As Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, Canadians can bask in the fact they are living in a wonderful country. Can there be any better country in the world in which to grow up? Well, yes, perhaps up to two dozen other countries, according to the latest Index of Child and Youth Well-Being and Sustainability, in which Canada ranks 25th among 41 wealthy nations studied. In fact, Canada has held a middle-of-the-pack ranking for more than a decade, which should prompt some reflection, in the view of UNICEF Canada.
“Right now, Canada isn’t the best place in the world for children to grow up in. In fact, it’s not even in the top 20,” Alli Truesdell, UNICEF Canada’s Youth Participation Lead, said in a recent news release. “We need to better understand why that is and do more to become the country that truly reflects our shared Canadian values.”
It’s with that in mind that UNICEF Canada released the recent report “My Cat Makes Me Happy,” which highlights what Canadian youth consider critical to their well-being. The report outlines the findings of workshops held across Canada to hear directly from youth what well-being means to them, and to gain a better sense about what it’s like to grow up in Canada.
Topping the list of well-being factors was health, with 34.5 per cent of responses, while relatedness, or a sense of belonging, ranked second at 18.2 per cent. Other factors considered were equity (12.8 per cent), education and employment (12.3 per cent), youth engagement (12.3 per cent), affordable living conditions (6.7 per cent) and access to spaces and a healthy environment (3.3 per cent).
“What we heard from Canada’s youth is that objective measures alone — like young people’s physical health, how they are doing in school and how much time they spend online — will not capture whether young people are doing well,” Truesdell said. “In wealthy countries, we need to be measuring things far beyond basic needs, though these are not very fairly distributed. For young people, well-being is much broader. Just as important as their physical health and school grades are the quality of their relationships, and access to safe spaces where they feel respected and like they belong.”
Truesdell is correct that the basic needs are not fairly distributed, even in an affluent country like Canada. Food bank numbers consistently point to the fact that many families struggle to put food on the table.
But the report suggests that well-being goes beyond the basics of food, a home and material goods. It points out that young people need quality relationships, too, and that doesn’t always happen in today’s society. Parents work hard to provide their children with physical necessities as well as entertainment items to keep them happy, but the report indicates youth need more than that. They also need a sense of connecting that comes from safe and supportive relationships.
UNICEF Canada is working to develop a Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being, which is one of the key initiatives of the One Youth movement the organization will soon launch, with the aim of making child and youth well-being a priority in Canada.
Canada is already a pretty great place in which to grow up, but it can be even better.