Keeping children at the forefront of Canada’s response to COVID-19

A statement from the the Dallaire Initiative on keeping children at the forefront of Canada’s response to COVID-19 | March 2020

We are reaching out today to communicate with our friends, supporters, partners, and community with a plea to keep children front and centre during this unprecedented and troubling time.

Many messages have been sent in the past few weeks helping us understand what we as individuals must do to protect ourselves and our families from the spread COVID-19. As an organization, we have adhered to and aligned with global and local guidance to protect our staff and their families. However, our collective responsibility toward the vulnerable children around the world remains critical, especially at times like these.

We continue to think of the children – many of whom are facing new challenges. The implications of these challenges should not be overlooked: potential for increased exposure to domestic abuse; children being orphaned by parents who succumb to COVID-19; increased instances of teen pregnancy and school drop-outs; and, less obvious, increased screen time and the risk of exploitation for online recruitment into violence, just to name a few. As PM Trudeau stated yesterday, “For far too many people, home is not a safe place to be and some have no place to go. Tough times fall the hardest on the most vulnerable”. Other more localized crises have shown how children’s vulnerabilities increase in times of emergency, and we anticipate that will apply on a larger scale in this pandemic.

So we ask today, how do children fit into our planning for a public health crisis? How are we preparing for the unique vulnerabilities of children and youth? How are Canadian law enforcement officers preparing to protect children and youth? Even for those children where home is a safe place to be, the Dallaire Initiative understands that children and youth have an underdeveloped sense of risk and long- term consequences until they reach their early 20s and may not truly understand all the risks of the pandemic. We believe this is the moment to start broadening the conversation, and to consider the wider societal impacts that need our attention in order to reduce the long-term effects of COVID-19.

At this time, based on years of working with children and the security sector in complex contexts, the Dallaire Initiative continues to provide guidance and scenarios that may help. We are continuing our important research work, planning for our operations post COVID-19, analyzing the impact of our training and programming to date in our countries of focus, and refining our pedagogical tools and processes. We hope to use this opportunity to augment our Building Connections Project in Canada and distance learning offerings that both can assist communities and those in law enforcement to enhance their understanding of children and at-risk youth during this time. Moreover, we believe that understanding the mental health considerations of these front-line personnel is also critical to the protection of children’s rights and our ability to thrive post-COVID-19.

Now is not the time for us to lose focus on the prioritization of children’s rights and their protection. In this globalized world, we will see the impacts of deep economic strain for years to come due to COVID- 19, which will serve to increase the vulnerability of children on numerous fronts. Children are too often burdened by these impacts yet are rarely considered in the solutions. The Dallaire Initiative understands that your support for our work will be even more crucial to building a world where the recruitment and use of children into violence becomes “unthinkable” if we are to achieve global peace and security.

We wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all for your continued support and encouragement of the Dallaire Initiative – with your help we will progressively end the recruitment and use of children into violence.

We wish you continued health and peace.

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