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Finally! A social policy “thermometer” to measure our kids’ wellbeing

Guest blog by Ann Douglas

When your baby has a fever, you reach for a thermometer. The tiny snapshot of information that the thermometer provides can help you to decide just how sick your child is—and whether or not a quick trip to the doctor’s office is in order.

The Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being is designed to function like a social policy “thermometer.” Its purpose is to measure and communicate how well Canadian children and youth are actually doing, as opposed to how well we think they are doing, so that we can guide our policy decisions moving forward. 

Because, as it turns out, there’s a considerable gap: a gap between our perceptions of how we think we’re doing in terms of safeguarding the health and wellbeing of our children and youth and the actual reality on the ground. 

For more than a decade, Canada has been ranked in the middle of the pack when it comes to international measures of child and youth well-being for wealthy industrialized nations like ours. This news will no doubt come as a surprise to many Canadians. We have a tendency to think of ourselves as world leaders when it comes to the well-being of children and youth when, in fact, the available evidence tells us that we’re not. 

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And here’s some even more humbling news: when young people themselves do the ranking, they rank us even lower than that. The message that they’re sending us is clear: we can do better and we must do better. It’s time for us to heed that call.

The good news is that we now have a powerful data tool to guide us. The Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being can help us to map out a path to achieving our goal of making Canada the best place in the world to grow up. It can help us to identify areas where we’re doing well and to zero in on areas where we could be doing even better. And it can help to spark conversations about who we are and what we value as Canadians: the kind of country we are and the kind of country we hope to become—and to bequeath to our children. 

I don’t know about you, but I find that incredibly inspiring—and I’m excited that we now have a powerful social policy “thermometer” to help guide us along that path. Here’s to journeying together.

Ann Douglas is the weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio and the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting. Her latest book—Healthy Parents Healthy Kids—will be published by HarperCollins Canada in February. She is a member of the Advisory Group for the Canadian Index of Child and Youth Wellbeing.

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