Trend-lines for kids’ wellness raise concerns

Several indicators point to children in Ladysmith and the Cowichan Valley being at higher risk then kids elsewhere

Community organizations and the Vancouver Island Health Authority are concerned about several indicators that point to children in Ladysmith and the Cowichan Valley being at higher risk then kids elsewhere on the Island and in BC.

“I’ve spoken at several events with regards to some of these issues,” said Dr. Paul Hasselback, medical health officer with VIHA. “Clearly there’s a concern with overall health of children in Ladysmith.”

He was responding to requests for information from the Chronicle about four measures, which have come into the newsroom in the last  five months, that indicate children here may be facing greater health and social challenges than elsewhere:

• An Early Development Index, which measures five indicators of children’s readiness to enter elementary school, places Ladysmith children in the 40 per cent range, when it comes to the likelihood of them encountering problems as they move through the school system;

• Child Poverty Rates, provided by the FirstCall BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, point to the former Nanaimo-Cowichan federal riding as having the highest percentage of children living in poverty in B.C. at 28.2 per cent. (Hasselback questioned that figure – see farther into the story);

• VIHA’s own monitoring indicates children in Ladysmith are 62 per cent more likely to be admitted to hospital due to respiratory ailments than children elsewhere in B.C.; for the Cowichan Valley that figure jumps to 70 per cent (Hasselback said the Ladysmith figures were skewed, and should be adjusted to a 50 per cent higher rate over the last 10 years);

• Immunization rates against various diseases are significantly lower for children in the Central Island, including Ladysmith, compared to other areas of Vancouver Island and most of BC. For example, 68 per cent of children in the Central Island are immunized against the Polio virus – the provincial rate is 75 per cent; the South and North Island 77 per cent.

Perhaps the most worrisome and puzzling of the indicators is the Early Development Index.

While the FirstCall analysis concludes the Cowichan Valley is part of a former federal riding that had the highest measured child poverty rate in BC, that is not corroborated by VIHA’s figures, which put Ladysmith only slightly higher than the national and provincial rates.

The question then becomes: Why is Ladysmith’s EDI, which is usually associated with high poverty rates, more single parent families and other equity issues, the second highest on Vancouver Island?

“That is a puzzle we’d like to have an answer to,” Hasselback said. So would Ladysmith’s Early Years Table, a local group of service providers and agencies, which has been considering the issue.

“It would be good to see those numbers come down,” Hasselback said.

As for poverty, even if Ladysmith is closer to the national and provincial averages, is that good enough?

“No matter how you cut and paste this, one in five children under the age of six is living in poverty,” Hasselback said. “That’s not acceptable.”

As for the immunization rates, he said that is a long-standing problem in the Central Island health area.

“We certainly know that our immunization rates are lower here on the Central Island, and it’s been like that for some time.”

The anomaly is attributed to a portion of the Central Island’s population that “hasn’t fully embraced the idea of immunization,” Hasselback said, pointing out that as carriers children who have not been immunized present a risk to other children and adults in the community.

Although the indicators cannot be connected in terms of their causes or impacts on children, Hasselback said they do suggest Ladysmith needs to place an emphasis on children when it comes to social well-being and health care.

“In Ladysmith there’s more of an imperative that the community come together,” he said.