What is the Problem that we deal with on Prince Edward Island
Family Violence - !n 1999 there were 57,971 “Child Care Days” where a child on PEI was in care. Children are taken into care when the family setting is deemed to be too risky for them to stay at home. Family violence is largely a product of people with poor coping skills reacting to stimuli that they cannot control. The costs in court time, protection, fostering are substantial for the state. The social costs to the family and to the child are incalculable. At the heart of the Best Start approach is a focus on establishing strong parental bonding. Research in other jurisdictions shows a dramatic difference in family violence as a result of this type of intervention.
Learning and Literacy - PEI spends on average $85,256 to graduate a child from high school. In spite of this investment, our schools are having growing difficulty with a group of children who find learning very difficult. The national percentage of those who find learning a challenge is between 20% and 30%. Boys are more vulnerable than girls. Boys who have only one female parent are most at risk. It is important to understand that this poor outcome is not the fault of the school system. This group of children enter the school system on their first day already severely prejudiced with profound learning and behavioural challenges. In spite of all the effort of dedicated teachers and social workers, most of this group will leave school without the attainment and skills to make a living in modern society. Poor social skills, an inability to listen and to comprehend, are the prerequisites of being able to learn. These skills are developed in the very early years of childhood. Much of the work of Best Start on focuses on opening up these learning pathways and setting children up to be the best that they can be.
Juvenile Crime - In 1999, there were 8,912 days spent in corrections on PEI by young men. Young men with low self-esteem and with no hope for a better future tend to commit most of our crime. Until recently, our response has been to invest more in the justice system. California spends more on prisons than on schools. The insights of the Early Years inform us that we can make a difference to juvenile crime by supporting the parents of young children. Self-esteem is a product of effective parenting and of warm family environments. This linkage is the reason for the support of the National Crime Prevention Centre for Best Start and their decision to invest in strategic prevention.
Teen Pregnancy - In 1999 on PEI there were 5,000 single parent families. Most of these, over 4,000, were headed by women and most of these were young women. As with boys who commit crime, the evidence suggests that teen pregnancy is often also a product of poor self-esteem. The costs of teen pregnancies are considerable both in direct terms of social support but also in human terms. In most cases there is a direct correlation between single parenthood and poverty. In many cases, the cycle of poor self-esteem continues into the next generation. The best time to work on esteem issues is in the early years and the best way to help a mother regain her own self-esteem is to help her become an excellent mother herself.
Employability - PEI persists in having one of the higher rates of unemployment in Canada. There are many causes for this complex situation but poor attainment at school and low employability are important drivers. People with a poor experience at school are most at risk. The 1996 census shows that 43% of adults on PEI had not graduated from high school. This compares to the national average of 34%. Again the only effective time to make a difference to this pattern is in the early years.
Smoking and Addiction - PEI is ranks second, at a rate of 33.6%, in Canada, with the highest rate of smokers who are aged between 15-24. Smoking drives a significant later burden of poor health, chronic illness and early death. PEI has the highest death rate from lung cancer in the nation. Research tells us that smoking is not as much an individual issue of will power but is a societal issue largely driven by environmental and control issues. Smoking is one of the significant factors in poor health that we can identify. Changing smoking habits is very difficult. As with all addiction, common sense and information have little impact on the addict’s ability to change powerful habits. Smoking is strongly linked to self-esteem and to place in the social order. So again the root for taking much effective action is in the early years where an intervention with parents and in the home has a chance of working.
Obesity and Diabetes - The establishment of good nutritional habits. One of the trends of modern society is obesity. Atlantic Canada and PEI have the dubious distinction of being the most obese part of Canada. In Canada, 29 per cent of boys are now overweight, almost double the 1981 rate of 15 per cent. Among girls, the rate rose to 24 per cent from 15 per cent in the same period. The number of children considered obese now tips the scales at 14 per cent for boys and 12 per cent for girls, almost triple the 1981 rate of 5 per cent. Poor nutrition is directly related to obesity which in turn drives a pathway for a significant series of health-related outcomes, such as diabetes and Coronary Heart Disease. There is no “cure” for the diseases of obesity and there is no adult way of sustaining a significant weight loss. We can however intervene at the foundation of obesity. How and what we eat at home as young children sets up exceptionally powerful lifetime habits. By 6 the pattern for eating and meals is set for life. If supported, parents can develop the skills and the habit off eating well when their children are young and so set a different pattern and a different pathway.
Utilization of the Health System - Healthcare costs are rising faster than our economy can afford. Health Canada warns that Canadian healthcare costs could double in the next 10 years. The large and aging population, the increasing costs of drugs and of new technologies will drive these costs. Most of the costs, particularly the geometric increase in the use of drugs, are driven by the heavy user. The profile of the heavy user includes the poorly educated, the poorly nourished, heavy smokers, the over-weight, the under-employed and those with poor social support systems. The expressions of poor health in this group tends to include, circulatory disorders, respiratory disorders, back pain and non-specific chronic pain. Obesity also is driving an epidemic of adult-onset diabetes which weakens the overall immune system opening up other avenues of health problems a high incidence of Coronary Heart Disease. None of these problems are easily and cheaply dealt with by the healthcare system. They tend to be chronic and require constant intervention The research informs us that this group became high risk as young children. Intervening in the early years gives us a chance to reduce the pool of heavy users.