Youth & Early Years
Council should rightly focus on long-term sustainability. And that has to include a strong focus on kids. Child poverty is at an alarmingly high level in CBRM (roughly 20-25%). When kids fall behind, it can be very hard for them to catch up. And as long as our kids are falling behind, our communities will always be at a disadvantage. That’s our future right there.
I’ve been wrestling with the idea of how local government can deal with these and other big picture issues. After all, we’re not in a position to throw money at the problem, or pass legislation at the provincial or federal level. We don’t have what CBU political scientist Tom Urbaniak calls “hard power.”
But we do have “soft power.” Municipalities have access to data, information, resources, and expertise. And council wields “convener status”, which it can use to bring the senior levels of government to the table — to meet with representatives from the community, young people themselves, and organizations already working on youth issues. Together we can address the needs of kids and their families.
Early Years (0-4 year olds)
With the help of this network, council should work to develop and strengthen existing supports for early childhood development.
For families struggling to make ends meet, affordable child care can mean the difference between getting by and falling through the cracks. Especially when, in Cape Breton, a common snow day can result in lost wages for a working family.
But it’s not just about babysitting, which is a service more for parents than for kids. Early Years programming is about helping kids become confident, secure, responsible individuals, and celebrating childhood along the way.
And the case to government is clear: research shows that investment in the early years results in — forgive the technocratic term — improved “outcomes”. Meaning that while creating a nurturing environment for children and their families is an end in itself, it also comes with a very real Return On Investment, namely a reduction in costs later in life related to health, crime, employability, addictions, and poverty.
Kids & Teens (5-15)
No need to reinvent the wheel: the Whitney Pier Youth Club is consistently pointed to as a model of success. Council should find ways to replicate that success in other neighbourhoods and communities.
Both Cecil Clarke and Rankin MacSween have recommended creating a Mayor’s Advisory Council on the Economy. There are just as many issues affecting young people and their families as there are issues around the economy — and many are interconnected. Council should create a Youth Advisory Committee, made up of people who work with kids, CBRM recreation, police services, and — the real experts — young people themselves!
Tackling these issues isn’t supposed to be easy. But identifying and building on our successes and potential, and involving youth in the process, is a good start. It’s ambitious, necessary, and possible.