Between Alberta’s economic downturn and the Fort McMurray wildfires, Edmonton’s Food Bank was pushed to the limit in 2016. The organization bolstered staff and volunteers and purchased trucks to meet the needs of thousands of hungry families.
Four years later, the demand remains but this time staff members and volunteers are pacing themselves — out of necessity.
“We like to refer to our Fort McMurray wildfires as a sprint.
“The COVID-19 will be our marathon as an organization,” said Tamisan Bencz-Knight, spokesperson for Edmonton’s Food Bank.
More Canadians are in need of food support, according to Statistics Canada.
This spring, 14.6 per cent of Canadians reported their household experienced food insecurity in the past 30 days compared to 8.7 per cent in 2017/2018.
In its new report, Raising Canada 2020: Ringing the Alarm for Canada’s Children, Children First Canada cites food insecurity as just one of numerous ways the COVID-19 pandemic is hurting children across the country.
Mental health concerns
“All of the things we were worried about are coming to fruition and have been confirmed in this new report,” said Sara Austin, founder and CEO of Children First Canada.
“There are many deeply disturbing statistics in this report but what jumped out at me — not only as an advocate for children but also as a mother of a young boy — is mental health concerns for children.”
The report highlights Statistics Canada data showing suicide is now the leading cause of death for children between 10 and 14 years old.
Sheher-Bano Ahmed, an 18-year-old Neuroscience student, can attest to the pandemic’s impact on her mental health. Due to COVID-19, she’s lost scholarship opportunities and work hours, both of which are affecting her ability to save for university.
“Often times when I’m feeling anxious… I try to control everything else in my life… having a complete list of all of my activities for the next two to three hours,” Ahmed said.
“Or sometimes it will go the complete other way where I’ll just not do anything for an entire day just because it doesn’t feel like it will matter.”
Child abuse and exploitation
The report also indicates Kids Help Phone is reporting an increase in conversations about physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
“Children have been in lockdown for six months now without access to trusted adults outside of their home.
“We do believe that when children are back in school, we are going to see some pretty grave statistics and we need to be prepared and ready to be able to meet those needs urgently,” Austin said.
“We know that when children are at risk, the sooner they receive help, the better off they are going to be.”
The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters is worried about how domestic violence is affecting children.
When the pandemic first arrived in Canada, the organization began to see a spike in single women visiting shelters. Now, there are more women seeking help with children in tow.
“This is of great concern because we know that toxic stress such as that experienced in family violence situations can have a significant effect on the developing brains of young children that lasts for a lifetime,” said the council’s executive director Jan Reimer in a statement.
“If not mediated by responsive caring adults, toxic stress can be built into the child’s developing brain, weakening its functions and leading to physical and mental health issues.”
Children First Canada lists systemic racism and discrimination, poverty and declining immunization rates as other threats to children’s well-being.
Children First Canada is calling on the federal government to create a national strategy to deal with the threats, a budget specific to Canadian children, and a commissioner for children and youth.
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