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