Province must address social, educational exclusion of newcomers: Bossé

New Brunswick’s child and youth advocate is calling on the provincial government to take action so that immigrant youth can take part “meaningfully” in schools and communities.

Child advocate said high levels of social exclusion, bullying being reported by New Brunswick youth

Child and youth advocate Norm Bossé released his State of the Child report this week. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

New Brunswick's child and youth advocate is calling on the provincial government to take action so that immigrant youth can take part "meaningfully" in schools and communities.

Norm Bossé outlined in this year's State of the Child report high levels of social exclusion and bullying reported by New Brunswick youth, especially immigrant, minority and refugee children.

Those children are not on par with the average youth in the province in terms of education, sleep patterns and food security, Bossé told Information Morning Fredericton.

He said bullying and social exclusion remain persistent problems.

Despite anti-bullying policies employed in schools, he said one in two New Brunswick youth reported being bullied. The ratio is worse for immigrant, minority and refugee children.

"You can have all the policies you want," he said, noting it's difficult to monitor psychological bullying. "If children want to bully others, they can do it."

Norm Bosse is calling on the province to expand opportunities for immigrant youth to take part "meaningfully" in schools and communities. He also wants legislated protection of the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet languages. 12:29

Bossé also cited another recent report of his that described how young refugees and newcomers were being excluded and experienced racism in provincial schools from children and adults alike.

For example, he said one student from Syria couldn't speak English and would sit in class and have no idea what was going on.

"If we just ignore these students and say, 'You'd better work on it on your own,' while that may not be a direct form of bullying or intimidation, it is certainly excluding them from the norm," he said.

In those cases, the rights to have an education, to be included in society and practise their customs are being infringed upon, he said.

What needs to be done

Bossé said a dialogue is needed to understand these challenges and that conversation begins at home, in schools and at the government level.

"I think we have to have a better education program at all levels," he said. "I think it starts there, and I think we have to have conversations with the youth as well.

"That's what we're trying to do out of our office. We're trying to make sure that these conversations occur so that they can tell us what's happening."

If we know about it and we do nothing about it, then we're creating the problem.- Norm Bossé, child and youth advocate

The affected youth can also recommend solutions, he said. And what he's heard so far is the need for more sympathetic teachers and administrators.

"And we need the empathy of other children and youth in the schools — starting as early as kindergarten and Grade 1 because we have those minority youth in those classrooms, we have the First Nations kids in those classrooms, and we have to start at an early age," he said.

In the State of the Child report, Bossé recommended government support leadership programs and opportunities on an ongoing basis. Imagine NB, a leadership accelerator for immigrant youth, is an example of a program he believes is worthy of continued government support.

Bossé also called for expanded in-school language training and peer-to-peer mentoring for newcomers.

"If we know about it and we do nothing about it, then we're creating the problem," he said. 

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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