Do we really know how well our children are doing?

Father and daughter hugging

New study finds important gaps in health data for Ontario’s children and youth

March 9, 2017 - Researchers from Ontario public health units have identified important gaps in health data for Ontario’s school age children and youth. The findings are the result of a year-long research project examining the need for quality data to monitor the health of children and youth in the province of Ontario. The study was funded by Public Health Ontario as part of the Locally Driven Collaborative Projects (LDCP) program, and organized by public health professionals and other experts in the area of child and youth health assessment. Today they have released their findings in a final report called Children Count.

“In order to support good health and positive well-being, local programs and services are needed that focus on the needs of children and youth,” said Sophia Wenzel, health promotion planner at the Thunder Bay District Health Unit and LDCP project participant. “It is important to know that the programs and services we are providing will make a difference in the lives of our school age children and youth, and you can only know that if you have good quality data to use for evidence.”

Unlike some Canadian provinces and other developed nations, Ontario currently lacks a coordinated surveillance system for child and youth health. The Children Count report examined this issue through a comprehensive survey with Ontario public health units and key informant interviews with provincial leaders representing education, academic institutions and government. The study revealed that, of the Ontario public health units that responded, 94% indicated that at the local level, the data that is currently available does not meet their needs for assessment, planning and evaluation of health programs for children and youth. The education, government and academia key informants echoed the need for high quality data on child and youth health, which could be used within a number of sectors. With better collaboration and a coordinated system to gain this data it would help lessen the duplication of efforts, resource strain and higher expenditures while ensuring that schools are not being flooded with surveys. To address the gaps and barriers to collecting meaningful data, the Children Count report identifies four key recommendations to improve monitoring the health of school-age children and youth:

  1. Establish a Provincial Task Force
  2. Advocate for Children and Youth
  3. Support Multi-Sectoral Collaboration
  4. Strengthen and Coordinate Existing Surveillance Systems

Implementation of the recommendations will better enable the effective measurement of local health programs for children and youth and the delivery of evidence-based programming that is focussed on improving the health of Ontario’s youngest citizens and creating a positive path for their future health.

It is strongly recommended first that a provincial task force be established as soon as possible to identify next steps for improving how Ontario monitors the health and well-being of children and youth, and to ensure that the remaining recommendations translate into action so that this gap is filled. With proper data at the local level it will allow us to really know how well our children and youth in Thunder Bay and District are doing.

Quick Facts

  • The study examined the gaps and challenges encountered by professionals and decision-makers due to the lack of a systematic approach to monitor child and youth health in Ontario.
  • The study gathered input from 377 public health professionals from
    34 public health units in Ontario, and 11 experts from government, education, and academia provided in-depth interviews.
  • The current system of health data for Ontario children and youth limits the responsiveness of public health programs to meet local health needs.
  • There is little data on mental health, physical activity, and healthy eating of Ontario children and youth, which hinders planning and implementation of appropriate public health programs and services.
  • Schools are inundated with surveys, overburdening teachers and students. Coordination is imperative; ideally a standardized universal system for measurement.
  • This research focussed on the need to measure the health of children and youth.  It did not focus on educational accomplishments, such as measured by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) tests, or readiness to learn, such as measured by the Early Development Instrument (EDI).
  • Investing in a coordinated and sustainable system for monitoring child and youth health and well-being would benefit stakeholders across multiple sectors, and improve the ability to meet the health needs of children and youth through well planned and measured programs and services.

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