For Every Child
to promoting and protecting the health,
Our Five Pillars
For more than 25 years, the Canadian Institute of Child Health (CICH) has been making a difference in the lives of Canada's children. Each time an infant is safely buckled into a car seat or a child wears a bicycle helmet correctly, you see the work of CICH. Every time you fill your car with unleaded gasoline, you're helping protect our children from the harmful effects of lead - thanks to CICH's efforts. And when a new parent knows to put a baby to sleep on her back, reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, CICH has reached out to another child.
From research and policy recommendations to community development and resource-building, the Institute has touched the life of virtually every child in Canada.
Founded in 1977, CICH is the only national charitable organization dedicated solely to improving the health of children and youth in Canada. The Institute has had a profound impact on the policies and practices of caring for our children through its three core areas of focus:
As a trusted voice for children, CICH speaks out on issues involving children and youth to all levels of government, media, parents and caregivers. Governed by a volunteer board of directors, guided by an expert advisory council, and led by professional staff, the Institute plays a key role in working with government and industry to bring attention to significant children's health care issues and ensuring appropriate policies are developed. CICH then translates those policies into better health for children by equipping health care professionals and educators with the best evidence-based resources. The Institute provides expert advice to Canadian media, ensuring the needs and concerns of children are reported. We also reach out to families across Canada to help with the crucial tasks of nurturing, protecting, educating and empowering our children.
Reaching across the themes of monitoring, education and advocacy, the Institute's work is strategically focused on five pillars of child health:
as a voice for Canada's children;
There are more than nine million families with children in Canada. CICH's mandate includes ensuring each of those children has a voice, and that it is heard at all levels of government, by industry, by health care professionals, and by all those who care about the health and well-being of Canada's children. CICH is a coherent voice for our children, working to focus attention and resources on the health care issues that matter most.
CICH action and impact
Since its inception, the Institute has been a leader on issues concerning the health and well-being of Canada's children and youth. CICH has initiated and led several coalitions focused on improving the health of our children. Through meetings with senior elected and government representatives at the federal and provincial levels, we strive to ensure the concerns of children's health are a national priority and their voices are heard when policies are formed and decisions are made.
CICH's efforts have led to the creation and enhancement of child-centred legislation, policy and funding. CICH is presently working towards formalizing The Rights of the Child in the Health Care System, a set of best-practice guidelines based on the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child.
CICH translates research into information for parents, caregivers and health professionals on a range of child health issues. The Institute has produced definitive guides on topics from conception through adolescence, ranging from health in pregnancy and breastfeeding to sexual abuse prevention, children's health data, environmental hazards and injury prevention.
As part of our mandate to address the broader determinants of health, CICH partnered with government and other agencies to advocate for the National Longitudinal Study on Children and Youth. This 25-year project monitors the health and well-being of children in Canada, providing a foundation for evidence-based programs. The results have already led to the development of hundreds of community access programs that support socially or economically disadvantaged parents.
The Institute also advocated for the National Child Benefit, a taxation program that supports low-income families by increasing the resources they have for their children. CICH's advocacy efforts have contributed to numerous initiatives that support healthy child development. Results of these efforts are far-reaching, including the extension of parental leave to one year, which encourages parent-child attachment during the critical early years by enabling new parents to remain at home longer, and the Early Child Development Initiative, which led to the creation of community-based child development projects, such as nutrition and parenting programs.
Through ongoing monitoring of progress in the area of pregnancy and childbirth, developing resources that target at-risk groups and collaborating with other agencies to effect change in attitudes and behaviours related to pregnancy and birth, CICH has helped ensure children receive the healthiest possible start in life.
A healthy start includes the birth process itself. We now know that a minimally-invasive, family-centred approach to childbirth is best for both mother and baby. However, it is only since the mid-1970s that views of childbirth have changed. What was once a clinical procedure has now become a family-centred experience.
CICH action and impact
CICH has played a key role in implementing this change by conducting national surveys, coordinating expert working groups on maternal and newborn care and disseminating the groups' findings.
CICH's efforts have led to family-centred guidelines for the standard of maternal and newborn care, including Family-Centred Maternity and Newborn Care: National Guidelines (1987, 2000). This places the family back at the centre of the birth process and newborn period, and contributes to a supportive, caring environment for mothers and infants.
While maternal and newborn care has improved significantly in the past three decades, there are still controllable risks to the health of fetuses and newborns that have not been adequately addressed. Each year, for example, more than five per cent of Canadian babies are born at low birth weight (under 2,500 grams), increasing the risk of health problems and disability. Compared with affluent children, economically disadvantaged children are almost twice as likely to be born prematurely with low birth weight and die before 30 days of age. Furthermore, one in four pregnant women smokes, increasing the risk of low birth weight and other complications.
CICH action and impact
CICH develops and implements strategies to address pre- and post-natal challenges. For example, we know prenatal folic acid supplementation is an inexpensive and simple way of substantially reducing neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. CICH's work contributed to the development of the Folic Acid National Consensus Strategy and fewer neural tube defects in Canada.
Similarly, there is increasing awareness of the impact of maternal alcohol consumption on fetal development. Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) describes a set of preventable birth defects seen in children whose mothers consumed alcohol while pregnant. CICH is managing FASEout: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Fetal Alcohol Effects Outreach Project, a three-year initiative funded by Health Canada, designed to ensure agencies and organizations across Canada are using best practices with respect to preventing, diagnosing and intervening in cases of FAS/E.
The Institute also established the Coalition for the Prevention of Low Birth Weight and Prematurity to motivate communities to develop low birth weight reduction projects and networks for communication and support.
CICH's work has helped improve the life chances of children through:
CICH's efforts contributed to a reduction in infant mortality from 7 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 6 per 1,000 live births in 1995.
Medical studies continue to reinforce the benefits of breastfeeding to the physical and cognitive health of infants. However, in the mid-1990s, a national survey showed that less than 50 per cent of babies in Canada are breastfed for a minimum of six months, the optimal period to support healthy development.
CICH action and impact
Educating health professionals has been key to changing attitudes towards breastfeeding. Recognizing the need for accurate, consistent information, CICH worked closely with the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada to revise the National Breastfeeding Guidelines for Health Care Providers, the only national resource to help professionals counsel parents on breastfeeding. Since the launch of CICH's breastfeeding support initiatives, more women in Canada breastfeed and do so for longer periods of time.
The impact of a child's early years on his or her potential to grow and learn and become a happy, healthy adult is only beginning to be understood.
Because of the importance of the early years, policies and programs need to be developed to educate health professionals and support parents in their desire to give children the best start in life.
CICH action and impact
CICH has taken a key role in ensuring such supports are in place. The Institute's voice was one of the first to translate this new research on healthy child development into community-based programs directed at parents and health care professionals. For example, The First Years Last Forever is a resource to educate parents about the importance of the early years. The guide provides examples of how parents can support their child's cognitive, emotional and physical development. Almost 3.5 million copies of The First Years Last Forever have been distributed to parents, health professionals and employers.
professionals, the Nourish, Nurture and Neurodevelopment Resource
Kit synthesizes recent brain development research that revealed
"windows of opportunity" for learning in infants and young
children. Over 9,500 kits have been distributed to early childhood practitioners,
health units and resource centers, helping them understand how this
research can guide daily practice and programs, and providing evidence-based
best-practice resource materials.
In collaboration with a range of organizations, including Health Canada, CICH has developed and disseminated numerous parenting support programs. The Next Steps - Caring for Your Preemie at Home helps parents with the challenge of caring for premature infants, who have developmental risk factors that full-term babies do not. The Institute is a national coordinator of Health Canada's Nobody's Perfect program, which helps parents with young children, especially those families that are geographically, socially or economically isolated, improve their parenting skills and increase their knowledge of child development.
Most recently, CICH launched e-Parenting Network, an interactive web TV parenting series accessed through the Internet. The initiative provides a credible, timely, one-stop child health resource for parents, grandparents, guardians and caregivers. Participants can watch programs/webcasts, read and download valuable information, and e-mail questions to be answered by experts in: climate change; safety in the home, the car and the neighbourhood; nutrition for infants, toddlers and school-age children; and effective parenting strategies.
Today's world can be profoundly stressful for children. Consider the following statistics: almost one fifth of school-age children have at least one mental health problem, and teen suicide rates increased approximately 300 per cent between 1961 and 1994. One in four girls and one in eight boys is sexually abused before the age of 18. Sexually abused children suffer greatly from the betrayal of trust, and are often at a greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, suicide attempts, eating disorders, running away, prostitution and becoming sexual abusers as adults. In 1998, 42 per cent of grade 6 boys and 35 per cent of grade 6 girls reported being bullied at school during at least one term. Adolescents are confronted with sexual choices that can seem overwhelming - and rising rates of teen pregnancy show the need for early intervention.
CICH action and impact
As a strong voice for good mental as well as physical health, CICH continues to advocate for a national mental health strategy and support an expansion of the National Children's Agenda to include programs and services that address mental health issues for children six to 12 years old.
has also developed a number of programs to meet head-on the challenge
of supporting our children's mental health. For example, the Institute
identified loneliness and disconnection from family and schools as a
concern for children, and has addressed the issue by tracking related
trends in The Health of Canada's Children: A CICH Profile and
developing Still Home Alone, a report that articulates the issue
of unsupervised children and includes recommendations to help them cope.
To understand the different stresses associated with growing up female,
CICH conducted a literature review and analysis of The Canadian Girl-Child.
This multi-disciplinary initiative discusses the key determinants of
health and well-being of girls and young women in Canada.
CICH's Safe & Happy Personal Safety Kit featuring Max the Safety Cat helps teachers and caregivers talk about sexual abuse with children. The kit has been distributed to more than 6,000 daycare centres, as well as numerous parents, community groups and professionals. The Institute also distributes Child Sexual Abuse Prevention: A Resource Kit, created as a community development tool to help build community capacity to address the difficult issue of abuse.
CICH was also a partner in the Pro-Action, Postponement, Preparation/Support project, which reports on current work being done nationally and internationally in consultation with pregnant and parenting teens to provide a framework for action to reduce the rate of teen pregnancy in Canada.
Despite the great strides being made in other areas of children's health, children continue to be threatened by their environments - including day-to-day safety issues and the health impact of environmental conditions on children's growing bodies.
With more than 40 per cent of deaths among toddlers and preschoolers due to injury and 47 per cent of childhood injuries occurring in the home, CICH recognized the need to address this important issue at home and in the community.
CICH action and impact
In 1981 and 1991, CICH organized national symposiums on injury prevention that analysed national data and discussed injury prevention initiatives, including the use of child restraints, bicycle helmets and poison control.
CICH is a leader in promoting the use of car seats and bicycle helmets. One such initiative, The Bike Helmet Resource Kit, contains videos, posters and a community campaign manual to encourage children and adults to wear helmets.
Active/Safe Routes to School assessed the impact of the growing trend of parents driving children to school. These impacts include reduced physical activity for children, increased chances of traffic-related injuries and increased air pollution from idling cars. The project resulted in an increase in the number of children walking to school in large, supervised groups known as "walking school buses."
The Canadian Coalition on Childhood Injury Prevention resulted in an increase in the use of car seat restraints and safety equipment, such as bicycle helmets. These standards have led to a reduction in child deaths resulting from automobile accidents and a decline in the severity of injuries due to bicycle accidents. CICH was also the driving force behind developing standards regarding the flammability of children's pyjamas.
Some 50,000 to 60,000 chemicals are in use today in Canada, and each year many more new chemicals are introduced. The health effects of these chemicals are not known. Chemicals in our environment may pose a significant threat to the health of Canada's children, since children are more likely than adults to develop serious health problems from contaminants in food, air and water.
CICH action and impact
To understand the impact of the environment on children, CICH hosted the first national meeting on Environmental Contaminants and Children's Health (1997), building awareness of key environmental problems affecting children and setting in motion efforts to protect children's health - projects still ongoing today.
Translating evidence into action, CICH was a key member of the coalition that resulted in lead-free gasoline in Canada and a reduction in the level of lead found in paint. The Institute's efforts also contributed to policies to limit the cosmetic use of pesticides. CICH has worked towards the anticipated 2004 phase-out of arsenic-laden pressure-treated wood and was a leading proponent of ending the use of toxic phthalates in soft plastic toys in Canada. The "Precautionary Principle," which articulates the notion that protective action should be taken when health is threatened (even when scientific knowledge is incomplete), is being incorporated into some legislation and discussed by industry associations.
The Institute has reached out to parents and caregivers through a number of programs. Changing Habits: Changing Climate is a pioneer project that demonstrates the effects of climate change on children's health. The results showed that children are more vulnerable than other populations to the dangers of severe weather events, hotter and longer heat waves, and more polluted air and water. CICH published a foundation analysis, fact sheets and a brochure that explains to parents how they can reduce their contribution to climate change and better protect children from climate-related concerns. Over 500,000 brochures have been distributed to date. Using our knowledge of environmental hazards, we created the Healthy Spaces for Healthy Development initiative, an interactive, web-based program that helps caregivers ensure spaces are child-friendly and environmentally safe.
CICH is also the environmental health affiliate for the Canadian Health Network, providing leadership and expertise in the area of environmental health, and responding to health information requests from consumers and health intermediaries.
At the core of CICH's work are our efforts to continuously monitor the health of Canada's children and identify the best ways of improving child health.
The vast majority of Canadian communities do not have long-term planning goals aimed specifically at children's healthy development. CICH is dedicated to comprehensively monitoring the health status of Canada's children, which is an important step in analyzing progress, setting priorities and deploying funds in a cost-effective manner.
CICH action and impact
CICH has developed and published three editions of The Health of Canada's Children: A CICH Profile. This unique resource provides researchers, child health professionals and child health advocates with information on the status of child health, improvements in child health, and recommendations to help Canada's children realize their potential:
The Health of Canada's Children: A CICH Profile, first edition (1989), highlighted the steps Canadians have taken to improve the health of our children, stimulating the creation of comprehensive health policies and programs under the Brighter Futures initiative of the Government of Canada.
The Profile, second edition (1994), contributed to the creation of the Children's Bureau within Health Canada.
The Profile, third edition (2000), is influencing the development of the National Children's Agenda and the attitude of governments and society towards the health of all children in Canada, especially with regards to environmental contaminants and the poor status of the health of Canada's Aboriginal children.
In conjunction with the release of the third edition of The Profile, CICH conducted workshops across Canada to share information and identify issues and concerns particular to each region. The issues and concerns identified help target areas for further study and inclusion in the fourth edition of The Profile.
The Profile research process has become a model for other nations, which have adapted the process to monitor their own children's health and well-being.
The Institute also works with UNICEF and other international organizations to compare Canadian child health data with that of other industrialized countries around the world. CICH represents Canada on ChildWatch International, which monitors government responses to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
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Last Reviewed: February 28, 2003