Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak in favour of Motion No. 261 as proposed by my hon. colleague for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
I am also pleased to hear of the support for this motion from other parties. As has been stated many times, this is not an issue that needs to attract political sensitivities. It is unfortunate that members of the Bloc appear to be attempting to characterize this proposal in that fashion.
They referred to encroachment into the area of provincial jurisdiction. They have tied this motion into the Canadian unity debate. That is quite a stretch for the imagination. It may be an example of paranoia, whereby the separatists now see every issue as an attempt to attack Quebec. This motion should and must be solely seen as an attempt to address problems experienced throughout our society. It affects all Canadians.
As to the issue of provincial jurisdiction, I would first like to point out that the motion includes the words “develop, along with their provincial counterparts, a comprehensive National Head Start Program for children in their first 8 years of life”.
Just as with health and education, the federal government has an acute interest in the proper development of our children. As well, the primary purpose of this motion is to provide a good start for our children. Extensive studies have shown that the first eight years of life are critical in an individual's development.
Inadequate attention and nurturing for our youngsters can often lead to subsequent developmental difficulties. With a poor start children may often wind up on the wrong side of the law. Since the federal government has a significant stake in the area of criminal law, together with our institutions of the police, the courts, the prisons and the parole system, there may well be a sufficient argument toward federal jurisdiction merely on the basis of criminal law. After all, the federal government should be interested in any opportunity which results in such successful crime prevention whereby a dollar spent on providing a good head start results in the saving of many dollars down the road through decreases in our criminal statistics. But as I said, this motion only proposes the development of the program along with the provinces.
The government has already implemented head start programs among our aboriginal communities. They have been primarily limited to reserves, but both aboriginal people living off reserve and non-aboriginal people are also in need of such programs.
This government's own National Crime Prevention Council has been very supportive of a national head start program. In its 1996 report at page 2 of the executive summary it states:
There is ample evidence that well-designed social development programs can prevent crime and be cost-effective. Rigorous evaluations, mainly American, show that crime prevention through social development pays handsome dividends. In almost 30 years of participant follow-up the Perry Preschool Program in Michigan has been shown to be responsible for very significantly reducing juvenile and adult crime.
This motion proposes that the government explore models based on the Perry Preschool Program, among others.
The Secretary of State for Children and Youth has already spoken to this motion. She commented on how successful the aboriginal head start program has been. She pointed out that funding had doubled due to its benefits. She encouraged further expansion to include the protection of all our children and to assist needy parents toward proper nurturing and caring of the next generation of our society. This motion is on all fours with the secretary of state's comments.
Additional comments have been made in this place about how a national head start program can be a head start on the prevention of crime, about how it is like a registered retirement savings plan. Invest a dollar today to reap many more dollars in the future.
The Minister of Finance should be the first to climb on board and support programs of this nature. He should not concern himself solely with attempting to solve the problems of the present, but should plan ahead. By spending money today as an investment in our children he can save much more in the future through decreased health costs, crime costs and societal costs.
The Minister of Health knows that well fed, well adjusted children from sound families lead much more healthier lives. The Minister of Justice knows that this type of child is much less likely to come before our justice system. The Solicitor General will be very pleased to see less strain on his limited prison and parole resources.
A couple of years ago the Minister of Finance recognized that an investment in our children today would keep them out of jail in 20 years. He said that caring for children should be Canada's number one priority. This motion encourages him to do just that.
I note that recently the province of Ontario provided $10 million to fund a home visiting program for new mothers. It is known as Healthy Babies, Healthy Children. Hospitals will screen all new mothers to identify babies and families who may need extra support and services. It is to provide high risk families with the parenting help needed and to avoid child abuse and neglect. But already health authorities are saying the funding is not enough.
Everyone appears to be on side as far as need and as far as applicability. But, with all due respect, there is a definite requirement for federal involvement. Pooling of resources will reduce costs of implementation. Ideas and successes can be shared. National standards will ensure children from all parts of this country receive necessary assistance and protection.
Canada has come under criticism by the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime. It has been pointed out that Belgium, with a population of 10 million, spends $140 million a year on crime prevention. Canada, with nearly three times the population, spends only $10 million.
Crime costs Canadians approximately $46 billion a year. So far caring for children through crime prevention measures, as proposed by this motion, has not become our number one priority.
Back in August 1996 the former minister of justice commented about the justice system and how the harm has already been done by the time people come before the courts. He stated “We must do more than deal with the symptoms of the problem. We must go to the source”.
Programs as proposed by this motion go to the source. In 1996 the Child Welfare League of Canada argued the need to create a comprehensive and permanent universal program cross Canada to address funding for early intervention measures to assist our children. Sandra Scarth, executive director of this organization, in meetings with the former justice minister and solicitor general pointed out the necessity to identify mothers and children who are likely to be in difficulty and who need regular intensive support from birth until school entry.
Some of the facts presented were:
Child maltreatment in Canada is estimated at one in five.
There are 40,000 Canadian children in substitute care, such as foster homes and group homes.
Child welfare authorities are monitoring nearly 200,000 children who may be in unsatisfactory and unacceptable positions in their homes.
One sex offender in three suffered some kind of sexual trauma as a child.
Eighty per cent of female prisoners were physically and/or sexually abused as children.
The risk of drug abuse is seven times as high for children who have been sexually abused as for children who have not, and the risk of suicide is 10 times as high.
The biggest factors in whether a parent will abuse a child are childhood experiences, social isolation and physical or developmental problems with the child.
Surely facts and figures such as these should be enough for all of us to address how we can better provide for a proper good start for our children. They are the most defenceless and least protected members of our society. This motion is a good start toward addressing some of the inadequacies toward these children. We will all benefit from the further developments as proposed by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
There is much demand across this country, and rightly so, to strengthen the Young Offenders Act, especially as it relates to violent crime. Would it not be nice if we were able to head off the problems before they entered the realm of criminality? Would it not be nice if we never had to invoke the Young Offenders Act or the Criminal Code in the first place? Of course we know that such a state is unattainable. It would be Utopian, but perhaps this House could move the country one small step closer by supporting this motion.
I urge my colleagues in this place to give it careful consideration.