July 13, 2020
Dear Prime Minister and Premiers,
As Canada’s largest child and youth serving organization, Boys and Girls Clubs from coast to coast to coast know the importance that school plays in our society. Continued school closures have been, and will be, disproportionately felt by children already facing intersecting and systemic barriers—children from low-income families, children who don’t speak English or French as a first language, racialized communities who’ve already felt the worst of COVID-19, children with special needs, and children without access to technology or the internet. These are the young people our Clubs serve across the country during out-of-school hours. Yet we know there can’t be out-of-school time without kids being in school.
We are calling on all levels of governments to work boldly and creatively to maximize in-school education this fall.
As you know, having children out of school exacerbates existing systemic issues, including:
- Mental health and social isolation: Over the last four months as school were closed, children and youth had very limited interactions with teachers, mentors, and classmates. This isolation is already having significant negative consequences. Kids Help Phone has seen a 55% increase in conversations about isolation, a 49% increase in conversations about anxiety and stress, a 47% increase in conversations about substance abuse, and a 23% increase in conversations about self-harm. Parents are also concerned about their children—a recent Statistics Canada survey on parenting during the pandemic found that almost three-quarters of participants were concerned about their children’s opportunities to socialize with friends, and more than half were concerned about their children’s loneliness and social isolation.
- Abuse: Home isolation has left many children and youth trapped in abusive settings and isolated from caring adults working in schools and programs that can identify this abuse and alert authorities. As stress and tension in families rise, so does abuse. Kids Help Phone has seen a 33% increase in conversations about emotional abuse since COVID-19 began, a 34% increase in conversations about physical abuse, and a 31% increase in conversations about sexual abuse.
- Food insecurity: Many children and youth across the country no longer have access to healthy meals and snacks, as food security programs run at schools and out-of-school programs are either no longer operating or doing so at greatly reduced capacity, leaving many families food insecure.
- Summer learning loss: During normal summers, when kids are out of school, students lose one month of learning on average. Children from low-income families, however, experience higher rates of learning loss. During the school year, all students have access to libraries, teachers, resources, and guidance counsellors, which is what makes public education “the great equalizer”—but with kids now in a prolonged absence from school, those that don’t have access to tutoring or additional programs end up falling further behind. Approximately 40% of parents are concerned about the school year and their child’s academic success during the pandemic. The longer schools are out, the greater the learning loss for marginalized children and youth.
- Limited childcare options: Access to high-quality, affordable, and safe care was a challenge for families prior to COVID-19 and has been exacerbated by the pandemic. With ongoing physical distancing restrictions, childcare centres can serve far less children than usual, yet the demand for their services is growing and will rise further in September. Asking childcare centres to additionally serve school-aged children during days when they are not in school is less than optimal for learning and will further put financial pressure on families. Our expertise tells us that vulnerable families will be the hardest hit by a shortage of child care. They will have to make the choice between not returning to work so that they can look after their children, or leaving their children in the care of untrained neighbours, family, or friends.
Finally, as a result of the pandemic, provinces and territories across Canada have seen rapid and massive disruptions to their labour markets. As restrictions are carefully lifted and Canada’s economy begins to re-open, many parents can return to work. However, a partial return to in-person schooling in September will create hard choices and negative impacts on these parents, particularly working mothers, which will set back hard won women’s equality by years. Children can’t be left at home alone, which will force those who can’t afford alternative childcare arrangements to drop out of the work force. A loss of income will overwhelm many families, especially single parents and those already struggling to make ends meet.
Our inability to reopen schools will push families into poverty, slow economic recovery, increase demand on government assistance, and deepen inequality. We must make the safe return to school the political priority.
Our goal should be kids safely in school five days a week with available out-of-school programs. Our Clubs believe that a re-opening of the economy without re-opening child care and schools doesn’t reflect the values of Canadians. Yes, there will be challenges and setbacks, but prioritizing the safe re-opening of schools and child care means we are prioritizing vulnerable and at-risk children—and this is a true reflection of our country’s values.
Boys and Girls Clubs would be pleased to connect with governments, experts, and other stakeholders to discuss how we can to support this shift in priority. Opening schools and child care won’t be easy, but it is crucial for kids, parents, and the economy.
President & CEO
Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada