It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way!

By Dr. Trevor Hancock in memory of Clyde Hertzman (March 24th 1953 – February 8th 2013)

Clyde was the Founder and Director of the Human Early Learning Project at UBC, a brilliant, vibrant and engaging man and a good friend. His work was of national and international importance and he is sorely missed both professionally and personally.

At the Celebration of Clyde’s life at the Chan Centre on Sunday March 17th, the incomparable Bob Evans summed up Clyde’s work in these seven words – “It doesn’t have to be this way!” I think the hundreds of people gathered to honour Clyde and celebrate his life recognized Clyde in these words and saw this as a wonderful summing up of a rich life. Clyde was passionately committed to making a difference in the lives of children and the health of the population, and to fighting injustice. His legacy must be our commitment to continue his work.

So at a time when we face an election in BC, we need to demand more than a rhetorical commitment from the contending parties to do something about child development, about the health and well being and level of potential of every child in BC. We need to demand a serious commitment, with serious resources, to implement the policies and programs that flow from Clyde’s life and work.

Here are some key points, taken from the HELP website:
“Key to reducing vulnerability in the early years is a universal platform of supports and services available to all children. This platform needs to be accompanied by additional targeted services for highly vulnerable children and children in low SES ranges or geographical areas. Key also is the elimination, as far as possible, of barriers to access.”

“. . . the standard of living has declined for the generation raising young kids today . . . Doubling of housing costs and stalling household incomes for adults who devote more time to the labour market than any previous generation, result in massive social and economic change. The generation raising kids today is squeezed for time at home; they are squeezed for income because of the cost of housing, and they are squeezed for services like child care that will help them balance successfully raising a family with earning a living. The generation raising young kids does not access its share of economic growth. UNICEF and the OECD rank Canada among the very worst industrialized countries when it comes to investing in families with preschool age children.”

“HELP’s research team has developed a comprehensive policy framework that is built on a foundation of scientific evidence about the importance of the early years. This framework includes three major policy thrusts: benefits for all new parents in the first 18 months of their child’s life; high quality, accessible child care services for all who need them; flexible working hours to allow parents to balance the demands of work and home life.”

In the 2009 report “15 by 15: A Comprehensive Policy Framework for Early Human Capital Investment in BC” HELP makes a number of recommendations for action in BC:

  • Build on maternity and parental leave to enrich the benefit value, and to extend the total duration from 12 to 18 months, reserving additional months for fathers.
  • Build on existing employment standards to support mothers and fathers with children over 18 months to work full-time for pay, but redefine full-time to accommodate shorter annual working hour norms without exacerbating gender inequalities in the labour market.
  • Build on income support policies to mitigate poverty among families with children.
  • Build on pregnancy, health and parenting supports to ensure monthly developmental monitoring opportunities for children from birth through age 18 months, as their parents are on leave.
  • Build on early education and care services to provide a seamless transition for families as the parental leave period ends in order to make quality services for children age 19 months to kindergarten affordable and available on a full- or part-time basis, as parents choose.

The report also points out that “Over a 60 year period, the benefits to society [of Implementing these changes] outweigh the costs by more than 6/1”. So we can best honour Clyde’s legacy by agreeing that indeed it doesn’t have to be the way it is now, by insisting that it can be this way instead, and that BC’s next government must fully implement these policies to improve the health, wellbeing and level of human development of ALL of BC’s children.

– Dr. Trevor Hancock is a Professor and Senior Scholar, School of Public Health and Social Policy, University of Victoria

Further Reading:

HELP Fact Sheets and Briefs:

HELP Maps:

15 by 15: A comprehensive policy framework for early human capital investment in BC | Human Early Learning Project | 2009