Headstart is one of the few early-intervention programs in Canada designed to help neglected, disadvantaged, and often abused children by focussing plenty of attention on their parents. The four-day-a-week program was started in Moncton, New Brunswick with the idea that the best way to help kids in the long run is to help their parents. For the kids there are various activities, from story time to brushing their teeth, and nutritious meals. For the parents there is group and individual counselling, support, literacy classes, cooking school, and a sense of community. They learn appropriate disciplinary action, nutrition, hygiene, and the importance of structure and routine in a child’s life. They have mandatory evening courses and group sessions to talk about their problems, and they must attend 75% of the meetings to stay in the program. Parents who find work or go back to school sometimes move to one of the 12 houses Headstart rents to families that are trying to break the cycle of poverty. As one single parent — the only one among her siblings who is not on social assistance – said, “It was like the family I never had.”
About 95% of the parents who take their children to the Moncton Headstart program have experienced physical or sexual abuse themselves, and some have few life skills.
An Alberta report which also found that its children had too few services, said the problem was a result of insufficient funding. The shortage of money was particularly bad for programs for preschool children and their families despite the fact that early spending results in later savings. According to the 1999 preliminary report: “The research consistently points out that the `best return’ on the investment of public dollars for children at risk is yielded by services that help children before the onset of significant antisocial behaviours.” At the time, the government had almost no programs for preschool children and ministries placed a tow priority on prevention services. There also were few programs for adolescents with mental problems or in foster care.
AWAY FROM HOME
It’s probably never crossed the minds of most parents or teenagers that foreign exchange trips could be unsafe. In 1998, two British police officers uncovered more than 500 cases of sexual and physical abuse of international exchange students. They found everything from a host family feeding their exchange student nothing but bread and jam to cases where convicted pedophiles host exchange students so they can have free and easy access to children.
Only three of the 500 cases ever reported the problems to the police. One of the officers said: “Because of the distance from home, the strange environment, and the difficulty reporting abuse to begin with, these abuses can be on without anyone knowing.”
The 245 social workers at Toronto’s Children’s Aid Society worked with almost 23,000 kids in 1998 – 3,321 of them in care.
In October 2000, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that social workers don’t need a legal warrant to seize children they think are in danger.
In a national vote on what they see as their most important rights, Canadian elementary and secondary students chose the right to a family as Number One, followed by food and shelter, health, education, rest and play, protection from harm, non-discrimination, sharing opinions, name and nationality, and own culture.