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Evidence of meeting #36 for Status of Women in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was work.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond  Representative, British Columbia, Representative for Children and Youth
Jennifer Flanagan  President and Chief Executive Officer, Actua
Claudia Mitchell  James McGill Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University
Jessica Danforth  Executive Director, Native Youth Sexual Health Network

May 28th, 2012 / 3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Good afternoon, everyone. I hope you all had a good week in your ridings.

Welcome to the 36th hearing of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. We are going to spend the first 20 minutes on committee business and afterwards we will resume our study on improving economic prospects for Canadian girls. We will begin with the work of the committee.

Ms. Truppe, is there something you wish to say?

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe Conservative London North Centre, ON

Madam Chair, since we're discussing committee business, we should probably be in camera.

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Ms. Truppe moves that we continue the meeting in camera. Is anyone opposed to the motion?

Ms. Ashton, you have the floor.

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

I am not in favour. Our discussions on committee business are not always conducted in camera. I don't see why that should be the case today.

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

We will hold the vote.

Ms. Sgro, you have the floor.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

If I could just as, is there anything we're going to be talking about that's confidential, such that we need to go in camera? Otherwise, if it's routine business, I don't think we have to.

3:30 p.m.

An hon. member

Point of order—

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

There will not be any debate. We will have the vote immediately.

I now give the floor to Ms. Truppe, who will be followed by Mr. Albas.

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe Conservative London North Centre, ON

I was just going to say that it was non-debatable.

Thank you.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

I'd like a recorded vote, Madam Chair.

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Ms. Sgro has asked for a recorded division.

(Motion agreed to: yeas 7, nays 4.)

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Ms. Truppe's motion is carried.

We are going to discuss the work of the committee in camera. I am going to suspend the hearing for 20 minutes.

[Proceedings continue in camera.]

3:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

We will now resume the public hearing.

Good afternoon. We are continuing our study on improving economic prospects for Canadian girls.

Today we will be hearing, live from Victoria by videoconference, Ms. Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, from Representative for Children and Youth, and Ms. Jennifer Flanagan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Actua.

I welcome you to our committee, and I thank you for having agreed to share your ideas with us.

We are going to begin with Ms. Turpel-Lafond, who will have 10 minutes at her disposal. Afterwards, Ms. Flanagan will also have 10 minutes. Afterwards, we will have a round of questions. I will conclude my remarks and let you make your presentation.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond, you have 10 minutes.

3:55 p.m.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond Representative, British Columbia, Representative for Children and Youth

Thank you very much.

I intend to make some brief opening remarks on the issue of the economic well-being of girls and women, particularly pertaining to my work as representative for children and youth.

In that role, I advocate and support children and youth up to the age of 19 in the province of British Columbia. In particular, I work with vulnerable populations of young people, such as children and youth in government care due to child welfare concerns. I work with young people with special and developmental needs, and also complex mental health needs.

I also work closely with aboriginal girls and women. I highlight that because these are populations of young girls and young women who have particular vulnerabilities, such as living outside the parental home and being highly susceptible to economic disadvantage, from having been raised in poverty or transitioning into adulthood in poverty.

I want to talk about some of the factors that I see in their lives that present some long-term challenges to their social and economic mobility and to their safety. I will touch on a few, and then of course be available to answer any questions, should you have any.

I have a few general statistics about that population. British Columbia had a child and youth population of about 900,000 in 2011, or about 20% of the province's total population. Of this child and youth population, about 13,000 to 15,000 of those young people live out of the parental home. Some of them are in state care. Some of them are living independently before the age of maturity. More than half of the children in care are aboriginal children in British Columbia, which is disproportionate compared to their percentage of the overall population.

As for the children who are aging out of the case system, young women in particular, about 4,000 children in the past three years were discharged from care. Every month in British Columbia, about 57 young people are discharged from care because they turn 19. Many of them are aboriginal youth, in particular young women. We have a very strong interest in their doing well when the state is the parent and being as successful as they would be if they were raised in a parental home.

As to some of the vulnerabilities of the population of young women we're talking about, poor and low educational attainment is a significant and ongoing concern. We see from our detailed studies of the educational outcomes of vulnerable children, such as aboriginal children, children in care, and young people living out of parental home, that they are not developing the same level of achievement in the public school system. They are not achieving grade four, grade seven, or high school with their peers. For example, aboriginal students generally perform 15% to 18% lower on the standardized foundational skills assessment in British Columbia. Grade four is the first level. In grade seven, their performance goes down. The performance in the high school mandatory examinations declines.

Although British Columbia has better aboriginal outcomes than many other provinces, we're still looking at only about 42% of the aboriginal girls in care who are graduating. That's a significant lag compared to, say, 83% of the girls who are not in state care.

Another broad factor that makes these young women and girls more vulnerable in terms of their economic and social mobility is the ongoing issue of poverty. British Columbia has the highest incidence of child poverty based on any measure, whether it be the market basket measure or other measures adopted by Statistics Canada.

There are about 100,000 children living in low-income homes in British Columbia. In particular, I focus again on the aboriginal population. By the most recent available data in B.C., 58% of lone-parent families headed by an aboriginal woman had an annual income of less than $20,000, and only 7% had an annual income of $50,000 or above. We see the grinding impacts of parental poverty on children and their lack of social inclusion, lack of support and progress with respect to school achievement, and also issues around their health and well-being.

Another area I will comment on is issues pertaining to violence, which affect the social and economic mobility of girls and women.

With regard to girls and women's exposure to domestic violence, I know that in a previous incarnation this committee did an extremely valuable report on aboriginal family violence that pointed out some concerns. Certainly in my role as a representative for children and youth, children who witness family violence are harmed by it as if they experienced it themselves, which places them at risk. It certainly doesn't mean that there is a one-to-one relationship between that and poverty and a poor outcome, but active measures to support their resilience and well-being to prevent violence, and the duty to support victims of violence, are very significant issues in our social service system. We see significant frailties there for aboriginal girls and women in particular.

Whether they're off reserve or on reserve, the system of support is not as strong. The criminal justice system is not necessarily as responsive. The social services and supports to girls and women are not adequate, and as a result they can experience significant disadvantage. In fact all girls and women exposed to domestic violence experience certain disadvantages, but I would point out aboriginal girls and women particularly.

In terms of other forms of violence and exploitation, certainly in my work as representative I'm very aware of the impact of sexualized violence and sexual exploitation of girls and women. In my role, I receive reports of children known to the Ministry of Children and Family Development in British Columbia where there is an allegation of a sexual assault. As a matter of course I receive these reports and investigate them, and periodically I do investigative or aggregate reports on them.

If I could give you a snapshot of the last fiscal year, I've received reports of 62 sexual assaults regarding youth. About 15% of all the reports that I receive are sexual assaults on girls. Of these, 90% were assaults on females—some were assaults on males, but 90% were on females—and 66% of them were aboriginal girls. Aboriginal girls and women are three or more times likely to be the victim of violence from a partner, and sexualized violence in particular.

This continues to be an area requiring deeper examination in terms the core relation between the harm inflicted and later well-being. Understanding the social and economic issues behind someone's vulnerability to violence and having coordinated responses and supports to boost their resilience are very significant.

The final point I will draw to your attention as we look at things like health, well-being, economics, and the social mobility of girls and women are some concerns that I see in my office around access to mental health support. Where there are girls and women who have experienced trauma through adverse childhood experiences, whether that's abuse, deep poverty and social exclusion or the presence of an underlying mental disorder apart from trauma-related disorders, the ability to access and receive adequate early mental health supports and general health supports is a significant factor.

It's not uncommon for me in my advocacy role to work with girls and women who do not have family physicians, do not have referrals to mental health supports and services, and who are therefore not participating fully in their community or developing fully as children should.

If we want to improve the economic prospects for Canadian girls and women, while the prospects are generally very good across the society, I think we need to pay particular attention to some deeply vulnerable groups of girls and women. We need to use the evidence we know is available to develop and innovate with more effective approaches in our social policy and community development approaches so that we can adequately engage and support girls and women so that they will have better outcomes.

I haven't spoken a lot about this, but I'd certainly be happy to do so in response to any questions.

Here I would note that we have the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.The processes pursuant to that convention have made some significant findings about Canada's progress in supporting vulnerable populations of women and girls, such as aboriginal girls and women.

We also have the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Mechanisms under that convention have also made some pointed references about Canada's ability to plan and respond to some of the deep inequalities for women and girls.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you very much for your presentation.

We will now continue with Ms. Flanagan.

You have 10 minutes.

4:05 p.m.

Jennifer Flanagan President and Chief Executive Officer, Actua

Thank you.

It's really my pleasure to be here. I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to address this committee on such an important topic.

My name is Jennifer Flanagan. I'm president and CEO of Actua. Actua is a national charitable organization that represents a network of 33 organizations located at universities and colleges across Canada. Together with our members, we're engaging 225,000 youth, ages six to 16, in 500 communities covering every province and territory. We engage them in interactive, hands-on science, engineering, and technology experiences, and that's what my comments will address as well. These include school workshops, year-round clubs, summer camps, and other community outreach initiatives.

Over the past two decades of offering programs, we've developed and refined a program delivery model that engages youth at an early age, before they make decisions about careers and futures and what is possible for them. From our years of formal research, we know that our programs are successful in influencing the attitudes and behaviours of youth toward future studies and careers in science, engineering, and technology. More broadly, and I think more importantly, we're playing a critical role in improving science and technology literacy among Canadian youth, which we know is key to full participation of the next generation of Canadians in all economic sectors.

Women, as we know, are still vastly under-represented in science, engineering, and technology. While there has been progress in some fields of science, such as health and medicine, women remain under-represented in many others, such as engineering, computer science, physics, and math. This is particularly evident in management roles in these sectors, which are traditionally higher paying and thus more important for improving the economic prospects of girls and women. This under-representation of women is also very evident in the trades.

With the considerable employment opportunities these fields will represent in the coming years, this under-representation is a significant issue for the future economic prosperity of girls. In addition, our country simply will not reach its full innovation potential without women equally represented at the table in these fields. To improve the economic success of girls, we must engage them and show them that there is a place for them in these critical fields. Strategies are needed now to narrow the gender gap in these areas. This will not only ensure economic independence among women and improve their economic prosperity but will also contribute to the development of a larger and more diverse workforce.

Actua's national girls program was developed in 1999 in response to a noted pattern of decline in the participation of girls in our camps across the country. We were also witnessing negative changes in girls' attitudes, confidence, and interest when they were transitioning from our junior programs, which engage them at around the grade four level, to our middle school programs, which engage them at around grades six and seven. This was particularly evident when working with more at-risk groups of girls.

Feedback from parents across the country also indicated that stereotypes were still preventing them from encouraging their daughters to consider futures in science, engineering, and technology.

Based on those observations, our experience, and our ongoing research into the lives and realities of girls, we developed an all-girls program model that provided girls with a safe, non-judgmental, and fun environment in which to explore, create, and interact with role models. Our programs, which include all-girl clubs and camps, are designed for girls to acquire critical life and employability skills, such as team-building, collaboration, problem-solving, critical thinking, financial literacy, and technical proficiency. I should also mention that we are focused within our girls program on engaging girls who have other economic and social challenges, particularly aboriginal girls. We have a significant focus on aboriginal youth across the country.

Our national girls program is designed, first and foremost, to increase the girls' self-confidence and self-efficacy, as we know that these are the most important predeterminants of future success. It also provides an early, positive experience at a university or college campus, which again is another key experience that will increase the likelihood of their considering post-secondary study in the future.

One of the most important findings from our early research was that although girls in our programs were increasing their knowledge and skill and interest in science and technology, we weren't changing their future intentions with regard to studying science and technology or considering them as future career options. The lack of female role models meant that although girls were interested in science, they were still not imagining themselves in these fields in the future.

We started a national girls mentorship program in response to that research finding in 2003. Girls in our programs now regularly interact with positive female role models with whom they can relate. We want the girls leaving our programs to know that their perspectives matter and that there's a place for them in science, engineering, and technology.

We also focus heavily on reinforcing among parents and caregivers the importance of encouraging girls to study math and science, and to view these as subjects that can open doors to many exciting career and life experiences, not just those in pure science.

The fulfilment of these objectives prepares young girls for the full exploration of their academic and professional potential as leaders in science, technology, and engineering studies and careers. This results in a significant contribution toward the empowerment of girls to achieve their full economic and financial independence.

Early engagement is absolutely key to this work. A lot of efforts to promote post-secondary studies and careers are focused on high school aged youth. Research has demonstrated, and we certainly find from personal experience, that this is too late for most girls. In fact research shows that girls decide very, very early on what they believe they can or can't do when they get older. They need to have experiences very early, in elementary school or before, that change these perceptions.

Based on our experience, our research, and the success we've had in engaging thousands of girls over the past two decades, we would make the following key recommendations to the committee.

First, we need to invest in science, technology, engineering, and math outreach programming designed to develop science literacy; and we need to engage, inspire, and influence girls to participate in these important fields of study. Specifically, support should be directed to programs that engage girls at an early age, before life-changing decisions regarding education and careers are made. These types of programs are playing a significant role in building resiliency and economic independence among girls and young women. This will also result in a significant overall contribution to economic prosperity and a much-needed boost to diversity and the job force.

Second, we need to provide financial support for mentorship programs designed to introduce young girls to inspirational women scientists and engineers who can share their stories and dispel the still existing stereotypes about what careers are the future for women in Canada.

Finally, we need to advocate for and support those who educate girls—the parents, caregivers, schools, community organizations, and the private sector—about the importance of supporting girls through informal education opportunities at an early age.

In summary, I hope that my remarks have underscored the importance of engaging girls in positive experiences that will allow them to imagine bright futures for themselves. Investments in these areas will narrow the gender gap, increase our labour force and, most importantly, achieve the committee's overall objective of improving the economic futures of girls and women.

Thank you.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you very much.

We will now move on to our question period.

Ms. Truppe, you have seven minutes.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe Conservative London North Centre, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I'd like to thank you both for being here today. It's very important to have your expertise here so we can conclude our study.

Madam Flanagan, I've actually never heard of Actua. It sounds like you've done a great job with the organization. All of the things that you do are amazing.

It's my understanding that the federal government supports some of your organization. Is that correct?

4:10 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Actua

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe Conservative London North Centre, ON

Which aspect, or how does this work?

4:10 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Actua

Jennifer Flanagan

We receive support through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. We also have a small grant through NSERC, and a grant through CIHR, to support the work we do to promote health and health research.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe Conservative London North Centre, ON

That's great.

How else do you fund the organization? Is it just by donations, or do you also have companies on board?

4:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Actua

Jennifer Flanagan

It's primarily through corporate partners who are investing in the work we're doing, so companies that have an interest in increasing the science and technology workforce.

Our biggest corporate funders are GE Canada and Suncor Energy Foundation.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe Conservative London North Centre, ON

That's good: GE Canada and Suncor.

I think you said you had 33 organizations. Is that correct?

4:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Actua