Canada is the 5th most prosperous nation, so why is it ranked 17th for children’s wellbeing and 27th for child health and safety? A group of influencers are teaming up through a new non-profit, Children First Canada, not just to answer that question, but to mobilize Canadians to improve the lives of children.
By Hailey Eisen
Canada is the fifth most prosperous nation in the world, but according to Sara Austin, founder of Children First Canada, we’re falling way behind when it comes to the protection and care of our children. “There is a big disconnect between what we perceive to be the case when it comes to the wellbeing of kids in Canada and what’s actually going on,” says Austin, a lifelong advocate for the rights of children internationally. “While we assume Canadian children are well cared and provided for, child poverty and suffering has reached epidemic levels in cities and towns across the country.”
Armed with this understanding, Sara recently stepped down from a senior leadership position with the President’s Office of World Vision Canada to found Children First Canada, motivated by a strong desire to put her extensive international experience to work closer to home. She saw an opportunity to unite existing children’s charities, kids hospitals, research centres, and corporations that donate to children’s causes, around a common vision and goal—to make Canada the best place in the world for kids to grow up. The organization’s mandate is simple: it will be a strong, independent voice for all of our country’s children.
With the official launch of Children First Canada this month, Sara is committed to building a national movement to engage Canadians and influence the government to drive positive change for Canada’s children. And, she has brought together an impressive group of leaders from Canada’s top charities, corporations, and media to help drive her mandate forward.
“I hope to leverage the collective strength and influence of these women and men to push the dial on an issue that absolutely requires our attention,” she says. “Children are our greatest asset, but those words are meaningless unless we build a concrete plan to improve the lives of our youngest citizens.”
That’s the very reason Kathleen (Katie) Taylor is lending her name and expertise to Children First. Most well-known for her title of first woman to lead the board of a major Canadian bank, Katie serves as the Chair of the Board of RBC and the Chair of Sick Kids Foundation. She believes children are the least advantaged when it comes to having a political voice or the ability to organize, and as such, it’s the responsibility of adults to advocate and act on their behalf. Katie was brought on board by Children First Canada to be part of their Council of Champions, a group of 20 influential and experienced leaders tasked with providing guidance on the strategic direction and key priorities for Children First, and to using their collective influence to drive change for Canada’s children.
“We are going to work to create a network of like-minded individuals across the country who can bring some semblance of organization and connection to the variety of children’s issues we face,” she explains. “These span from issues at birth that need to be dealt with through the acute care system, through to child poverty and access to facilities and quality education in early years. We know from the science that the first five years of life are the most critical to a healthy, happy, productive life—so there’s really no better place for us to be spending our time.”
“We are going to work to create a network of like-minded individuals across the country who can bring some semblance of organization and connection to the variety of children’s issues we face”
Marci Ien, Canadian broadcast journalist, former host of CTV’s Canada AM, and Guest Co-Host of CTV’s The Social, has also joined the Council of Champions, lending her influence and passion to a cause she’s dedicated most of her career to championing.
“I really do believe that a country is measured by how well it treats its kids—and we’re lacking sorely,” says Marci. “What I like about Children First Canada is we’re bringing so many other children’s groups and charities into the fold and working together.”
This collaborative effort will extend beyond adults to bring youth voices forward in the form of a Youth Ambassador Program, to empower kids with the knowledge and skills to advocate for themselves.
“I have seen, up close and personal, what giving kids the skills and the confidence they need—telling them they can—can do for them in later life. But it takes time,” says Marci. “We see these kids grow up to become teens and young adults, they become leaders—they can change the course of our country.”
Heading into Canada’s 150th year, it’s that change Sara Austin is working diligently to achieve. “I’m ready to harness the sense of goodwill and pride Canadians have for this country and transform it into real change for the children who need it the most.”
To lend your support to improve the lives of Canada’s children, take the pledge to put Children First: raise your hand to volunteer, raise your voice to spread awareness, and raise funds to help children’s charities.