Children First Canada and its partners declared #codePINK in May 2021, urging Canada’s First Ministers to take immediate action to address the mental health crisis affecting children in Canada. Code Pink is the medical term used to indicate a pediatric emergency.
The requested call for action includes immediately planning the safe reopening of camps, parks, and other recreational facilities as quickly as possible, and planning now for a safe return to school in the Fall. There is also a push for government leaders to scale up virtual care programs, reduce backlogs for surgeries and rehabilitation, and invest in new models of mental health programs to meet the urgent and rising demands. The #codePINK movement has received extensive national and international attention:
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many deleterious impacts on children and youth. A recent poll commissioned by Inspiring Healthy Futures has found that:
No action has been taken thus far to support the future generation. Children First Canada is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Premiers to call off #codePINK by taking urgent action to ensure children receive immediate and sustained support for their mental and physical health.
To support the #codePINK movement and advocate for governmental responsibility for the health and safety of Canadian children, join the cause through social media. Draw a pink emergency cross on the palm of your hand, take a selfie while holding your hand up to the camera, and share this on social media, explaining why you are declaring #codePINK.
June is widely celebrated as Pride Month to raise awareness and celebrate gender and sexual diversity. Pride Month largely originated from the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Inn is a bar located in New York City which has served as a safe haven for the LGBTQ2S+ community since 1930 when “acts of homosexuality” were illegal in the majority of states and countries. On June 27, 1969, six undercover police officers entered the bar and began to arrest employees. During the early hours of June 28, a riot broke out from outrage for how the LGBTQ2S+ communities were being targeted and treated. Many similar practices were taking place in Canada around this time, sparking an uprising to advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ2S+ community, and beginning Pride Month celebrations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further reinforced existing social, economic, and health inequities within LGBTQ2S+ communities. Canada has a disproportionately high rate of LGBTQ2S+ children involved in child welfare. There are many ways you can show a child identity acceptance:
As Pride Month comes to an end, it is important to reflect that learning about terminology, policy, and how to properly support LGBTQ2S+ youth is an ongoing and year round commitment. It is okay to make mistakes and it is okay to ask questions while working to be a safe person and providing a safe space for youth.
June is celebrated as National Indigenous History Month, and June 21 as National Indigenous Peoples Day. National Indigenous History Month is utilized to learn about, acknowledge, and appreciate, the contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people. This time may be used to bring awareness to, remember, and honour: Indigenous cultural practices, MMIWG2S, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), Residential Schools along with their victims and survivors, and the history of Indigenous families and the child welfare system, in which there remains a high prevalence of Indigenous children in care to this date. Although in-person celebrations and events are limited during COVID-19, there are still many ways children can get involved in learning about Indigenous culture as well as colonialism:
The history of Indigenous peoples in Canada as well as Indigenous cultural practices should be remembered and taught to all Canadians, including young children. Before we can achieve reconciliation, we must have truth.
Having struggled with negative mental health herself, a Saskatchewan youth, Kiah Holness, is concerned about the impacts of COVID-19 on children and youth in primary and secondary schools. As a result of her personal experiences, and her future dreams of being a secondary teacher in this province, she has begun working to advocate for a shift in the understanding of mental health within the education system. Kiah is currently in the process of advocating for a shift in schools’ attendance procedures that would see excused mental health days within primary and secondary schools:
“… I want to give youth the tools and the strength to be able to identify and speak about mental health, and not feel shame when they need to take a day in order to serve their mental state … I am proposing a shift in school attendance policies in Saskatchewan. This shift would allow parents/guardians/caregivers to identify “mental health” as an excusable absence, rather than having to use the word “sick” when they call into schools to account for their child’s absence.”
Additionally, Kiah would like to see that schools, based on their resources and contexts, establish an appropriate monitoring system by which, after a certain number of mental health absences, school and community supports will be sought to support the student. The data will be monitored to proactively assess what individual and school-wide resources and interventions might be needed to best support not only students, but teachers, administrators, and school staff as well.
A third aspect of Kiah’s idea includes (where possible) “in-school” mental health days that could be granted at the discretion of, and in conjunction with, school personnel, and/or parents/guardians. Kiah believes that:
“sometimes when someone needs a mental health day, the worst thing is for them to be at home, alone. Also, for some students, home is a possible source of stress, anxiety, and trauma, and therefore being at home poses a safety risk. The idea of the in-school mental health day, while requiring contextual and logistical consideration, offers the possibility for students to have a mental health day but in a supervised environment”.
One of the benefits Kiah sees for this idea is that the data obtained from attendance records can support proactive interventions in the form of mental health professional development, resources, and support:
“So, for example, if there are 200 recorded mental health absences in a month at a particular school, or more broadly many in a particular district, that data can support the allocation of resources to better understand that particular context’s needs.”
“I worry deeply for our youth and all of the opportunities that this pandemic has taken away from them … I often think about what it must feel like for youth to be constantly readjusting in their routines and safety blankets; school in-person, remote learning, sports 6ft apart, no sports at all, seeing your friends one day and then not for six weeks. COVID has reminded me that at the end of the day, we must begin by attending to our, and others’ mental health and well-being”
Kiah recounts that the topic of mental health at school was rarely talked about, leaving many to feel that they were ‘surviving in silence’ and uninformed about the effects that their mental health was having on their brains and bodies.
“When I think back to when [negative mental health] was the most apparent to me, it was when I was in the school system 5 days a week. I think it was most apparent here because it was just another aspect of me, besides being a person of colour, that “othered” me … Mental health was rarely talked about in school, and if it was, it was spoken about as rare or only categorized with illnesses … It was never portrayed in a “common,” “relatable,” or destigmatized way. The truth was, and is, many students were suffering in silence from generalized anxiety and depression. I was one of these students who felt lost, but who also didn’t even know how to identify what was going on with me.”
“I think bringing this attendance policy shift into our schools is a concrete, and relatively simple way to show children and youth the commitment that their schools have to their mental health and well-being, and will ultimately save lives and reshape a future generation when it comes to this topic … It will emphasize that we are all in this together trying to navigate all of the feelings and emotions floating around in our brain, and that yes, even adults go through it and it is okay not to be okay – but what’s not okay is not doing anything about it.”
If you would like to learn more about this initiative, please contact:
Nathalie Reid: Nathalie.email@example.com
Kiah Holness: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Child and Family Programs service provider in Saskatchewan has provided us with their perspective on what it has been like to work with children and families during COVID-19. They stated that the COVID-19 restrictions have made visitation and trust building with children and families difficult to say the least.
“Virtual visitation sets back the relationship one can have with clients; the rapport in several cases has been lacking,” the service provider reported.
“Support services within the community are not readily available to support parents and children within their homes which has made it difficult to case plan. Visitation plans have also been a struggle during COVID restrictions as we must also follow household regulations and supports have not been able to supervise visits within the home or outside of the home at this time,” they added.
The service provider noted there is a continuous need to adapt practices and balance the best interests of the child, both physically and emotionally.
“On one hand, we are assessing the physical safety of the families we work with due to COVID health regulations. On the other hand, we are also assessing the emotional impact this may have on the families we work with as visitation has been less frequent due to closure of community visitation supports and household restrictions. Our work during this time has been a balancing act of both striving to keep families physically safe and to continue maintaining familial bonds/emotional strength,” they said.
Despite the hardships of supporting children and families during a global pandemic, the service provider noted that this has pushed their agency and other community supports to adapt their practices and be creative in finding new ways to work with families. They believe this will inevitably benefit their agency’s outlook on case planning, visitation, and managing support systems.
May 17-21, 2021 is Sexual Violence Awareness Week. This year’s theme will be “Champions for Children”, focusing on creating a culture of belief around child sexual abuse in Saskatchewan. The primary audience this year will be Community Caregivers. Community Caregivers are individuals from the community who care for children outside of the household, such as neighbours, family friends, day-care workers, teachers, coaches, etc. As COVID-19 has taken away many usual maltreatment disclosure spaces for children, supporting all extended community members to respond appropriately to sexual abuse disclosures is equally as important as supporting caregivers and service providers to respond appropriately.
The key messages of the campaign will focus on:
Children are more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone that they know, leaving many factors at play for why they may not disclose their assault, including the fear of not being believed. For more information on how to respond appropriately to children disclosing abuse, please visit our disclosure brief and poster resources.
To show your support for Sexual Violence Awareness Week, share your voice on social media to help foster a culture of belief around child sexual abuse while using the hashtags #SVAW2021 and #championsforchildren.
The research question we are seeking to address is:
What are the socio-emotional experiences of teachers, administrators, and professional school staff (TAPS) in the midst of school re-opening and throughout the 2020-2021 school year?
Would you like to share some of your experiences with Dr. Cranston and Dr. Reid as they undertake this research project?
Please consider participating in this survey by clicking TAKE SURVEY below:
Incidences of substance overdose have been increasing since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Saskatchewan Coroners Service Drug Toxicity report states that there have been a total of 439 confirmed or suspected drug toxicity deaths in Saskatchewan from January 1, 2020 – April 6, 2021*. One reason for this increase is the influx of dangerous ‘batches’ of street drugs and decrease in harm reduction services available. Advocates in Saskatoon are warning people who use drugs about one dangerous batch of drugs that appears to be pink crystal meth, but has been heavily laced with Fentanyl. One of the overdoses that took place connected to this batch of drugs occurred on April 14, when an individual visited the supervised consumption site at Prairie Harm Reduction (PHR) to use what they believed was crystal meth. This resulted in a painstaking effort to save a life, where staff administered chest compressions, oxygen, and 27 doses of Naloxone.
If you are a caregiver, service provider, friend, or family member of someone who uses substances, you are eligible for training and a take home Naloxone kit from many health authorities across Canada, including the Saskatchewan Health Authority and corresponding pharmacies. For more information on harm reduction strategies during COVID-19, please visit our resource: Harm Reduction Strategies.
SAVE ME Protocol to Respond to an Overdose:
*287 confirmed drug toxicity deaths from January 1, 2020 – April 6, 2021; 152 suspected drug toxicity deaths from January 1, 2020 – April 6, 2021.
A Victims Services responder in Saskatchewan has noted the challenges of working with clients during COVID-19, missing the face to face contact and experiencing screen fatigue.
“I do not feel as connected to my clients and files as I struggle to balance safety, restrictions, file tasks, rapport-building and client needs,” they reported.
The service provider is also concerned about the impact that COVID-19 is having on children and families in vulnerable situations.
“Violence has been underreported and seems to be escalating which also creates anxiety around what is happening behind closed doors, what will happen to children and how much [case] file loads will increase when kids start getting back into normal routines and have more access to safe adults and spaces.” they continued: “Additionally, [there is] less access to face to face counselling services, masking also makes children feel uneasy as they can’t read facial expressions. The collective anxiety and fear about everything that permeates society at this time also adds a layer of stress.”
COVID-19 has created barriers to service delivery for service providers. Although the pandemic has many negative consequences, this service provider recognizes the silver linings that many parents are cherishing additional time at home with their children, there is increased access to online services for those with access to technology, and that working from home occasionally can be a nice change.