the burden of the pandemic in two school years, and a third school year is likely to be impacted.”

Closing schools should always be a last resort. It is imperative that government leaders exhaust all measures at their disposal before sending kids home.

There is no path to Canada’s recovery plan that doesn’t include the health and well-being of children. We urge governments to make every effort to contain the spread of the virus and re-open schools as soon as possible. Kids can’t wait. They need urgent support and attention now.

Contact:

Stephanie Mitton

Government Relations Advisor

c: (613) 581-4584

e: [email protected]

About Children First Canada:

Children First Canada (CFC) is a national charitable organization that serves as a strong, effective and independent voice for all children in Canada. CFC harnesses the strength of many organizations and individuals that are committed to improving the lives of children in Canada, including children’s charities and hospitals, research centres, government, corporations, community leaders, and children themselves. Visit childrenfirstcanada.org for more information.

List of Signatories:

Sara Austin, Founder and CEO, Children First Canada

Owen Charters, President and CEO, BGC Canada

Dr. Ronald Cohen, President and CEO, The Hospital for Sick Children

Emily Gruenwoldt, President and CEO, Children’s Healthcare Canada

Mary Jo Haddad CM, Council of Champions

Christine Hampson, President & CEO, The Sandbox Project

Julia Hanigsberg, CEO, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital

Mark Hierlihy, President and CEO, Canada’s Children’s Hospital Foundations

Megane Jacques, Vice Chair, Children First Canada Youth Advisory Council

Kamil Kanji, Chair, Children First Canada Youth Advisory Council

Valerie McMurtry, CEO, Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada

Holden Sheffield, Chief of Pediatrics and General Pediatrician, Qikiqtani General Hospital, Iqaluit, Nunavut

Lori Spadorcia, Executive Vice-President of Public Affairs and Partnerships, Chief Strategy Officer at CAMH

Katie Taylor, Chair of the Board of RBC and Former Chair of SickKids Foundation

Michael Ungar, Canada Research Chair in Child, Family and Community Resilience

Umayangga Yogalingam, Co-Executive Director, The Young Canadians Roundtable on Health

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