Prioritizing Canada's Children: The Case for a National Strategy in Budget 2024

  • National Newswatch

Advocates for children’s rights have been eagerly examining the contents of Budget 2024, especially the provisions dedicated to children and youth. While measures such as the substantial $1 billion investment over five years in a new National School Food Program, or the many measures supporting early learning and child care, are promising at first glance, there is much more that is needed. This begs the question: how did the government determine the most urgent needs of children across Canada?

This is why I introduced Bill S-282, the National Strategy for Children and Youth Act, which is currently under consideration in the Senate. This bill calls on the government to establish a National Strategy for Children and Youth, which would set clear goals and objectives, monitor progress, and evaluate outcomes. It would be a comprehensive plan dedicated to fostering the best possible outcomes for the well-being of our children and youth.

At its heart, this is a question of what we value and how we prioritize it. From child poverty, to food insecurity, to the need to right-size our pediatric healthcare system, children in Canada face countless challenges. Faced with all these pressing issues, how did the government decide where to direct their investments for children in Budget 2024? Will the chosen initiatives truly be the most impactful, or merely the most politically expedient? Without a transparent and inclusive process that answers these questions, we can’t know. That’s why a National Strategy for Children and Youth could be transformational. It would give us a long-term game plan to ensure that our investments in children pay off.

Without a bigger-picture strategy to tie it all together, we will continue to spin our wheels, implementing measures that may not work or be the most impactful way to achieve our goal. We need a cohesive, evidence-based plan that interconnects our efforts, not one-off interventions built to work in silos.

Take, for example, the proposed $1 billion investment over five years in a new National School Food Program. No one would contest the importance of children’s access to nutritious meals, impacting children's development and academic success. This program is long overdue. However, without a broader framework that addresses systemic issues such as food insecurity, poverty, and health disparities, this initiative risks being a Band-Aid solution rather than a transformative one. A National Strategy for Children and Youth would provide the framework to comprehensively address these underlying challenges, ensuring that no child falls through the cracks.

A National Strategy would provide much-needed clarity and coherence in policy development and implementation. It would ensure that our investments yield tangible results and improve the lives of children and youth across the country by setting clear goals and objectives, monitoring progress, and evaluating outcomes.

In the absence of a National Strategy, piecemeal approaches will continue to fail to address the complex and interconnected challenges facing children and youth in Canada.

We can all agree that there's nothing more important than giving our kids the opportunities they need to thrive.

Let’s not settle for superficial solutions. Budget 2024’s measures build on existing investments—but we need a more comprehensive and inclusive approach that truly puts the well-being of our children at the forefront.

It’s time to make a strong commitment to our kids' futures—a commitment that starts with a National Strategy that puts their needs front and center.

Senator Rosemary Moodie sits as an Independent Senator for Ontario.