Okanagan College early childhood education students Esther Mak

CATCH marks national Child Day in Kelowna

Local group wants to see all individuals become advocates for children, not just specific organizations.

Kelowna’s Community Action Towards Children’s Health (CATCH) marked national Child Day Friday with a panel discussion and display that organizer Myrna Kalmakoff said she hoped would encourage all those who attended to go out and advocate in their own way for children.

CATCH, which did not release its annual State of The Child report this year because of a lack of data thanks to the former Conservative government killing the long-form census, works to make the lives of children in the area better.

At its event on Friday, about 200 people heard from a panel made up of community facilitator Menno Salverda, executive director of the Metis Community Services Society Kelly L’Hirondelle, Okanagan College professor and former federal NDP candidate Norah Bowman and city planner Michelle Cam about ways the public an be advocates for children in the community.

“We need to build the community and community decision-making processes,” said L’Hirondelle, who spoke about the challenges facing aboriginal youth when it comes to programs and how they are dealt with by social services.

He said 50 percent of children in provincial care are aboriginal but only four per cent of the general population is aboriginal.

Despite that concerning statistic and need for a lot of work to be done, he said there are good programs here and a key is to have young people be part of the decision-making when it comes to programs aimed at helping them.

“But it’s hard,” he said. “The reality in the aboriginal community is that we have to scream and shout  to get our voices heard.”

For Bowman, who said she heard a lot about the issue of children and how to care for them—from social services to education to daycare—as she talked to voters during the recent federal election campaign, the need for help for parents in looking after their children is different for different people.

“Everybody moves through the world differently,” she said, and that needs to be taken into account.

But having proper programs in place to help parents raise their kids is econimically good for both men and women, she added.

Part of the CATCH event included a project by first-year Okanagan College early childhood education students that looked the rights of children as articulated by the U.N.’s declaration of children’s rights.

The students were split into eight teams to work on an individual right and what is available in the Kelowna area, or the wider B.C. area, to support that right.

Instructor Betty Clelland said the exercise was important for the first-year students as it gave the a sense of what is available here and what is missing.

From a local perspective, Cam said the city has many plans and policies in place that address the needs of children, including its overarching Official Community Plan that addresses issues such as transportation, safety and land use, all issues that strive to improve the quality of life for all in the city.