5. Lessons Learned Actions taken for children in the last 10 years have given Canada a range of important experiences involving what interventions are most effective and how government action should best be structured for children.
The first lesson learned that can be applied to future initiatives for children is that effective action for children requires heightened coordination across government departments and among governments. In addition to being a major finding in the evaluation of the Brighter Futures initiative, improved coordination within and among governments is relevant to numerous other initiatives where program goals are multi-sectoral and varied, as are children=s needs. In Canada, responsibility for the well-being of children is shared within the federal government by numerous relevant departments. As mentioned earlier, responsibility is also shared among federal, provincial and municipal governments who each play distinct and complementary roles in supporting children and families. There is a continuing need to enhance interdepartmental cooperation within the Government of Canada to improve the effectiveness of actions taken for children.
With regard to the effectiveness of various government actions for children, experience has shown that strong, broad-based social investments, coupled with an additional focus on prevention among children most at risk, can improve the well-being of children and offset the effects of poverty and inequality. A sustainable health care system, accessible to all Canadian children, remains the most important investment in the health of Canadian children. Equally important for child development is the accessibility and quality of public education. These universal programs are often complemented by more specific initiatives aimed at those at risk of not reaching optimal levels of health and development. Together, universal and targeted approaches allow governments to reach all citizens, and to give special attention to those who are in greatest need.
Throughout the decade of the 1990s, significant attention has been given to child and family poverty in Canada. Throughout this time, addressing the causes and lessening the impact of low income for families with children has been a priority of the Government of Canada as well as of the provincial and territorial governments. As described in greater detail in Section 4, while actions taken have been extensive, results have been varied. The experience of the 1990s has shown that a complex mix of factors leads to poverty and that a broad combination of actions, addressing the full range of a child=s development, is required to address poverty=s impact on children and families. This comprehensive approach to addressing poverty has influenced government action, and is apparent in measures described throughout this report and in particular sections 3 and 4.5.
A young person=s right to have a say in decisions that affect him or her is recognized by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Canada has integrated principles of youth participation in initiatives related to community and economic development, youth health, environmental protection, youth justice, sexual exploitation, international development and the promotion of cultural diversity. These initiatives have generated important lessons about the most appropriate and effective ways to facilitate participation by young people, and the need to further advance the involvement of youth. Among these, it has been seen that peer role models, young adult resource persons, and child-to-child techniques are effective means to enrich the participation of children; that youth learn best Aby doing@, by participating actively and directly rather than being told what to do; that once they are involved, youth tend to move on to broader community affairs, multiplying the benefits of their initial involvementthroughout their community; and that for participation to work, youth must be able to express their opinions and their creativity freely.
A child=s diverse needs are fulfilled by many actors, but as the Convention on the Rights of the Child indicates, parents and family play the primary role in providing the care and nurturing needed for healthy physical, moral, social and spiritual development. Through its many initiatives for children, Canada has come to understand the importance of parental and family involvement. It seeks to apply this principle so that parents are able to support their children, and equally so that governments are able to find effective ways to assist parents in their role.
Beyond the roles played by parents, families and governments, there is a broad and rich diversity of actors who affect children=s well-being. Governments have learned that facilitating partnerships across this diversity of actors is a powerful tool in developing innovative approaches to meet children=s needs. Partnerships involving different levels of government, municipalities, voluntary sector organizations, professional associations, schools and the private sector are found in such areas as health, child safety, community development, recreation, arts and culture, education and in facilitating youth participation.
Important lessons have also been learned with regard to ensuring the well-being of the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada. The Aboriginal population is subject to national economic trends and fluctuations. In addition, the relative isolation of many First Nations communities constrains economic opportunities. Improving income security provides more opportunities for Aboriginal Peoples. For example, as part of the Government of Canada=s Aboriginal Action Plan, Gathering Strength, the Aboriginal Human Resource Development Strategy creates full partnerships between the federal government and Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal agreement holders under the Strategy are enabled to design and deliver labour market programming, child care initiatives, and job readiness programming to help ensure Aboriginal Canadians have access to labour market opportunity, and access thus to improved standards of living.
Second, increasing the capacity for Aboriginal institutions to provide care and nurturing of children in their own community reinforces culturally appropriate demonstrable growth in community capacity. Working in partnership with Aboriginal organizations and communities, steps will be taken to help improve the health and social outcomes and public safety of Aboriginal children. By expanding programs directed towards Aboriginal children and families and working with Aboriginal organizations and communities, appropriate solutions can be developed to address the specific and pressing needs of Aboriginal children.