When the Canadian government committed to creating an adult food security strategy a few years ago, it was taken by some as a precursor to a Canadian food security strategy for children. That is not the case. In fact, the two initiatives should not be held in tandem or even seen as competently merged together. That is because the child food security strategy is one of the most important, imaginative, and effective initiatives ever undertaken by a government in Canada.
Imagine this: school children will be informed about nutrition at the beginning of the day, will be properly fed for the evening, and will receive breakfast and lunch in class. Student participation in activities and tests will be improved and school subjects such as math and geography improved.
Of course, that sounds very nice in theory but it’s important to understand that the real action is already underway in Canada. Since 2012, the federal government has committed more than $880 million to foster a comprehensive approach to reducing and reducing child hunger.
In 2016, ministers convened in Vancouver to establish the National Strategy for Children and Youth with Food Needs. In 2013, the draft of the National Strategy was launched and received more than 90 submissions from 19 organizations from across Canada.
The Strategy builds on a series of child food security initiatives that began in 1990 under the leadership of the former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
This initiative is not new and in fact has existed for 25 years. What is new is the passion for child nutrition that prevails in Canadian society today.
In light of some recent poll results suggesting a dramatic increase in support for legislation in favor of food banks in Canada, it is worth noting that 70 percent of Canadians support the federal government’s allocating more funding to support the Food Bank Network in Canada. That shows support for the idea of an all-encompassing approach to the challenges facing children and youth with food needs.
The results of this latest round of asking Canadians if they believe that there is enough food to feed Canada’s children and youth is set to be released in November of this year. This is the fifth time that Canada has sought to gauge public opinion. Canadians clearly understand the problem and are supportive of the need to prevent hunger.
Sustaining this strategy is a massive undertaking; we are talking about 1.3 million children and more than 5.4 million youth with food needs. While laudable and necessary, I realize that these are not small numbers. If we look at the nutrition statistics in Canada for adults, it is apparent that the numbers are very impressive. According to the most recent figures, just 11.5 percent of adult Canadians were experiencing food insecurity in 2015, with their expenses exceeding their food budgets for an average of two months. This is a commendable number. However, the percentage of children and youth suffering from food insecurity is the equivalent of approximately one in four children or one in eight youth living in Canada.
What is more worrying is that there are over 200,000 children living in emergency shelter. One in ten of these children and youth is reported to be living in vulnerable housing and they often have very limited access to basic services such as clean water and sanitation. The scope and complexity of the challenges facing these children and youth is huge.
When it comes to addressing childhood hunger, food banks are not enough. It is not enough to give children just what they need and leave it at that. We need a comprehensive approach to reduce and reduce child hunger and childhood poverty. The National Strategy for Children and Youth with Food Needs does that and it will prevent hunger from growing.
The challenge for Canada is to continue to build the momentum around this key commitment. The National Strategy for Children and Youth with Food Needs will be reviewed by cabinet in spring of 2020. Canada’s First Minister for Children and Youth Joe Oliver has made it clear that his goal is to see the measure of child poverty cut in half and a reduction in the number of kids in extreme poverty.
When Prime Minister Trudeau took office in October 2015, he promised to make Canada a leader in the fight against child hunger. That is what the National Strategy for Children and Youth with Food Needs is all about and I am hopeful that the National Strategy for Children and Youth with Food Needs will not only be reviewed by cabinet in spring 2020, but that it will be improved and funded to achieve its goal of reducing child hunger and childhood poverty in Canada.