National Council of Welfare

Conseil national du bien-être social



                  Governments should put aside the rhetoric and start acting
on the needs of children, the National Council of Welfare says in
a new report entitled Healthy Parents, Healthy Babies. "All governments in Canada would undoubtedly agree that
giving children the best possible start in life is good public
policy," says the report. "It remains to be seen, however, whether
governments are prepared to take up the task of translating their
rhetoric about children into reality." The report is the first in a series planned by the National
Council of Welfare that will focus on key issues facing children
and their parents at different stages of life. Healthy Parents,
Healthy Babies deals with concerns before and during pregnancy
and during the first year of life. "The prenatal and infancy stages of life are arguably the most
critical periods in the life cycle," the report says. "They are
times when a modest investment in the health and well-being of
mothers and babies can last a lifetime. They are also times when
indifference, neglect and failure to act can lead to lifelong
problems." The emphasis throughout the report is on "interventions"
which have proved to be effective in dealing with problems such as
low birth weight or lack of support for young parents. At the same
time, the report makes a strong pitch for governments to fight
poverty. -2- "Specific interventions can limit the damage caused by
poverty, but they do not eliminate the need to fight poverty in
all its forms," the report says. The National Council of Welfare believes it will be difficult
to deal with the host of problems facing families with children
until governments start taking these problems seriously. The
report highlights four areas where changes in government policy
are urgently needed: * An end to arbitrary cuts in social programs. The well-being
of children and their parents ultimately depends on the willingness
of governments to support people who are unable to fend for
themselves. This includes support for broad-based social programs
such as welfare, employment insurance and public pension programs. * An end to "downloading" social problems. Successive federal
governments have spent much of the past decade trying to put
their financial houses in order by downloading the cost of social
programs to lower levels of government. Many provincial and local
governments tried similar tactics. The result was a sharp decline
in support for social programs, a growing burden on voluntary,
on-profit and charitable organizations, and ultimately an
increase in human misery. * Thorough, timely and independent evaluations of social
programs. Relatively few social programs in Canada are properly
evaluated, and the few evaluations that have been done are often
published too late to have any impact on public policy. * A commitment to the continuity of successful social
programs. Once a program has been properly evaluated and shown
to be effective, it should be immune from senseless changes by
governments. Social progress is the victim every time that a new
government reshapes programs for purely political or ideological
reasons. Any changes that were motivated by politics or ideology
in the first instance are almost certain to be undone once there
is another change in government. -3- Like many other groups, the National Council of Welfare
believes that it is far better to tackle the root causes of the
problems facing parents and children rather than trying to patch
up problems after the fact. The support for a preventive approach
is so overwhelming that it can no longer be ignored by governments. "This report, like many other reports by other researchers,
has shown that carefully designed programs to help families do
indeed work and do add to our well-being as a nation. We have
the means to mount special interventions for families which need
special help. We also have the means to make major inroads against
poverty and the social problems that go with poverty. What we lack
is the will to get on with the work at hand." The National Council of Welfare is a citizens' advisory group
that advises the federal government on matters of concern to
low-income Canadians. It reports to the Minister of Human Resources
Development. __________________________________ For more information, please contact: National Council of Welfare 1010 Somerset Street West, 2nd Floor Ottawa K1A 0J9 (613) 957-2961
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