New Brunswick

N.B. child and youth advocate to turn up heat on policy-makers

Bernard Richard will give his first "state of our children" address in Moncton on Monday, releasing a comprehensive set of statistics on the health, wellness, education and employment of N.B. kids.

Bernard Richard to deliver his first 'state of our children' address

New Brunswick's outspoken child and youth advocate will use his inaugural "state of our children" address on Monday to lay the groundwork for measuring how future government actions affect the province's youngest citizens.

Bernard Richard's speech in Moncton will also present a 20-page report full of statistics measuring children's health, education, poverty, adoption levels and lifestyle.

The child and youth advocate is using his report card to stress to the provincial government that it "needs to pay more attention to indicators of child and youth achievement and their condition in order to achieve the ultimate and over-arching goal of self-sufficiency."

"What we want to establish is a way of measuring every year how well we're doing. I'm not satisfied when government says, 'Well, we've invested so many thousands of dollars, we've introduced a new program,' if we're not making real progress," Richard told reporters on Monday.

"That's what we're establishing here, and that's what we're going to do every year."

The report will become the template for future ones, allowing statistics to be compared across several years to determine whether the lives of children and youth are improving, Richard said. The provincial child and youth advocate said he hopes policy-makers and other people will use the statistics to bring about changes that will help children not only in New Brunswick but also globally.

"By comparing and contrasting our issues and the concerns and challenges we face in keeping our promises to children with the reality of children the world over, we will have a stark reminder of the economic disparities from which our society and our children have benefited," the report said.

By the numbers

Child and youth advocate Bernard Richard's report card paints the following demographic picture of New Brunswick:

  • Children under age 14 constitute 16 per cent of the New Brunswick population
  • Youth (aged 15-24) make up 13 per cent of the province's residents
  • Adults aged 25-44 account for 27 per cent
  • Baby boomers (45-64) make up 29 per cent
  • Seniors (65 and up) number 15 per cent 

One area where youth have seen their situation improve in recent years is in the labour market. Despite a drop in youth population in 2007, the Richard report shows that overall, roughly 1,000 more young people were working throughout the province.

That pushed the youth employment rate up 1.4 percentage points to a record level of 58.3 per cent. At the same time, with about 1,300 fewer young New Brunswickers looking for work, the youth unemployment rate dropped 1.9 points to 11.8 per cent in 2007, the lowest level ever recorded, Richard's report indicates.

Getting healthier

Richard's statistics also point out the various areas where New Brunswick is lagging behind the rest of Canada.

For example, the province's two per cent increase in births between 2005 and 2006 was well below the national rate of 3.6 per cent. New Brunswick is also known as having some of the highest obesity levels in the country. 

The report's section on substance abuse shows a trend in a healthier direction, however. The number of students in Grades 7 to 12 who experimented with alcohol dropped to 50 per cent in 2007 from 55.6 per cent in 1998. During the same period, the number of youth trying cannabis dropped to 25.1 per cent from 30.6 per cent and cigarettes, 12.4 per cent from 32.2 per cent.

Overall, Richard gave the province a C-plus on health issues.

"Reduced alcohol and drug use and a reduced teen pregnancy rate are very encouraging. Keep up this great effort and try to reach the same results with nutrition, obesity rates and mental health services," his report card says.

The report has some critical words over the depth of statistics available from the Department of Education. When the child and youth advocate looked at the reasons behind the province's dropout rate, he found a void of data impacting his ability to find out why some kids are no longer in school.

"We have annual dropout rates, but we need better reporting on when, where and why kids are dropping out," the report says. "A number of children and youth who we have met in the course of child and youth advocate investigations have suggested that they want in to the educational system, but that the system has dropped them.

"These are statistics we would prefer to not have to record, but we cannot afford to overlook or ignore such cases."

The report says 1,389 students dropped out from Grades 7 to 12 in the 2006-07 school year. The dropout rate for aboriginal youth in the same year was roughly six times higher, the report indicates.

Richard's report card also offers another look at the province's latest round of poor inter-jurisdiction test results. In 2006, the Canadian average in science on comparison tests was 535, while in New Brunswick anglophone schools scored 516 and francophone schools achieved 482. The same trend occurred in reading and math, where the province's results lagged well behind the national average.

Richard gave the province a B on its education policies, stressing the low test results need to be improved. However, the provincial government's record on post-secondary education issues was rated a C-minus, the lowest of any of the grades handed out by the child and youth advocate. Richard said the province must deal with "crushing student debt loads" to bring up its marks.