Do you have fond childhood memories of hours spent outside playing with neighbourhood kids? Running around, climbing trees, or playing games, free from adult supervision? Snacking on milk and cookies or a home-cooked meal when you got home from school?
As vivid as these memories may be, they are no longer the reality for many Canadian families. Young families today face heavy time and financial pressures. And their plummeting levels of physical activity and healthy eating may lead to considerable risks for all of us in coming years.
Research shows that the environment in which we spend our earliest years forms the foundation for a healthy life. But providing that foundation is becoming more challenging, given the increasing need for both parents to work, the lack of nearby family supports, and the growing culture of fear that keeps children indoors. Seniors and CARP members seem to know this intuitively, as many have spent countless hours supporting their own children and grandchildren.
We’ve often heard that it takes a village to raise a child, and seniors play a role in many of those villages – often helping with childcare, meal preparation, housing, and direct financial support. But with families moving around so much and neighbourhood structures changing, many children don’t have those villages anymore. So we’re left asking ourselves: what else can we do to support young families these days?
To start, let’s shift our thinking about what infrastructure investment means. Roads and bridges are important, but it’s investing in human infrastructure, notably innovative and resilient young minds, that will make our country successful in the 21st century.
The human brain goes through an astounding period of development in the first few years of life that we simply cannot afford to miss. An investment in children today will pay dividends for our society and economy in the 21st century.
Because today’s children are tomorrow’s doctors, nurses, leaders, and decision-makers, we need to direct resources toward programs that support young families and give children the best possible start in life. Such investments can start children on the right trajectory, reducing healthcare and social costs. Support for early child development provides a strong return on investment over the course of a person’s lifetime, meaning there will be more funding available for other priorities like home care and retirement income security.
Supporting our youngest citizens will help them to become fully participating and productive members of society, boosting the nation’s wealth and generating resources for all Canadians.
We need to consider the roles each of us can play in ensuring the health and happiness of the next generations of Canadians. The time to act is now.
Christopher Mackie, MD, is the Medical Officer of Health and Chief Executive Officer of the Middlesex-London Health Unit.