MONTREAL, May 31, 2017 /CNW Telbec/ - There has been a disturbing rise in the maltreatment of children between the ages of 0 and 5 in Quebec since 2007. That is the conclusion of the latest report published by the Early Childhood Observatory (Observatoire des tous-petits) entitled Violence and maltreatment: Are Quebec's youngest children safe from harm? In 2015-2016, 7,700 reports of maltreatment of children 5 and under were considered to be substantiated by the province's Directors of Youth Protection—a figure that represents approximately 20 new situations every day. Since 2007-2008, the rate of substantiated reports has increased by 27%. The Observatory's report also shows, however, that collective solutions exist that could contribute to the prevention of maltreatment of very young children in Quebec.
Maltreatment of children includes all forms of neglect or abuse that could affect a child's security, development, or physical or psychological integrity. Since very young children are particularly vulnerable, such behaviour can seriously compromise their security and development. In Quebec, situations of maltreatment as defined under the Youth Protection Act include abandonment, neglect, psychological ill-treatment, sexual abuse and physical abuse.
It is important to specify that the situations taken in charge by protection services by virtue of the Youth Protection Act represent only the tip of the iceberg, as not all cases of maltreatment are reported to the Directors of Youth Protection. Moreover, very young children may be more vulnerable to maltreatment than their older counterparts. Since they are sometimes isolated at home, they are less exposed to public view than school-aged children.
Quebec families affected by known risk factors
"Studies show that the environments in which very young children are growing up can increase the risk of their being subject to maltreatment," explains Fannie Dagenais, Director of the Early Childhood Observatory. "Potential factors include families' socio-economic conditions, stress related to parenting and work-life balance, and the mental disorders suffered by some parents, such as anxiety and depression. It is our hope that the publication of this special report will encourage members of Quebec society to work together to find solutions to prevent maltreatment of the very young."
Statistics show that many Quebec families are affected by situations that increase the risk of maltreatment of very young children. For example, in 2013, 13% of Quebec children between 0 and 5 years of age were living in families with a low after-tax income. Moreover, according to data from 2012, an estimated 13% of mothers and 6% of fathers with children between 6 months and 5 years presented symptoms of moderate or severe depression. Finally, approximately one-third of mothers and one-quarter of fathers of children between 6 months and 5 years reported high levels of stress related to work-life balance.
Collective drivers for preventing maltreatment
According to the scientific literature, there are several social measures that have proven to be effective or promising in the prevention of maltreatment. A few examples:
- Better economic support for disadvantaged families
- Providing practitioners who support parents with the tools and skills they need
- Offering quality educational daycare and preschool services early in children's lives
- Facilitating access to family-friendly housing and neighbourhoods
While some of these measures have already been implemented in Quebec and must be maintained, others need to be considered. "Together, we can take action to prevent maltreatment of the very young and help each of them to develop their full potential," concludes Fannie Dagenais.
Why do we need to be concerned?
Over the years, several studies have documented the harmful effects of maltreatment on the very young. These include language delay, attention problems, malnutrition, vision and hearing problems, depressive behaviour, anxiety, withdrawal, avoidance and anger, among others. Moreover, the negative consequences of maltreatment can persist into adulthood, lasting a lifetime.
Finally, the social and economic costs associated with maltreatment are considerable. The annual cost to Canadian society, including direct and indirect costs, is estimated at $15.7 billion. According to U.S. data, the total costs of maltreatment are comparable to those of type 2 diabetes.
About the Early Childhood Observatory
The mission of the Early Childhood Observatory (Observatoire des tout-petits), a project of the Lucie and André Chagnon Foundation, is to help ensure that the development and well-being of Quebec's very youngest children has a place at the top of the province's list of social priorities. To achieve this, the Observatory compiles the most reliable and relevant data on 0-5 year-olds which it then disseminates to incite dialogue on possible collective actions in this area. For more information on the Early Childhood Observatory, please visit www.tout-petits.org.
SOURCE Early Childhood Observatory
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