The State of Child Well-being and the Role of Natural Supports

Released in September 2020, the UNICEF Report Card 16 found that 1 in 4 Canadian children are not feeling supported by their families. It made clear that more needs to be done in policy and practice to help young people strengthen connections to family and extended networks of support, such as coaches and teachers.

As part of the Making the Shift In Conversation Webinar, Lisa Wolff (UNICEF Canada) and Justin Sage-Passant (Covenant House, Toronto) discussed how policy and early intervention programs, such as Family and Natural Supports (FNS), are crucial to promoting child well-being in Canada. This work is particularly important for efforts focused on youth homelessness prevention, as happier childhoods for all Canadians mean that youth have fewer stressors that may cause them to leave home.

The dialogue was facilitated by Alex Nelson, PhD Candidate, Western University and a member of the Scholars with Lived Experience (LivEx) Network.

Below is a summary of the key ideas that emerged during the conversation.

How can we improve Canada’s policies?

“It’s not because Canadian children and youth or their families are fundamentally different [than other countries], it’s because our public policies and our political paradigms are different. How we choose to take care of each other and spread fairness is different” — Lisa Wolff #ReportCard16 #WorldsApart @OneYouthCanada

Why, according to Report Card 16, might 1 in 4 Canadian children say they are not supported in their most immediate relationships: their families? Lisa focused on the structural factors that are fracturing relationships and stressing families, suggesting this troubling indicator is influenced by income inequality and the lack of inclusive economic policies in Canada. The Report Card found Canada spends 30% less on policies that directly support families with children than the top performing countries in child well-being. Lisa explains in this clip why policies that address income inequality and social cohesion are important, and how Canada can do better (2m).

What can practitioners do about the state of Canadian child well-being?

“We know that the breakdown of relationships with the family of origin is the main driver for young people entering into homelessness” — Justin Sage Passant, Covenant House

To address some of these challenges at the individual and family level, Justin Sage-Passant, Coordinator of the Family and Natural Supports (FNS) program at Covenant House Toronto, describes the early intervention model that his team developed as part of the Making The Shift Demonstration Projects. He argues that services must appreciate young people’s need to belong “with the same urgency that we meet the needs of food, warmth, and shelter.” The Toronto FNS program provides youth, families, and other support people with family and individual counselling, coaching and skill-building, and systems navigation support, such as going to doctor’s appointments, help getting government-issued identification, getting financial or legal aid, etc. Prior to designing and launching the program, Covenant House Toronto conducted consultations with youth and families about what it’s like being homeless, how they view relationships, and what they would like the program to do. In this clip Justin describes how youth responded in the consultations, and shares more about the Toronto FNS Program (2 m).

It’s clear that more needs to be done for Canadian youth, their families, and their communities. Watch the full webinar at the top to learn more about the state of child well-being and the Toronto Family and Natural Supports program.