Tag Archives: children

why being canadian makes us sick

today was the annual general meeting of the canadian mental health association. our speaker was dr. paul kershaw.  from his intro:

kershaw is an academic, public speaker and media contributor. he is one of canada’s leading thinkers about care-giving and family policy, receiving two national prizes from the canadian political science association for his research.

dubbed by some an ‘evangelist professor’, kershaw uses research to be a cheer-leader and critic of canadians with the intention of inspiring substantial policy change across the country. to this end, kershaw devotes time to liaise with leaders in government, the business community, the not-for-profit sector, and the academy.

kershaw does not shy away from tough issues. on radio he has been labeled a “boomer-hater” because he speaks about intergenerational inequities between baby boomers and the generations that follow. as a proud feminist, he chides the personal and policy decisions by which many men evade their fair share of care-giving work, and fail to enjoy a fair share of the joys that come with caring. among the general public, he argues that ‘being canadian’ is making us sick, because the medical system in which we take national pride shows more of a disease fetish than an aspiration to promote health. at the university of british columbia, in the college for interdisciplinary studies, kershaw is the human early learning partnership (HELP) scholar of social care, citizenship and the determinants of health.

here are my notes from his talk:

how many children come to school ready to learn? 70%. that sounds like a good number. but what if you turn it around?

30% of children come to our schools vulnerable (don’t meet age appropriate benchmarks – e.g. not fully developed re fine and gross motor skills, playing with peers, following simple instructions, etc.)

why should that worry us?

we are most sensitive to our environments in the early years. what happens in the early years sets the tone for the rest of the life.

statistically speaking, those who are vulnerable in kindergarten tend to have more problems with teenage diabetes, mental health, coronary heart disease, elevated blood pressure, premature aging, etc.

what are the fundamental failings in canada when it comes to looking after our youngest citizens?


poverty 1: families are strapped for time – “i’ll compromise my time in the domestic area” work-life conflict – BC has the highest rate of work life tension
poverty 2 – service poverty (lack of social services)
poverty 3 – income poverty – we have the highest rates of poverty among children

5 reasons why we fail our next generations

1 – our perceptions don’t reflect reality
2 – lack of gender equality
3 – we have other policy priorities
4 – we have a disease fetish
5 – we are a boomer centric society

1 – misperceptions

  • canadian perceptions of reality are not reflective of actual reality
  • “do you knw what share of kids reach our school system vulnerable?” 82% of BCers underestimate how vulnerable we are
  • 86% thought we’re more generous to address these problems than we are

2 – lack of gender equality

  • we are at the bottom of OECD countries re family policy and gender equality
  • gender equality and family policy go together
  • we used to be #13, now #30
  • in 2001 we had a ministry for women’s quality, now we have no ministerial representation whatsoever
  • quebec is the only place with a good family policy because they want to breed more quebecois

3 – we have other priorities

  • 45% of our budget allocated to things medical
  • social service spending has contracted
  • health care is consuming an ever growing share of the budget, mostly because the budget overall has shrunk
  • social service spending used to be 18%, then 15% just before recession, now even less – 500 dollar less per person now

4 – we have a disease fetish

  • a mismatch between how we devote our public spending and how we spend on children
  • spending increases as we get older despite the fact that it would have the most impact if it was spent on children
  • this reflects that when someone gets sick we want to be there
  • we are lousy at prevention
  • but what do we owe ourselves in this society?
  • another example: we spend millions to save the lives of preterm babies but spend nothing on things like food for 5-year-olds
  • do we want to be dominated by disease or by health?

5 – we are baby boomer centric

  • this creates intergenerational tensions
  • politicians are baby boomers, they want to spend money on what concerns their age group
  • we can tackle children’s problems in a 5-year period (different from, say, environment, which takes much longer)
  • but baby boomers are aging so that’s what they pay attention to
  • we are also worried about pensions. but we are doing well with pensions and we’re not ranking well at all when it comes to children.

what do we need to do?

  • we need to think about health promotion differently. we need to address time, service and income poverty. improve parental leave system. why 40-45 hours a week for both parents? typical canadian works 300 more hours than the typical dutch person; netherlands and scandinavians do much more for children
  • need to increase welfare by 50%, and need to think about tax policies for the working poor
  • service poverty – need access to monthly parenting support and health check in. too spotty right now.
  • after kids are 18 months, needearly learning and care services. THAT is a major health promotion policy.

this is not inexpensive, a good 3 billion dollars a year. where to find the money?

1 – we HAVE found an extra bunch of money before, for increased health services
2 – if you’re patient, prevention early on has HUGE economic payback once they hit the labour market. we can predict the quality of our labour supply. with increased child health, we can increase economic growth by 25% – enough to pay down entire debt before these kids reach retirement

lazy easter afternoon – a haibun

today i’m serving up a haibun. it can be seen as a form of lyric prose – so that counts as poetry, doesn’t it?

“because it’s the death of your ego”, he says, and his voice resonates across the dining room, bounces off the long table, right across the bread that’s slowly getting stale, slinks around a glass of wine. “do you want to borrow the book?” another voice, a few notes higher, the voice of a man as well, and then all of a sudden the little throng of people disburses. the focus of attention a little boy now, clink clink clonk playing lego. “no clean up!” more woman voices now, “clean up, kiddo!” and a young voice, sniffling in this allergy season.

easter brunch is long over but crumbs, you can still see them everywhere. that special kind of mess that overlays a busily scrubbed and cleaned house. it won’t take long to vacuum.  the dishes in the kitchen, third round now, are neatly stacked. voices are still spiking up everywhere, “he seems like quite the character actor”, “we could play cash flow next weekend,” like a loosely grouped stand of pine tree in the plains. “have you ever thought of – ?” “uh huh, uh huh.” laughter in different cadences, at different pitches, different lengths.

seven papayas
in a black bowl on the shelf.
a toothpick pokes out.

divorce: a ballad

he screams at her
and she screams back
he in this corner,
she in the other over there.
the children, they run back and forth with
“who will fix our toys?”

she screams at him
and he screams back
but only in their heads.
their mouths are silent and
their eyes don’t meet.

the children look from one and then the other,
they smell something, or is it feel,
they don’t know where to go.

he screams at her
and she screams back
and often in their dreams.
a thick and heavy web of secrets
lies gray between them
and dusty spiders leave a trail of poison
for woman, man, and child and child
to trip over and fall into.
it’s best to stay and not to move
and not to say a word.

everyday life, it forces them
to do some things together.
out on the street, a bag lady
walks up to them
and whispers to them
from between her gappy teeth:

“i see, guys, what you’re doing.
your hearts so heavy
and your brains so hot.
your child covered in wounds,
and this one, too.
i’m talking quiet
and probably you two can’t hear me.
but still, you need to know
that you don’t have to suffer just like this.
you want, or need, or think you have to
go your separate ways. and that’s ok.
but your paths need not,
really, they need not,
be strewn with broken glass.”

with that, she disappears
into the shadows.

the four come home.
melissa finds her trains.
katrina talks to mom.

he scowls at her
and she scowls back.
the creases down her cheeks
are maybe just a little softer
than an hour ago.

success in 2009 – part 2

here’s part 2 of my social media friends’ nonmonetary successes in 2009: (the ones with the @ are people’s twitter accounts).   part 1 is here.

darren barefoot: i wrote half a book, which, it turns out, is a shocking amount of work.

hamish: two of my former clients (and now friends) successfully landed new jobs thanks in part to some extensive CV rewriting that i did for them – it was great to see the constructive criticism received well, taken on board and integrated into the finished product. it was then gratifying of them to keep me posted on how their job search progressed – net result, two great people in new jobs doing great things for their new employers!

vivien (@inspirationbit on twitter): my biggest success and the proudest achievement in 2009 was to teach my daughter how to read. so now, at the age of four she’s already fluently reading in english on her own, and we now started learning french with her 😉

jonathon narvey from writeimage: learning and understanding more about how organizations (business, non-profit, whatever) succeed. i’m very grateful to those who have shown me how to get it done. it seems as though some of the greatest lessons you can learn in this field come much easier when times are tough. and it’s not just important to understand these things to make a buck — it’s important to understand them so that you can truly enjoy and remain passionate about the work.

probably the most important lesson, which i had heard many times but perhaps never truly internalized until recently, was the importance of working with good people. you just can’t do it all yourself. when you’ve got good, talented people all working in an organized way towards a common goal, success is inevitable.

dan: teaching my kids things they ask about and hearing them say “c-o-o-o-l”

dave: my success really was regaining my independence. i was in a relationship for nearly 3 years, 2 of which we lived together. to escape some costs and administrative burden, i didn’t have a copy of our joint credit card and our chemistry wasn’t where it needed to be in order for me to be 50% of our relationship. i didn’t get lost in the relationship, but i got lost because of it. i didn’t realize this until a month or so after leaving – regaining my independence came out of nowhere to be my biggest success and i didn’t even see it coming.

@evanhadkins written lots of stuff, survived a new job with zero support, maintained healthy relationship despite working 6-6.5 days a week

@barkingunicorn learned to let go of money, possessions, home, people, worry.

@mollena i was awarded the title @mssfleather2009. i performed in the most difficult and wonderful show i’ve ever done. i’m still sober.

brenda blackburn: my biggest non-monetary success of 2009 was the live meeting startup and growth of the DVT support group of the lower mainland (held in burnaby, bc). “deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that usually occurs in the leg, most often on one side, although it can happen in other parts of the body. if the blood clot dislodges, it can travel to the lungs and cause a blockage known as a pulmonary embolism (PE) or lung clot. lung clots affect over 530,000 people a year and 300,000, or almost 1 out of 3, are fatal.” “national alliance for thrombosis & thrombophilia (NATT), USA. in this group of “survivors” and supporters we support, educate and advocate. as the first known live support DVT group in canada, (with no other provincial or national DVT patient organization existing to date), we are striving to make a difference at a grassroots level. we hold affiliations with vancouver general hospital, burnaby hospital, the north american thrombosis forum, peernetbc, and more.

want to tell us what your success was?

suicide prevention

today is the last day of suicide prevention week. to honour those who have attempted suicide and survived, those who have lost loved ones, and the lives of people who have chosen this sad way out, i’ve collected a few worthwhile links on the topic. if we put them all together, here are some ways to further the work of suicide prevention:

  • stop focusing in the individual, switch to a population approach, one that is working so well with smoking and cardiovascular disease. the refinement of individual assessment has passed the point of diminishing returns.
  • address the social ills connected with suicide
  • pay attention to high risk individuals, e.g. LGBTQ youth
  • create a corporate culture where workers feel comfortable seeking help from their company’s EAP or other resources
  • learn and teach positive life skills to the whole family
  • create a buddy system to prevent the profound sense of loneliness, alienation and isolation that often precedes suicide
  • help people with chronic health problems such as depression, ptsd, seniors and people with chronic pain tunderstand that they are not a burden
  • accessible counseling
  • use the expressive arts to help prevent suicide
  • pay attention to the feeling of powerlessness that often precipitates suicide attempts in girls
  • listen and talk to your loved ones!
  • trust your gut
  • take seriously any sudden and troubling behaviour changes you see in your loved ones

and here are the links, with excerpts from the articles:

suicide prevention: stop focusing in the individual, switch to a population approach

firstly, identifying and treating high-risk individuals is unlikely to result in lower suicide rates. the refinement of individual assessment has passed the point of diminishing returns, and the obsessive study of suicidal individuals will not uncover the holy grail of perfect prediction …

secondly, pessimism about suicide may not be justified, despite the rising rates. the turnaround in the rising road toll and in cardiovascular disease teaches what can be done. the lesson is that measures which reduce overall risk in the whole population will reduce the number of people above the fatal threshold, and we do not need to identify the high-risk people individually.

consequently, we may have to abandon the frontal assault on suicide. we cannot justify prevention campaigns driven by the suicidal risk of individuals, despite the intuitive and political appeal of such measures. indeed, to the degree that they drive resources into ineffective strategies, current approaches to “suicide prevention” may impede suicide prevention. instead, we must “bite the bullet” in restricting access to means of suicide, the most proximate factor. beyond that, we need the diligent, unspectacular work in the population which mitigates those factors which lead, among other things, to suicide. for medicine, it is to treat the ill, whether or not they are suicidal, and, from a public health pulpit, to address the social ills which produce morbidity, whether or not they lead to suicide.

suicide and anti-gay bullying – a preventable epidemic

when two 11-year-old boys died by suicide in april of this year after enduring relentless anti-gay bullying at their separate schools, shocked citizens across the country were forced to come to terms with an uncomfortable but blatant epidemic. the hallways of schools, homes, churches and other places where all young people should be able to safely learn and grow are plagued with its tragic prevalence. youth who identify as or are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ) struggle with depression and thoughts of suicide at a disproportionately high rate as a result of the increased risk factors sexual minorities face.

workplace suicides

there was a 28 percent increase in the number of suicides committed in the workplace last year”251″compared with the prior year, according to a census by the US department of labor released in august.

and that number does not include the much greater number who kill themselves elsewhere, experts say.

employers are expressing increasing worry about employee suicide, say employee assistance plan providers.

there have been a greater number of calls recently from employers about how to handle potential suicides, said dr. doug nemecek, eden prairie, minnesota-based senior medical director for cigna corp.’s health solutions organization, which includes its behavioral health and EAP business.

in some cases, employees are informing managers about co-workers who have expressed suicidal thoughts on their facebook pages, he said.

but creating a corporate culture where workers feel comfortable seeking help from their company’s EAP or other resources can help, experts say.

suicides in the army

the army wants soldiers and their families to know help is available to those struggling with issues that sometimes bring about suicide.

“this year’s strategy focuses on three key points – training the army family in positive life skills, buddy care and counseling through a variety of ways,” said army chief of chaplains chaplain (maj. gen.) douglas l. carver. “i think educating our leaders, soldiers and families on what to look for in suicidal behaviors has made our people more sensitive and aware.”

soldiers who commit suicide usually do so because they can’t see another way out of a painful situation chaplain carver said. frequent and longer deployments add yet more burden, especially on relationships, he said.

using the arts to prevent suicide

a while ago, a friend of mine started a nonprofit. she’s a bit mad herself, splitting her time between denver and DC, working, writing a book and taking classes in addition to her passion: the nonprofit. mad to live is “a suicide prevention and awareness foundation, which aligns with and supports the arts as a way to augment mental health services.”

the organization leverages creative expression and the arts as part of therapeutic healing. over the weekend, mad to live teamed with the kristin brooks hope center to raise awareness about the center’s Vet2Vet crisis line. the event revolving around the arlington arts center exhibit, picturing politics 2008, included the work of two veterans’ organizations, featuring photographs depicting life in iraq and afghanistan.

a new theory of why people commit suicide

dr. joiner has proposed a new theory of why people suicide which he believes is more accurate than previous formulations offered by writers like edwin schneidman, ph.d. and aaron beck, md. according to schneidman’s model, the key motivator which drives people to suicide is psychological pain. in beck’s understanding, the key motivator is the development of a pervasive sense of hopelessness. dr. joiner suggests that these are correct understandings but are also too vague to be useful for predictive purposes and not capable of offering a complete motivational picture.

joiner proposes that there are three key motivational aspects which contribute to suicide. these are: 1) a sense of being a burden to others, 2) a profound sense of loneliness, alienation and isolation, and 3) a sense of fearlessness. all three of these motivations or preconditions must be in place before someone will attempt suicide. psychological pain and a sense of hopelessness correspond roughly to joiner’s concepts of burdensomeness and alienation, and contribute to the content of much suicidal ideation. these are necessary but not sufficient preconditions for a suicide act, however. so long as a person remains fearful of death and the actions and consequences of the activities that will create death, the actual act of suicide is unlikely.

girls and suicide

girls are four times more likely to attempt suicide than boys. the risk factors leading to suicide among teens — family disruption, substance/sexual abuse, gay/lesbian sexual orientation — lead to feelings of powerlessness in our society. girls, i believe, have less avenues to excise these feelings and are therefore more likely to act out on their own bodies (e.g., cutting, anorexia, bulimia, and suicide) than boys.

listen to your kids!

a parent shares tips on helping children to overcome the desire to end their lives:

talk to your kid.
really talk to them with no outside distractions and try and get to the bottom of what is going on. if you do not feel like you can do that, do not be afraid to enlist the help of a professional. that is what they are there for. that is their job. they have been there and done that and they can be a world of help.

look for marked behavior changes.
has your bright and cheery twelve year old suddenly become this child who you do not recognize? is he/she doing things that you never would have dreamed that they would do like drinking, smoking or skipping school? while that kind of behavior can sometimes be a “teenager thing”, you know your child. you know what is normal and what is not.

trust your gut.
one of the most important things to remember is that a kid who is seriously considering suicide is most likely not going to broadcast it. i have never heard of a person saying, “i’m going to kill myself tomorrow. someone stop me.”. if they mean to die, they are secretive and this is when knowing your child’s friends and habits becomes so important.

reconciliation. music.

haid art - from alaskafrom nancy’s blog yesterday:

today was a day of reconciliation, initiated by the assembly of first nations.

here are some facts every canadian should know (i didn’t until recently):

  • approximately 250,000 kids were forced by law to go to residential schools in canada, starting in 1850
  • these were kids age 6 – 15
  • the intent was explicit: “to kill the indian in the child”
  • it is estimated that a minimum of 35% and maybe as many as 60% of these children died within five years of being sent to the school, possibly as genocide
  • by all accounts, the schools were replete with abuse beyond the primary abuse of forbidding use of their language, breaking up families, forcing christianity on them, cutting their hair (a shaming event)

i ask you: if your children were stolen from you, and you were helpless to prevent it; if you knew they were being brutalized in a school far, far away (returning home with broken bones, and many times never coming home at all – they had died); if you knew that they were being converted to a foreign religion, were not allowed to speak your language, were having your culture beaten out of them, would you not be wild with grief? enraged? humiliated? suicidal? turn to alcohol?

nancy had a U2 video at the end of that post. i thought, hm, maybe it would also be nice to illustrate such a post with first nations music. so i looked around on youtube and found this about musician mike stevens, who brings music to isolated first nations children. and that’s made made me post this blog entry.

image by native american seals

the cinderella project

prom - graduation partyon friday i went to a highschool graduation ceremony – my first one!  not having grown up in north america, and my older children having decided to skip grade 12, i had never been to one.

my first impression were the beautiful clothes everyone was wearing.  where did all these gowns come from?

well, some of them came from a fairy godmother, that’s what i just found out.  it’s part of the cinderalla project:

the cinderella project is a federally registered, 100% volunteer-based charity founded in vancouver, BC in 1999.

the latest statistics indicate that more than one in five, or twenty percent of all children in canada live below the poverty line. many of these children come from families with little or no formal education. without a high school education, employment opportunities are limited and this causes the cycle of poverty to continue.

the cinderella project was started to help encourage youth to stay in school and achieve the milestone of high school graduation, giving young people the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their families.

it is a magically simple concept; we know that youth in our community who are living in low income situations can not afford to celebrate the graduation festivities along side their fellow students and as a result many of them don’t see the value in completing high school. these students are referred to the cinderella project by their teachers, principals or social workers to participate in a day of recognition, self-esteem boosting and mentorship. on this day, “boutique day”, we provide these special students with formal attire so they can attend their graduation festivities with pride. without assistance these students could not afford to participate in celebrating this important milestone.

the cinderella project works to remove social barriers and promote inclusiveness and diversity. we recognize outstanding young people who have succeeded in the face of overwhelming odds and boost their confidence and self esteem through respect and positive mentorship. nearly half of all cinderellas and cinderfellas are chronically ill or physically or developmentally disabled. more than two-thirds of those students who are physically able to work juggle multiple jobs before and after school to help support their families. many are caring for ailing parents or raising younger siblings with little support. most have never had a childhood.

since its inception in 1999, the cinderella project has assisted approximately 1200 young people from around greater vancouver. the impact of the cinderella project extends well beyond graduation ceremonies. it’s truly remarkable how one day of encouragement and positive mentorship can have a long-term impact on a young person’s confidence, self-esteem and outlook on life.

image by whiskey gone bad