The Ontario election will determine the future of children’s mental health

Historic accounts of this pandemic will make one thing very apparent: the way we failed and relegated the interests of children sowed the seed for generational trauma.

As a professor in post-secondary education and a father of three children in elementary school, I’m witnessing the damage at both ends of the K-12 system, simultaneously. This includes an alarming disorientation and apathy, and a nebulous interpretation of their future.

I talk to many parents and the narrative bears a common thread. Children are terrified of life. They exhibit escalated social and separation anxiety, an inability to sleep alone, be in a room alone, and even move from one floor to another without supervision.

Children have consistently remained the least likely strata of society in danger of catching COVID and have paid the highest price for adult welfare. If the situation were reversed, would we have sacrificed two years for them?

Children have never had a voice during the pandemic and parental advocacy was eclipsed by the crisis in hospitals and long-term care. When schools reopened under public pressure, overzealous school boards terrified teachers and students with Orwellian procedures that transformed schools into confinement facilities.

Students were herded in and out, kept apart, forced to follow lines on floors and walls and read a plethora of command signs, eat lunch alone and were branded as a primary source of transmission.

In a few weeks, Ontario will take the vote to renew or change our government. Yet, no party is offering a resolute commitment to repair widespread learning loss and damage to children’s mental and social health caused by constant school closures. They all seem compliant to continue counseling from senior physicians. But this should also include front-line pediatricians and child psychiatrists, mostly ignored, treating children for self-harm and suicidal ideation.

There are some laudable campaign pledges to shore up health care, repair school buildings, cap class sizes, hire teachers, and make mental health support for children more accessible. However, online learning is still on the table as is the spectrum of masks returning to schools.

And no one has emphatically stated that school closures will not happen again.

The fact that people are still saying children are resilient is the reason they don’t have any resilience left. The kids I’m teaching, coming out of the school system, are a hot mess in need of academic accommodation and emotional triage. Their resilience is largely predicated on intervention.

If we fail to protect the interests of children and youth once again, they will grow up angry and resentful with a generational trauma that could devastate our health-care and economy 10 to 15 years from now.

Ironically, this would mirror our present situation but with a key difference. This time, we couldn’t blame it on a virus.

Andrew Dias is a professor of English and communications and father of three school-aged children in Mississauga.


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