Children first?

Speaking on Public Eye Radio, children and youth representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said she was disappointed neither the provincial New Democrats or the Liberals focused on child welfare issues during the recent election. But do social service providers also bear some of the responsibility for those issues not being raised on the campaign trail? "I think they're quite isolated from each other," said Ms. Turpel-Lafond, referring specifically to teachers, school counsellors, social workers and healthcare providers. "I meet with them and talk to them frequently and they're not happy about what they see around wait listing kids or not being able to serve the way they'd like to serve. They have innovative ideas and so on. Do they get heard? I'm not sure they get heard enough. But also, do they work together on these issues?"

"I've tried to bring them together on a few issues," she continued. "And I think there's still more work to be done there. Obviously, some of these groups are unionized. Some of their concerns are around their working conditions. But I'd like to get the focus on the kids. How are the kids doing? In addition to the issues of your working conditions, how are kids in poverty doing? Are they progressing in the education system? Are they getting their health needs met? Are they stable? Are they coming into contact with the justice system? Or are they actually coming on to be pro-social, strongly supported adults."


My big worry is that Ms. Turpel-Lafond's mandate will run out before she is allowed to get the job done. She is so dead-on every time she speaks or reports. The problems she outlines here have existed since long before the last major cooperative effort tried to tackle them in the late sixties early seventies. Under the auspices of the Perinatal Programme of BC - physicians, nurses, public health, education and the Province - all tried to pull the effort together to improve, in particular, the health, education and social status of rural children. Most of those children, then and now, were of aboriginal descent. Funding and political attention, then and now, fell/falls way short of the budget required to solve the problem. Today, the only thing different is that more children than ever are suffering more deeply than ever. Governments just do not find "prevention" suits them to come riding in on white horses with too-little-too-late "solutions." It's up to people to support, en masse, the best children's representative we are ever likely to see.

I'd blame news media before I'd blame service providers or the parties themselves.

Both unions and employer groups in all sectors - e.g. BCTF, BCACL, BCSTA - have talked until they're blue in the face to raise public awareness about the lack of attention and focus on adequate services to support vulnerable children and their families. If the media don't buy that their concerns aren't just about job conditions, there are plenty of independent advocates and parent groups willing to add their voices.

But a child needs to be kidnapped, abused, killed or born conjoined before the media will pay more than cursory attention. Slow, grinding neglect just doesn't make for the kind of sexy headlines that sell papers or wow audiences. And with core survival the name of the game for so many of the big media right now, it was all about the lowest common denominator and rock bottom desperation.

The campaign coverage this year was even more obsessively focussed than usual on the horserace, rather than on any issues. And I don't think we can just dismiss it as giving the public what they want. Take all the issues that relate directly to the economy, the budget and social welfare and that are top-of-mind for so many British Columbians right now - BC's appalling status re child poverty, (un)employment, child care, homelessness, retirement/seniors' security. None of these were discussed in the media during the campaign and yet both parties provided every opportunity to do so.

Instead all we were fed was endless lurid trivia, Access Hollywood style, that spoke to personal judgement: racy photos, homophobic e-mails, racist campaign ads, sexist debate comments, tasteless campaign attacks, even the fashion sense of the Green party leader... All that was missing was finding a candidate willing to break down on live TV about the secret addiction taking them off to celebrity rehab, or perhaps a "reality TV" show about the goings on of life on the campaign bus.

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