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My cat makes me happy: What Canada’s youth told us about their well-being

A new UNICEF Canada report released today highlights what Canada’s youth consider critical to their well-being. Among the insights, holistic health and a sense of belonging top the list.

In My Cat Makes Me Happy, UNICEF Canada outlines the findings of workshops held across Canada to learn directly from youth what well-being means to them, and to gain a better sense about what it’s like to grow up in Canada.

Canada currently ranks 25th out of 41 rich nations in overall child well-being. When compared against 21 indicators related to progress towards the global Sustainable Development Goals for children and youth, Canada ranks in the middle – a place it has held for more than a decade. Child homicide, suicide and bullying, in particular, are all at alarmingly high levels.

“Right now, Canada isn’t the best place in the world for children to grow up in. In fact, it’s not even in the top 20,” said Alli Truesdell, UNICEF Canada’s Youth Participation Lead. “We need to better understand why that is and do more to become the country that truly reflects our shared Canadian values.”

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Key findings

According to the youth report, health (34.5 per cent) and relatedness (18.2 per cent) top the list of factors most important to child and youth well-being, followed closely by equity (12.8 per cent), education and employment (12.3 per cent), youth engagement (12.3 per cent), affordable living conditions (6.7 per cent) and access to spaces and a healthy environment (3.3 per cent).

Canada’s youth weigh in

Liam, 17, participated in one of the youth workshops.

“You need to dig deeper to understand what matters to youth more precisely,” he said. “You can’t just focus on the basics.”

Olivia, 16, stressed the need for change.

“There’s so much room for improvement,” she said. “It starts with taking initiative; it starts with taking action.”

Relationships and belonging are key for Canada’s kids

“What we heard from Canada’s youth is that objective measures alone—like young people’s physical health, how they are doing in school and how much time they spend online - will not capture whether young people are doing well,” said Truesdell. “In wealthy countries, we need to be measuring things far beyond basic needs, though these are not very fairly distributed. For young people, well-being is much broader. Just as important as their physical health and school grades are the quality of their relationships, and access to safe spaces where they feel respected and like they belong. When we take the time to talk with young people, we learn some surprising things. We heard time and again how much pets make kids happy and relieve stress.”

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UNICEF to launch national movement to make Canada the best place to grow up in

UNICEF Canada is working to develop a Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being, one of the key initiatives of its soon-to-launch One Youth movement. One Youth will also host a Design Studio to work with children and youth to develop and test innovative solutions to the challenges they identify, and encourage public engagement around the challenge.

“We want Canada to become the best place to grow up in by 2030,” said Truesdell. “One of the ways to get there is by continuing to involve children and young people in our work to develop new ways to measure child well-being, that are more in line with what children and youth are actually telling us about their own lived experiences as well as the evidence we have about what supports well-being. Some communities are very good at doing that, but the data is very limited.”

One Youth is set to launch this fall. To learn more, visit www.unicef.ca/oneyouth

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