British Columbia

Emotionally vulnerable children on the rise in B.C., study says

1 in 3 B.C. kindergarteners start school vulnerable in critical areas of development, according to a study released by UBC.

1 in 3 kindergarteners start school with emotional maturity issues in critical areas, says UBC study

Rates of emotional immaturity are increasing across B.C. kindergarteners, which could adversely impact their success in high school and adulthood, according to a new study. (Todd Berkey/The Tribune-Democrat via AP)

A new study suggests the rate of emotionally vulnerable children is on the rise in B.C.

Up to a third of B.C. kindergarteners face challenges in areas critical to physical and mental development, according to Early Development Instrument data — a tool that measures children's developmental health.

The numbers, gathered by UBC's Human Early Learning Partnership, analyzed 43,00 students across the province and found an increased rate of children who are emotionally vulnerable, meaning they have greater difficulties paying attention, a harder time controlling their aggression and are susceptible to anxiety.

"These early years of development are so important for preventing problems early on and for predicting school achievement and adult success," said Kim Schonert-Reichl, HELP's director.

Since 2004, rates of emotional immaturity in kindergarteners has climbed from 11.9 per cent to 16.1 per cent,

Deficiencies in social competence and physical fitness are also on the rise, the study suggests.

"These are children who are vulnerable, who do not meet the typical pattern of that developmental period," she said.

The HELP institute has been gathering data on kindergarteners since 2001 and in many cases follows the progress of students up until graduation to determine exactly how early-onset vulnerabilities can influence their performances in both school in adulthood.

According to the report, children with developmental vulnerabilities are likely to have difficulties later in life, including struggling with school or experiencing anxiety and depression.

The report also found 32.2 per cent of children in kindergarten have at least one developmental vulnerability.

Upswing in literacy

But not all of the study's findings were negative.

The report also found that language and cognitive competence seem to be improving across the province. 

The improvement might be due in part to province-wide investments in literacy programs, changes in B.C.'s public education system and access to technology, says Schonert-Reichl.

According to the researcher, expansive studies like the EDI are what's needed to begin shifting policy and education to match the needs of children.

"Unless you have the data to know how the children are doing, you can't make the changes that are necessary," she said.