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Canada's first child and family policy blog, now in its eighth year, with monthly updates on the latest national and international news, research, and trends related to child and family matters, particularly in the realms of child care, child custody, and child protection. Topics include the evolving roles of fathers and mothers, expanding child care options, family preservation and  support programs, new approaches to child custody determination, and the prevention and treatment of family violence.


The blog examines ethical dilemmas in child and family practice, discussing some of the complex questions avoided within dominant discourses in child and family policy. Our aim is not to take definitive positions on these contentious issues, but to provide a forum toward a more open and considered debate of matters directly affecting children and families.


One of the aims of this blog is to draw attention to the damaging effects of current child and family policies on children and families themselves.  It is the responsibility of social institutions to support parents in the fulfillment of their parenting responsibilities; yet our social institutions routinely undermine, rather than support, parents through the enthusiastic application of child and family policies that weaken parent-child attachments. It is our contention that children need both parents, children need to know that they matter to and are loved by their families, and we need to let children be children.

Submissions to the child and family policy blog are welcomed and encouraged.





Child and Family Policy Blog - November, 2015

Friday November 13, gunmen with rifles and bombs attacked citizens in Paris killing 129 and injuring 433 who required medical care. Though there is little good news in such an event, children's TV host Fred Rogers years ago did urge the public to 'look for the helpers' during crises. In that regard, though the events were horrific, first responders poured in. Several of the suicide bombers only killed themselves at venues where it seems security was able to prevent further deaths Ordinary people also stepped up to help. Isobel Bowdry who was at the Bataclan nightclub during the shootings blogged about her experience, thanking the strangers who comforted her and put their lives on the line trying to cover her as they hid in the aisles from gunmen. She thanks the police whorescued hundreds of people, the strangers who picked her up off the road and the woman who opened her door to survivors to offer shelter and who bought her new clothes to replace those covered with blood. Shortly after the bombings in restaurants a Twitter site 'porte ouverte' was launched to welcome any people trying to flee to go into listed homes of strangers for safety. Stores closed shutters to shelter customers in the area and protect them from being seen. Around the world nations set up supportive messages for the people of France including lighting public monuments around the world in the colors of the French flag. Muslim people around the world, seeking to distance themselves from the horrific acts allegedly perpetrated by Muslim extremists, set up a hashtag "not in my name" to point out to the world that such actions are not part of Muslim faith, and that the Qu'ran that condemns such killings.

Dr. Sherry Turkle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a clinical psychologist and sociologist who has done extensive research for the past five years about the use of tech devices. She studied texts, tweets, Facebook posts, emails, snapchat and instant messages and interviewed children, teens, college students, teachers, parents and managers. Her conclusions have been assembled into a book "Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age". Her observation is that overuse of tech devices is interfering with face to face communication, depriving us of insights and reducing our empathy. She sees hope however that we can reclaim what we risk losing because children and teens already are noticing the problem and expressing frustration. Her insights include the following:
-multitasking is not a good goal and uni-tasking is better
-eye contact is natural when we speak to children and is vital for their development. When parents routinely are with the child but on their smart phones, they are not engaging with the child enough for the wellbeing of the child
-mobile devices promise us "three gifts from a benevolent genie"- never being alone, always being listened to, and slipping out of the present to another location at will. She says those myths dangerously make people split attention in human relationships
-Pew Research found that 80% of respondents during their last social interaction had a phone out as they were with someone else. 82% of the said that phone use actually deteriorated the conversation
-people who text during funerals or other formal events say they text only during the boring parts, but there is then a loss of the reflection possible at such ceremonies
-people being ignored because someone with them is texting feel insulted and put on pause as if they are not very important.
-students who were given all their course material on a smart phone have told her that they felt frustrated. Many had printed up all the material because they preferred a written version with pages they could turn and some were very frustrated when a school closed its library and gave out course material digitally only.
-kids are developing a lack of empathy from overuse of such devices and can barely imagine the point of view of someone else, possibly for lack of exposure to face to face observing of how others feel
-texting is often used for fights between people, and though many claim it helps them weigh their words and argue clearly, it risks detaching them from the face to face observation of the effect of their words on someone else and from the emotional part of the disagreement
-kids report a lack of conversation time with their own families
Turkle however does cite hopeful signs. Device-free camps for kids who at first seem depressed at the loss of device access find that after a few days kids are happy and engaged in real life activities. College students have told her that texting is very useful when people are apart so the problem is only when it is done when people are together. Engineer Tristan Harris at Google now makes a distinction between time well spent and time spent on our device. Engineer Gilles Philips says that the state of hyper-vigilance we seem to experience when near our devices is not a good state to be in. Turkle advises new rules such as device-free dinners at home, and study and lounge spaces that are Wi-Fi free.

Statistics Canada has released its latest survey of families and living arrangements in the nation. It noted several trends:
-99% of couples are in opposite sex relationships and 0.7-0.9 % are in same-sex relationships
-57% of nonaboriginal women are in couples but 47% of aboriginal women are in couples
-11% of nonaboriginal women are in common law relationships while 17% of aboriginal women, 23% of Inuit women, 18% of First Nations women and 15% of Metis women are in common law relationships
-in 2011, of married couples, 38% had one child at home 43% had two children and 19% had three or more children. Among common law couples 46% had one child, 39% had two children and 16% had three or more children.
-4.1 million women were part of couples living with children . Of those 88% were mothers in traditional families and 12% were mothers or stepmothers in stepfamilies
-women are more likely to have custody of their children than are men. On remarriage, 66% of women had only their own biological or adopted children at home, 19% had only the children of their spouse or partner and 15% had children from both families. Among the men who remarried though, 27% had only their own children at home, 43% had only the children of their spouse and 31% had children from both families.
-the divorce rate has doubled from 1981 to 2011 from 5.9% of marriages to 13% for women and from 4.3% to 10% for men
-22% of women and 19% of men aged 55-59 are previously divorced or separated and have not remarried. This number is triple what is was in 1981.
-lone mother families are 13% of all census families and lone-father families are 3.5%. Most lone parents are women.
-In 1937 fertility rate was 2.64 children per woman. In 1959 with the baby boom that number became 3.94 children. By 1968 it was dropping and by 1971 it had fallen below replacement rate of 2.2. In 2011 the rate was 2.87 in Nunavut, 1.99 in Saskatchewan, and lowest in British Columbia at 1.42.
-the age of giving birth has been increasing, with many more giving birth between aged 30-34 years than previously, exceeding now the rate for women aged 25-29.
-there is an increase of young adults still living in the parental home. In 1981 33% of young women aged 20-24 were at the parental home but in 2011 that number was 55%. In 1981 50% of young men in their early twenties lived in the parental home but that number in 2011 was 63%.
-people are living longer and living alone longer. By ages 65-69 24% of women and 15% of men were living alone. At age 80 and over, 51% of women and 23% of men were living alone.

Dr. Angus Deaton and Dr. Anne Case of Princeton University have become concerned about a demographic trend. They found that mortality rates for middle-aged blacks and Hispanics, for young adults and for seniors of all races are dropping except for those of one group- middle aged white males. They found that among white males aged 45-54 there was an "epidemic" of suicides, substance abuse, alcoholic liver disease, overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids and death rate for this group have been increasing from 1999 to 2014.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada now estimates that mental illness costs employers about $20 billion a year. 70% of disability costs are due to psychological problems.Health care workers have high absenteeism and first responders have high rates of post-traumatic stress. Some professions like oil and gas workers have high rates of substance abuse. Mark Henick of the Canadian Mental Health Association tries to train managers and co-workers to recognize mental health issues through a program called Mental Health Works. He says that stress itself is a mental health issue and that divorce, death or family issues spill over into the workplace and must be addressed. A National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace was developed in 2013 by the Mental Health Commission and the Canadian Standards Association. The new standard aims to create a safe work environment to talk about problems, to identify workplace stressors, to offer appropriate support and treatment and to train managers to look for signs of stress or mental illness. It has been found that employers who address issues do see a decline in days absent and in overall health costs.

In many provinces in Canada and in federal policy, maternity is recognized in tax law but not as a useful function worth money. It is recognized as a time away from paid work and there is funding for 11 -12 months of care of the baby only if the mother in the preceding year did paid work and contributed to the employment insurance plan that also funds disability.This condition has been criticized for years by women who have said the benefit being tied to paid work ignores those women already home with a baby or those whose paid work was not of enough hours to qualify. There has also been another problem. Members of the legislative assembly have not been asked to contribute in the past to the employment insurance plan and since none of them are usually pregnant women, this oversight about maternity benefits has been ignored. However this year Alberta MLA Stephanie McLean, newly elected, is pregnant and due to give birth in February. The fact that her job does not pay her if she is home with a baby and that she is not permitted EI benefits, has been noticed. Under the legislative contract her pay is even docked $100 a day for absence of over 10 days from a legislative sitting. Premier Rachel Notley has vowed to correct the legislative problem so that the new MLA can take parental leave. (ED NOTE: It would be best if the benefit were not tied to paid work at all. It should be based on the existence of a newborn baby and it should be universal for new mothers. Some might not choose to use the funds to be home but those who did not could use the funds to pay for a third party care arrangement.)

The climate change conference this month in Paris will unite 40,000 politicians, activists, lobbyists,officials and journalists from 195 countries. The focus will be on cutting emission of greenhouse gases to prevent the earth's temperature from rising over 2 degree Centigrade higher than 200 years ago. Some features of the discussion have emerged however that may make the agreements difficult to reach:
-In 1997 at Kyoto and in 2009 at Copenhagen the goal was similar and was not reached
-many observers feel that the developed countries are most to blame for the production of CO2.The less developed countries have often argued that they need to be paid to reduce their emissions out of a $100 billion a year Green Climate Fund, financed by wealthier nations
-20 nations are responsible for 82% of the global CO2 emissions
-China emits 24% of the CO2 but is not signing on. It plans to double its emissions by 2013
-the US is the second largest emitter and it so far has voted against such agreements
-India is the third largest emitter and it plans to treble its emissions by 2030.
-Russia, the 4th largest emitter, did reduce emissions after 1990 but now plans to increase them again.
-The European Union has committed to cutting emissions by 40% in 15 years but Poland and Germany are not signing the treaty.
-Britain, the 14th largest emitter, and responsible for only 1.3% of worldwide emissions has signed on and promised to cut emissions by 40% by 2030.
-Other emitters, Japan (5th), South Korea (7th) are cutting emissions but Japan is building more coal fired plants than ever.
-Saudi Arabia (8th), Iran (9th) have not yet agreed to the deal and Brazil (11th) is using fossil fuels more, in order to not cut down the rain forest.

A 43 year old mother who berated her 19 year old daughter for staying out all night has been charged with attacking the girl with a meat cleaver. Quebec Court Judge Yves Paradis found the accused, Johra Kaleki guilty of attempted murder despite defence arguments that the accused was not criminally responsible because she had suffered a temporary psychotic disorder. Weighing the penalties of between 3-10 years in jail, Kelki's husband and the daughter both argued for a lesser sentence. The Afghan couple with three children are still raising them including an 11 year old and the victim of the attack argued that the mother is 'the family's rock.' Kaleki has said she does not remember what happened. Ebrahimi, the husband, says that the action was completely of out character for his wife.

In 2013 a 15 year old boy was regularly left to care for his 10 year old brother and the three younger children of his half sister in Bowmanville Ontario while his mother was at her paid job. One evening 911 was called because one of the children, a four year old boy, was not breathing. The boy later died in hospital from multiple injuries. Police were anxious to determine if the teenage boy was at fault and they enlisted the "help" of his estranged father, a man with a criminal record who had been absent for most of the boy's life. The police gave the dad instructions of how to try to elicit a confession, wired him up, and gave him money and birthday presents for entertaining the boy, as well as keys to a rental car. The court found the teenage boy guilty of manslaughter after his younger brother told the court he witnessed the beatings. However the judge, Court Judge Susan Maclean ruled that the police had erred in trying to use the father to trick the son. She said this betrayal of trust between father and son was a violation of the sanctity of parent-child relationships. The boy's lawyer, Jason Rabinovitch, said that a parent "should be the one person a child should always be able to trust."

The new minister of families, children and social development for Canada, Jean-Yves Duclos, is an economist. William Watson, writing in the National Post has praised Duclos for his work at the Universite Laval and as president elect of the Canadian Economics Association. Duclos has looked at a proposal for guaranteed income in Quebec and rejected it. He argued that people would work less, government would subsidize them more, people would have more leisure but poverty itself would not change. He has however shown respect for unpaid work and caregiving. He said that the child care policy of giving cash to parents so they 'spend on childcare needs as they choose - whether that means formal day care, a babysitter, neighbourhood childcare or helping one parent stay at home' is a good idea.

UN Member nations have met in Thailand to work on the Sustainable Development Goals launched in September 2015 as part of the millennium Development Goals around the world. The goal is to 'lift more than one billion people out of extreme poverty' according to UN Secretary General Ban K-Mon. A quick look at the 1990 millenium goals and progress on them includes:
-reduce by half the number of people living on less than $1.25 US a day. The goal succeeded five years early. However poverty fell unequally. It fell by 94% in China but only by 8% in sub Saharan Africa
-cut in half the number of people who are undernourished. Rates of undernourished people in developing countries went from 23% to 13%. Thomas Pogge of Yale University says the UN does not track hunger well. He says tracking overall food available and by calories does not notice enough pockets of hunger or malnourishment due to lack of iron or vitamins.
-achieve 100% enrolment of children in primary education; enrolment has jumped from 83% in 2000 to 91% in 2015. There are still concerns that 130 million children still read poorly and cannot do basic math according to the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization. UNESCO notes that having kids in a school setting does not alone ensure they are learning
-reduce mortality of children under five and of mothers giving birth. Child mortality has dropped by half and maternal mortality has declined by 45% with huge advances made in Tanzania and Ethiopia. However some have pointed out that immunization in India has reached the middle class but not the poor
-reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB. Between 2000 and 2013 new HIV infections dropped by 40% and 43 million lives are estimated to have been saved by new treatments for the diseases in question. Some have observed that buildup of health care systems might be wiser use of money though than focus on just one disease
-increase access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. The goal of halving the number without safe drinking water was reached. 2.1 billion people got more access to toilets. The UN has however noticed that although 320 million slum dwellers now have better housing, water and toilets, there are 88 million more people in slums than there were in 2000. Overseas Development Institute researchers in the UK also report that some of the new toilets are shared among many or require heavy payment to private water suppliers.

In the UK a petition is circulating to ask Parliament to 'invest in a living wage for mothers and other carers'. The petition, circulated through Global Women's Strike and others argues that:
-caring must be recognized as vital work for society
-all carers including mothers should be paid a living wage for this indispensable work, including paid time off
The petition makes the case outlining several observations:
-that caring for children, the sick, disabled, and elderly is vital work in society and that mothers are the primary caregivers in the world
-that in the UK recently caregivers have become impoverished due to erosion of child benefits, abolition of income support, and low rates of carer's allowance
-that the right of mothers to have children is not fairly supported and that pressure to go to paid jobs 'regardless of hours, pay or childcare provision' is unfair
-that having to fit care roles around paid jobs results in overwork, exhaustion and ill health.
-that when caring work is devalued, relationships are also devalued and the result is social neglect.
The UK has a long history of children's rights advocacy but with mixed results:
-1945- family allowance was universal, paid weekly to every mother. MP Eleanor Rathbone said that mothers should not be subordinated to other groups or be deprived of their share of the wealth of a community
-1972- government transferred the child benefit to the wage earner, usually a man
-1975- the family allowance was renamed the child benefit
-1976- invalid care allowance was paid to those tending someone 35 hours or more per week. It was later extended to those providing care of spouses and seniors but pension adjustments made it less in amount
-2011 - MP John McDonnell tabled an Early Day Motion for women's option to raise their own kids to be defended.
-2012- the child benefit is no longer universal and is cut back for women in high earning households.
-2015- 3.5 million children live in poverty (one in four). 6 million people (one in ten) care for a sick, disabled or older person. One in three single parents deemed 'unemployed' officially are caring for a disabled child. Fewer than one in ten carers get the carer's allowance of 59 pounds. One in four low income mothers skip meals to feed their children. Only one in 3 babies are breastfed anymore at age 4 months. 88% of mothers of young children with a full time job have said they would prefer to work part-time or to be full time at home with their young children.
In the US care reform has also been piecemeal:
1977- Congress mandated a conference on women at which it was declared that homemakers should have dignity of money for that role and for it to be called a wage not welfare
1995- The UN Conference on Women agreed that care work should be tallied in national accounts
2011- The Rise Out of Poverty Act and the Women's Open to Raise Kids (WORK) Act were introduced in Congress.

October, 2015

In a sign of the changing times, the Council of Europe (COE) passed a resolution on October 2, 2015 that encourages European countries to pass shared parenting legislation. The COE does not itself have legislative powers, but its deliberations are considered influential within the parliaments of the member states. The adopted resolution includes the following provisions. "The Assembly calls on the member States to:
5.5. introduce into their laws the principle of shared residence following a separation, but under no circumstances in cases of sexual or gender-based violence, with the amount of time for which the child lives with each parent being adjusted according to the child’s needs and interests;
5.6. respect the right of children to be heard in all matters that affect them when they are deemed to have a sufficient understanding of the matters in question;
5.7. take shared residence arrangements into account when awarding social benefits;
5.8. take all necessary steps to ensure that decisions relating to children’s residence and to access rights are fully enforced, including by following up complaints with respect to failure to hand over a child."
Even though this action is only advisory in nature, it is another big sign that the battle to reform the family courts is being won. Shared parenting has been implemented in Australia, Sweden, Belgium and elsewhere. In the United States, about 20 states are considering shared parenting legislation. In some states, shared parenting is quietly becoming the norm, without any change in legislation. About the only major organized forces still actively opposing shared parenting are the bar associations, and they are starting to be looked at skeptically.
The action by the COE was passed by an overwhelming vote of 46 to 2. In addition to a recognition that shared parenting is in the best interests of children, the COE cited four “considerations” that lead to the resolution: gender equality (“Within families, equality between parents must be guaranteed and promoted from the moment the child arrives”); fathers' rights ("Fathers are sometimes faced with laws, practices and prejudices which can cause them to be deprived of sustained relationships with their children”); the rights of both children and parents (“The Assembly wishes to point out that respect for family life is a fundamental right enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and numerous international legal instruments”); and overcoming gender stereotypes (“The Assembly firmly believes that developing shared parental responsibility helps to transcend gender stereotypes about the roles of women and men within the family”).

Statistics on the use of third party childcare in Canada have been released by the Childcare Resource and Research Unit. This 2014 data indicate that:
-there are 4,815,600 children in Canada aged 0-12 years
-there are 1,201,377 regulated childcare 'spaces' for children aged 0-12 years. The state therefore has put in place subsidized (preferentially funded) care options for one quarter of the nation's children (The other 3/4 are not getting such care and it is not clear if they or their parents want it)
-there are 2,256,600 children in Canada aged 0-5 years
-there are 543,161 centres based child care 'spaces' for full and part day for this age group (this also would be preferentially funded care style. This means about 24% of children in Canada of preschool age are in 3rd party specially funded care. It is not clear that children or parents want more of their children to be in such care)
-30% of centre-based childcare spaces in Canada operate for profit. This number is increasing
-the provinces and territories fund 3rd party childcare, as does the federal government. The contribution of the provinces and territories is $4,273,366,946 per year, provided to 2,256,600 kids. It thus cost slightly under $2,000 per child to set up the space. The federal government also provides per space money. The NDP recently proposed adding 370,000 spaces, which would cost an additional $1.87 billion so they estimated that the federal government would spend over $5,000 per child to set up the space. That means that with all government funding the subsidized per space for a child in 3rd party care is over $7,000 per year. Parents would pay a daycare fee of on average $3795 per year, more for infants. In addition, the federal government provides both a universal benefit and a child care expense deduction. The state allows parents to deduct up to $7,000 per year for children aged 0-7 and $4,000 a year for those aged 8-17 and $10,000 for some kids with handicaps. This deduction reduces taxable income but is also based on that income so the wealthy cannot claim it fully. Thus, although there are significant costs out of pocket for daycare users, they get considerable help from government paying them.
-daycare advocacy groups often claim that there is a lack of available third party childcare and that governments should fund more 'spaces.'

ThinkHQ Public Affairs has completed a survey of 2000 Albertans for the Alberta Medical Association on the topic of unpaid caregiving of the elderly. The study found that
-85% of such caregivers say the care role adds medium to high stress levels to their lives
-14% of caregivers give personal assistance, help with dressing, bathing and toileting
-39% of caregivers help with doctor visits and medical management
-44% of caregivers help with laundry, household chores and cleaning
-69% of caregivers help with shopping and errands
-60% of caregivers help with companionship or supervision
-47% of caregivers had household income under $100,000 and 40% still had children at home
The Canadian Medical Association in Halifax in 2015 heard motions from the AMA about seniors and caregiving issues, asking the Canadian group to advocate for more tax breaks for caregivers to reflect the wider variety of caregiving scenarios in the community.

Assisted dying is now being discussed in Quebec and discussions have started about how to bill for the right-to-die procedures that were made legal in December 2014. In the Netherlands doctors are paid 250 euros for 'applying euthanasia,' according to Dr. Bob Jonquiere of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies.They are paid 376 euros to provide a second opinion if consulted. In that country the procedure has stages:
-there is a barbiturate injected to cause the person to go into a deep coma
-then there is a muscle relaxant administered
-the patient gently stops breathing but without any awareness or sensation of pain. In the Netherlands 2.8% of all deaths are by euthanasia and .1% are by assisted suicide. For assisted suicide:
-the doctor after consultation and assessment writes a prescription for a fatal overdose
-the patient at his/her own discretion fills this prescription
-the patient at his/her own discretion takes this medication
-Oregon state has permitted doctor assisted suicide since 1997. Dr. David Grube of Oregon says that in terms of administration the consultation is counted as part of the disease being treated, and that billing is modified based on time spent with the patient. Oregon has found that last year 1327 prescriptions were written for terminally ill patients but that only 859 of those patients ended up taking the pills. In Canada a fee schedule for doctors may be on the table by February 2016.

Fidelity Investments and Stanford University's Center on Longevity have interviewed 12,000 defined contribution plan participants about retirement plans. Their study found that
-men under age 60 often cite desire to retire to spend more time with a spouse/partner
-men over age 60 are less likely to cite time with spouse as a main goal of retirement
-70% of women cite spending time with grandchildren as a key goal for retirement. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that the birth of a new grandchild increases by over 8% the probability a woman near retirement will retire
-27% of women and 18% of men cite spending time taking care of aging parents as a key goal of retirement
-many people continue to do paid work in the retirement years. Single women are more likely to do so than are those who are married.

The Liberal Party of Canada during the long election campaign before the 2015 vote made many promises, some of which may affect caregivers:
-lower taxes on those earning $44,700 - $89,401 a year, the middle class. The tax rate will move from 22% to 20.5% resulting in projected tax savings for households of up to $670 for individuals to $1340 for couples.
-a child care benefit of up to $533 per month which will be reduced based on household income but will only be denied the top 10% of earners
-$2 billion a year or $20 billion over ten years to set up affordable housing, universal 3rd party daycare and community centres
-an end to income splitting as a tax option for some people. Seniors will continue to be able to split pensions and the wealthy will still be able to split income via income trusts, but the family option the Conservatives provided for income splitting will end
-a return of the age of retirement to 65 from the proposed level of 67.
-a Prime Minister's Youth Advisory Council comprised of youth aged 16-24
-returning home delivery of the mail
-tax department policy to proactively inform people of tax breaks they are eligible for which they have not applied
-all high school students able to register to vote when they turn 18, through a new part of the high school curriculum
-return the long form of the census that tallied unpaid labor and caregiving
-parliamentary committees being more open to the public, with independent expert advisors and more stringent rules for voting of the members
-tax policy to increase the tax rate for the very wealthy
-an inquiry into missing and aboriginal women, and to implement all 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
-mandatory sentence minimums for gun and drug crimes
-legalization of marijuana for recreational use
-$3 billion more for home-care services
-help to provinces to reduce drug costs
-reform of parental leave to extend it to 18 months but with reduced benefits per month for the longer interval
-new restrictions on the sale of food and drinks to children, and limiting the amount of transfats and salt in processed foods
-increasing the Canada Student Grants to $3,000 per year, and to have debtors wait until they earn at least $25,000 a year before they have to start repayment of such loans.

When someone is injured or suffers loss, the victim often asks for money compensation but what the person often also says is that they want really an apology. Those who see another in distress, who is claiming to be wronged, also often feel it is inhumane to not offer some sort of condolences, even if they are being targeted as to blame. The idea of actually apologizing to a person who claims to be a victim has become a rocky road legally, with some lawyers urging people who are accused of being at fault NOT to apologize in case the victim then will sue them formally or for more money. Politicians and hospitals, transit companies and others with potential liability may also be leery of saying they apologize for fear this may cost them more money. However many jurisdictions have tried to resolve the dilemma by passing 'apology acts' that permit a person to say they are sorry without thereby accepting blame. This ability to apologize seems to fill an emotional need for all parties but is not to be used in a court of law as an admission of guilt. Currently 8 provinces and one territory have such apology legislation. The Canadian Patient Safety Institute and the Uniform Law Conference of Canada are now urging passage of a national apology act. Under such acts an apology is defined to be an expression of sympathy and regret, and a statement that one is sorry, or any other words or actions indicating commiseration, but this apology is not to be considered by the court in determining fault or liability, and is not admissible as evidence of fault or liability.

The Government of Canada under Prime Minister Stephen Harper passed several laws that some considered unfair or even problematic for legality. Since his government has been defeated, some of these laws will now come under scrutiny.
a. Bill C-51, passed in January 2015 aimed to address a threat of terrorism in Canada. It gave the police more power, gave the Canada spy agency CSIS more power, gave the government more power to share information about the public between federal departments and gave government more power to add people to the 'no- fly' list. The bill was roundly criticized by many groups for its alleged invasion of privacy, violation of civil liberties, and its suppression of free speech. Some civil liberty associations planned to make a Supreme Court challenge to the government about its right to make such laws.
b. Bill S-7 This act was designed to amend marriage and immigration acts and the criminal code to show 'zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices'. It was passed in Dec 2014. Under it the government is able to refuse for admission to Canada anyone who has more than one wife. It creates new offenses for those whose cultural practice is polygamy or marriage of those under age 16 or who help procure such marriages. It prohibits forced marriage and penalizes those who arrange such marriages.

In Abbotsford BC many people set up residence in the parks at night. These homeless campers became a source of irritation to local residents and the city issued bylaw notices which were mostly ignored. Neighbors became concerned about drug paraphernalia, human waste, garbage and crime. Some people escalated their moves to get the people to leave by spraying pepper spray or chicken manure in their camps.Officials destroyed or disposed of some of the tents that had been set up. However advocates for the homeless took the issue to court. Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson has ruled that homeless people have the right to set up temporary shelters in parks between 7PM and 9AM the next day because the city lacks accessible shelter space. The justice referred to a 2008 BC Supreme court decision that also said that in Victoria the homeless had a right to erect temporary shelters in parks then. The justice said that allowing the tents but having them taken down each day would reasonably balance the needs of the homeless and the rights of other residents. He felt that having them cleaned up each day would help address the issues such as litter.

Ashley Smith was born in January 1988 in New Brunswick.She was adopted at only a few days old and had what her parents report was a normal childhood. At age 15 however she had had a few minor scrapes with the law and was arrested and put in juvenile detention. There however she allegedly was very disruptive and was transferred to numerous facilities, both juvenile offender and mental health facilities. She was accused of 800 additional offenses mainly of failure to cooperate, while in these facilities and eventually tried to harm herself on at least 150 occasions. In October 2007 she did put a cloth around her neck and commit suicide while in her cell. She was 19.An inquest into her death was held given controversy about the circumstances and the warden and deputy warden of the Grand Valley Institution for Women were fired. The coroner in 2013, noting that officials watched her suicide attempt and did not intervene, ruled that her death was a homicide.This case has been widely discussed in the media in the years since Smith died, with various interpretations of issues involved - whether the criminal justice system erred, whether she was actually a normal child in an solitary confinement situation that created problems or whether she had mental health issues, whether she was aboriginal and if that was part of the issue in how she was treated, whether as a girl who misbehaved she was treated more harshly than are boys who misbehave. Dr. Rebecca Bromwich of Carleton University has re-examined the issues this fall and cast the events in a new light. Bromwich looks at the conflicting interpretations and points out the complexity of the discussion and some issues not yet mentioned. Young offender girls are often treated harshly in comparison to young offender boys, where for boys acting up may be seen as a rite of passage while for girls classified as 'bad' treatment seems particularly harsh. Smith was an overweight child and bias about her physical size could have been part of the discussion. The way mental illness is diagnosed or assumed could also be discussed. And the use of solitary confinement itself, or the labelling of people who are in care as high risk could also be raised. The book Bromwich has published seeks to widen the discussion to how we treat young girls and how our mental health and justice system labels may not be appropriately applied in all situations. The book is called "Looking for Ashley" and is sold through Demeter Press.

Sweden has often been cited by daycare lobbyists as an ideal model for universal childcare around the world. Jonas Himmelstrand is a Swedish researcher who directs The Mireja Institute for such studies. He is on the board of Haro, a Swedish parental advocacy group, but currently lives in Finland to enable him to home school his children. Himmelstrand has studied the child care regime in Finland and has suggested it would be a much preferable role model for the world, than is the system in Sweden. He has found that in Finland there is much more funding for all children, not just those in third party care. Sweden does not offer home care allowance and subsidizes instead third party daycare. All other Nordic countries, however, have a home care allowance for those not using daycare, and this extends until the child is aged 2 or 3 years. In Finland:
-since 1985 a system of funding children at home was put in place. It is now used by 56% of children under age 3
-there is parental leave
-once parental leave is over a child at home gets 340 euros a month until age 3
-additional children under age 3 at home get 100 euros a month
-children at home over age 3 but under school age get 65 euros at month as long as there is also a child at home under age 3.
Himmelstrand notes that Sweden set up its universal daycare system forty years ago and only briefly looked at having a home care allowance for those not using it. In Sweden polls show that 60-80% of the population wants some support for home-based care of young children.
The Minister of Social Affairs for Aland Island, a Swedish-speaking province of Finland, is Carina Aaltonen. She says that the home care allowance helps support parents so they "believe in their own ability to know what is best for their own child". She points out the importance of the first few years for parents and young children to bond. She says the goal of healthy families is paramount. Finland has had a female president Tarja Halonne (2000-2006) and two female prime ministers.


September, 2015

Many Canadian cities have homeless people, some of whom panhandle and beg on the street. To deal with the problem of homelessness, officials are often urged to advocate for tax reform, for low cost housing or food or social services for the poor. However some municipalities also provide short term responses to public concerns by just trying to nudge panhandlers from hanging around asking for money. The Downtown Windsor Business association has recently installed iron spiked railings on cement planters to prevent people from standing on those planters or using them as seats. Many cities have put a centre armrest on park benches so the homeless cannot sleep there at night. Laws against panhandling exist in most cities as do laws against hitchhiking within city limits, laws against sleeping in parks and laws against loitering or just hanging around a public area for too long. In Windsor a group of street people have taken a stand, feeling that some policies treat them inhumanely and deny their right to equal status and dignity. Lawyer Richard Dalkeith says that some attempts to restrict where the homeless can sit are unconstitutional. He has gotten the International Workers of the World involved to get street people to join a union. He wants the union to have a voluntary code of ethics and to fight negative perceptions of those who simply are poor. Mayor Drew Dilkens is pleased that buskers and street performers are also joining the group. Andrew Nellis of the group says that members protect each other and want the same rights as everybody else.  Street people are being asked to sign membership cards with the IWW and to pay $5 a month membership fees.

Dr. Colin Pritchard of Bournemouth University in England has published a study comparing 211 countries on rates of dementia between 1990 and 2010. The study found that diagnosis of such conditions is increasing:
-in the US among those over age 75, neurological deaths of men have tripled and those of women have increased fivefold in that time interval
-among those aged 55-74, rates of diagnosis of neurological disease are also up. 60% of the increase was among those with dementia and 40% among those with motor neuron or Parkinson's disease. Experts do not agree on the cause of such increases in diagnosis or incidence or death. Dr. Tom Denning of the U of Nottingham says that the numbers appear to be up partly in comparison to the rates of deaths due to cancer and heart disease which are down. Pritchard however feels that some environmental causes may be hiking the rates of neurological problems and his study cited aircraft and car pollution and wide use of pesticides as significant factors.

In the US in 2015 there is a new trend for one parent to be home with the child. The Pew Research Center has found that:
-in 1999 23% of mothers did not do paid work outside the home but that number in 2012 was 29%
-in 1989 there were 1.1 million at-home dads but that number in 2012 was 2 million.
-Some dads are home because of job loss while others are home by preference. 23% indicated they were out of paid work but 21% said they wanted to be home to tend the family. 35% of dads at home were there due to illness or disability
-most parents report that being home with the kids is more exhausting than being in paid work
-the number of parents in full time employment is often cited along with the number of those in part-time paid work, to calculate the number of 'working parents.' In fact if a parent is home part-time, the number of those at home full time, above, is doubled when the part-timers are included to count parents at home. It is a significant group that must be included in discussions about funding care of children.

The push to have childcare funded by the state is often led by those who say that women otherwise will not be able to work outside the home. Childcare is argued as a national right in order to propel women into a role that provides for financial empowerment and status. However a new poll by the Washington Post found that many women prioritize parental child care and they admit that this has led to them switching jobs, quitting jobs or even passing up work opportunities. Though some say that more available or more affordable childcare would help them, others look at wider solutions:
-Third party childcare can be costly. Three quarters of parents with children under age 18 say care is "very expensive."
-the cost of third party care has gone up. The US Census Bureau found that prices are up over 70% from just a few years ago.
-There is a huge range across the country from $5600 per year of infant care in Louisiana to $22,000 for a year of infant care in the District of Columbia, according to Child Care Aware of America.
-In the election run up in the US some politicians are urging more public funding to get prices of daycare down. Others however are asking for businesses to cover the costs and for government to encourage businesses to adjust to parents' needs.
-over 60% of mothers said that to spend more time with their kids they had quit or switched jobs. 40% of fathers said they had quit or switched jobs to enable more time with the kids.

When benefits programs are set up, there are often conditions.Occasionally these conditions may stand in the way of accessing benefits easily.Maternity benefits and parental leave have historically been given not for maternity per se but based on the paid labor force participation of the mother or father in the previous calendar year. The worker in addition had to be in paid work over a threshold of hours with a sole employer, and with that employer had to have been contributing to the Employment Insurance fund. After many self-employed parents argued it was unfair to be excluded from benefits, Quebec in 2006 permitted them to take part. In 2008 the federal government also promised inclusion of the self-employed. However conditions for that participation also included double contributions to the fund, as employer and as employee for those required hours. The first federal benefits program to also include the self-employed began in 2011. The program was to be voluntary so government did not automatically seek out and inform the self-employed about their optional participation. Workers would have had to be paying 6 months of premiums to qualify, in theory, but it turned out that the program actually required 12 months of earlier contributions - longer than a pregnancy. CBC News, under Access to Information legislation, has learned that with all of those conditions fewer than 14,000 self-employed workers took part between 2011 and 2014, a far cry from the estimated 55,000 annual claims officials had predicted. The claims paid out $22.1 million in benefits during that interval and the cost of administering the program was as a result lower than expected, but still came in at $39.6 million, not the projected $61 million for the Employment and Social Development Department and $26.2 million for the Canada Revenue agency. Some critics have urged disbanding the program, which costs more to administer than it provides the public. However others argue that the program should be improved, with fewer conditions placed on its use and by informing the public about it.
(ED NOTE: I strongly feel that maternity benefits should be based on one thing- maternity. Forcing people to qualify by having earned money the preceding year makes it actually a reward for earning not about child-bearing at all. Excluding some new mothers while including others is a serious form of discrimination. Basing the amount of the benefit on earnings is grossly unfair because it tends to favour those who least need the financial help. Since all children are of equal value, the benefit should be universal. Although the rationale given is to try to replace previous income 'in the style to which the woman was accustomed,' that also is a form of discrimination that favours the wealthy. Also, benefits for tending a child - parental leave - are based on the paid work of either parent, but when maternity benefits are based only on the paid work of the mother we have another problem. The child is equally the child of both parties. It is not fair that a mother's paid work can qualify a father to be home with the baby but that a father's paid work cannot qualify the mother to get maternity benefits. If we removed the conditions and have a universal maternity benefit and a universal parental benefit, parents could use it as they saw fit, and the red tape costs of administration would be vastly reduced too.)

August, 2015

In Barrie, Ontario if you have to go to hospital emergency by car, you still have to pay for parking. Recently a mother went to the Royal Victoria Hospital with a sick child and parked at a meter, paying for 4 hours. As the wait for treatment wore on, she realized her parking meter would soon expire and did not have enough coins to cover it. She put out a note on Facebook to a group of local mothers telling of her dilemma and for the next five hours, mothers from around the city dropped by to put money in the meter for her. Kaylee Goeman's son was diagnosed with an intestinal disorder and is being treated. (ED NOTE: The bureaucracy that continues to oppress vulnerable people!)

When tragedies happen in farming communities, other farmers regularly pitch in to help the ones in crisis. The Hutterian Brethren are a religious sect that lives communally, in groups of up to 100 people per colony. They also pitch in when neighbours have a crisis, but with their large collection of tractors, streamlined efficiencies of production and solid work ethic, their help is often overwhelmingly significant. They have been known to go plow a farmer's field for a sick neighbour and with lots of workers can do it very fast. When floods threatened trailers in Highland Campground, Hutterites from the Standoff Colony came to rescue the stranded. When fire evacuated farmers in northern Saskatchewan, Hutterites of Leask Colony arrived at the evacuation site with 120 dozen buns to feed the stranded.

Avid Life Media operates several dating websites, including Cougarlife, Establishedmen and Ashley Madison. The latter promotes itself as allowing discrete liaisons between married people outside of their marriage. It claims over 37 million subscribers and to be second only in size to as a matchmaking site. However recently hackers claimed to have infiltrated the Ashley Madison secure website that promises to not reveal identities and the hackers threatened to leak real names, credit card information and photos. Paul Keable of Avid Life says it is too early to estimate the damage to the Ashley Madison business model. Avid Life suspects that the hackers were formerly connected to the company. As it tries to deal with the alleged breach, the public has been confused about who the members really are. Ottawa is a city of 883,000 people and Ashley Madison claims to have 189,810 subscribers there or over 21% of the entire population. (If the number of adults in Ottawa is for instance 600,000, that would even be higher. However a Brazilian version of Ashley Madison exists and a former employee there sued Avid Life claiming that she got wrist pain, insomnia and anxiety after writing 1000 fake profiles into the database.)

In Hempstead, Texas a 28 year old woman from Chicago was stopped for a minor traffic violation recently. It is alleged she failed to signal for a lane change. A video posted online by the Texas Department of Public Safety shows the trooper, who is white, stopping her and handing her a written warning. The lady, Sandra Bland, who is black, seems irritated and says she only changed lanes to make way for the police car. The officer asks her to put out her cigarette and she refuses and he orders her out of the vehicle. She refuses and he tells her she is under arrest. When she does not exit the vehicle he pulls out a stun gun and she exits. Though the video does not show some details, the voices of the two can be heard as he tries to handcuff her and she protests and screams saying he knocked her head into the ground. Bland was taken to a prison cell and authorities say she was found three days later having hanged herself there. Her family is angry, claiming she was not suicidal or depressed. Former Waller County judge DeWayne Charleston says that the county concerned is the most racist in Texas. Waller County is 25% black. Herschel Smith is a black constable in the county, formerly a community activist, who notes a perception that African Americans are more likely to be stopped and investigated, given that most officials are white. A former mayor was suspended in 2007 over allegations of racist behaviour, was fired in 2008 but was elected later as sheriff. In November 2012 a 29 year old inmate, James Howell, was also found hanged in his jail cell after an alleged suicide.Investigations continue. (In Canada a 14 year old girl some years ago was arrested for throwing apples at a postal worker and for stealing one CD from a store. Her defiant resistance to the arrest led to multiple other charges for the resistance and eventually she was treated in Canada as a highly difficult inmate, was moved from prison to prison and eventually was found hanged in her cell also, from an apparent suicide. Her name was Ashley Smith. Recent studies of her dilemma and of the way the Canadian system treated her have cast a wide net to look at implications for how we can better address minor infractions.)

It has often been thought that all kids are good kids but that some, with negative experience, become defensive and then cruel to others. They are wounded so they wound back. However this theory is being reassessed. Dr. Jennifer Wong of Simon Fraser University has released research that suggest some bullies are not like the stereotype of victim now angry. Some actually are not depressed, have high self esteem and high social status. Wong says that this group of 'bullies' may not respond well to anti-bullying programs currently offered, because their behaviour is 'hardwired, not learned'. Dr. Tony Volk of Brock University has also studied bullying and found that of 178 teens studied, the bullies among them were more sexually active. Folk says the average bully is neither sadistic nor deeply argumentative, but is just a person 'driven for status'. Rob Frenette of Bullying Canada is not convinced. He says all bullies he has encountered have some underlying issue or environmental trigger such as violence at home. However Volk says that the public and more visible face of bullies may not be the norm. Volk says that the ones who strike out in blatant ways come to attention of authorities but the other 80-90% of bullies are socially adept, popular and less noticed by authorities as a problem.

Little kids learn to talk but not all learn at the same rate or reach the same competency. Though governments are now noticing the importance of mentally and verbally stimulating kids one on one, their answer often for large-scale daycare may not provide exactly that type of stimulation. In 2015 Professor Kathryn Hirsch-Pasek of Temple University revealed that styles of parenting and care have a huge effect on language development. Though in 1995 a study at the University of Kansas found that children in homes in poverty have a 'word gap' compared to kids of the middle or upper class, it was also found that parental tone and responsiveness had a huge effect. The new research of 2015 looked at 11 and 14 month old children in their own homes and found that prevalence of parent-child interactions verbally was a reliable predictor of language ability at age 2 and the total number of words used was not as important as the intonation and engagement of the parent with the child. Parents asking lots of questions "Want a bottle after your bath?," and using shared expressions like, "Look! A dog!." were high predictors of language skills at age 3. Videos of children from 60 low income households of 3 year olds compared videos of the same children a year earlier in play sessions with parents.

The one who helps others is often not just assumed to be selfless but often required to be, with the implication that if you are paid to do the care role it is just a job not kindness.The grey line however has been further complicated by the growth of large organizations that serve in care roles.Imagine Canada has recently noticed that the fastest growing sectors in the Canadian economy include the non-profits. That sector has two million people in it, is female-dominated and now even offers university degrees in how to make a nonprofit economically successful.This fall the University of Western Ontario will offer a 4 year undergraduate degree in non-profit management. Mount Royal University has a bachelor of business administration with a minor in non-profit management. Professor Colleen Sharen who used to be a marketing director for major food companies says that the non profit sector needs to train people in leadership, research, finance and marketing.She wants people in such groups to be able to 'progress' within the organization and 'take on more leadership'. (ED NOTE: It occurs to me that an organization that pays salaries at a living wage, with pensions,benefits and even promotions, may be technically not making a profit above that but is also not 'not' making a profit since it is paying its bills comfortably. It is not to be compared with the work of an unpaid caregiver in the home who actually has to forego income earnable elsewhere and who has to take from savings just to pay bills. When governments value the 'care sector' they should realize the two aspects of it.)

Other countries around the world have seen the development of large privately funded daycares as more and more women are pressured to or choose to have paid jobs even when the children are young.In Alberta restrictions on the size of daycares were removed in 2007 and this year a local developer has announced building of a 36,000 square foot centre in south east Calgary, to house 348 kids at once, all under age 6.Cody Clayton of Remington Development Corporation says it will be the largest privately funded childcare centre in Canada.However Joel French of Public Interest Alberta is concerned to make sure care quality is still high.Tanis Cochrane of the YMCA also looks closely at the question of size. Whether there will be a lot of small groupings in separate rooms is an question to ensure adequate attention to kids individually, and lower noise level.Large daycares often argue that they can get discount prices by buying in large quantities and can therefore afford to pay good staff wages and still have low parent fees. (Bev Smith from Cagary writes: As a teacher I found that a grouping even of 5 year olds is just too big if there are over 20 kids in it and if there are two groups of 20 but both in the same room with two adults, the noise level is so high that it functions as a group of 40. The promise of 'high quality' and "affordable' care is often an oxymoron.)

Professor Maxine Eichner of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has become interested in the issues around what level of care parents give sick kids. Legally a parent can be charged with neglect if necessary care that doctors agree is required, is denied the child. The law does however maintain that parents have a right to make decisions for their kids, especially in cases were doctors disagree. Recent attention has turned to the opposite end of the spectrum however, where parents are accused of caring too much and seeking undue medical care. There is now a legal charge of 'medical child abuse' that can be levelled at parents where it is suspected the parent induced illness in a child to get attention, or sought unnecessary or excessive medical treatment.The charge has also been leveled at parents who may simply be very demanding of doctors, very anxious when a doctor does not seem to be giving full answers, is not relieved when tests show negative results, resists having a child discharged from hospital, is reluctant to leave the child's side or has unusually detailed medical knowledge. Eichner argues that often when a disease is rare any good parent would show many of those characteristics. She feels that the powers the state has to remove a child from parental custody or to even put a child into psychiatric care as if the illness were imagined, are excessively applied in many cases. Her own child had mitochondrial disease which was not correctly diagnosed for years and which for a time was treated as if imagined. She says other foundations for other rare disorders in children such as eosinophilis or dysautonomia have had a similar experience. Eichner feels that government should protect children from disturbed parents but that those parents are very rare. She would like to see a policy where government intervenes only when a parent has provided significant misinformation, fabricated elements of medical history or induced medical symptoms.

In the US the price of heroin has declined and the drug is widely available though not legal.The result has been a huge rise in heroin use with estimates of addicts at 22 million according to UNITE to Face Addiction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in the last ten years heroin use has gone up 60% among Americans with household income of $50,000 or more and has doubled among women. Mixed with that new use is a rise in heroin-related overdose deaths, which have quadrupled. In 2013 alone 8,200 Americans died of heroin overdose.This shift has changed the way obituaries are being written. Though some families still hide the cause of death as cardiac arrest or do not want to air their 'dirty laundry' in public, others are admitting the cause right in the death notice. Tiffany Pickett mentioned it in the obituary of her 34 year old husband Wade. The family of Jack Pond mentioned it when he died at age 26. A documentary film called' The Anonymous People" has been made to urge addicts to admit the problem and get help. Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman of Columbia University College says mentioning the cause of death accurately may be helpful to the family grieving too, to deal with any guilt they may feel about enabling or not noticing the problem earlier. Most obituaries that mention the cause as overdose are motivated by a desire to warn others. 

Hospitals have high costs, from MRI machines to salaries but a very high budget item is medical supplies. Dr. Leigh Sowerby of Western University asked surgeons to estimate the actual cost of 23 common disposable items they often use and over 70% of the doctors were simply unaware of the cost and were 50% out in their estimates of it. Once aware, many are shifting to using effective but cheaper supplies.In Toronto Western the savings of 30% reduction in cost enabled the hospital to hire more surgeons and provide 150 more operations a year. The little items that have surprised people include:
-to end routine bleeding a person can apply pressure for five minutes, free, or use a $364 squirt of an anti-coagulant
-to sever an appendix you can tighten loops around it for $18 or use a surgical stapler for $300
-when surgeons are performing an operation, optional equipment they may need such as single use scalpels are often unwrapped, and if not used, then discarded even if they cost $110. To not open them until and only if they are needed has saved money.
-Dr. Chris De Gara of the Canadian Association of General Surgeons says that the policy he likes is to use the best product that works for the job.

The crime rate in New York City is down from its height in the 1990s and new police policies are cracking down on more minor offences. There are two views of giving a summons for people breaking a window, evading a subway fare, scuffling or begging on the subway, having a loud car exhaust pipe, opening a taxi door expecting a tip, urinating in a public place, cycling on the sidewalk. Some say that enforcing minor laws well keeps crime rate low. Others say it is too extreme and that hauling such people before the courts to face jail time is itself a punishment and is a misuse of the courts. In 2014 620,000 summonses and misdemeanor charges were issued by New York Police, about the size of the population of Los Angeles. Robert Gangi is angry about that number and is chronicling what he sees as unfair treatment in the lower courts. He has engaged the help of college students, freelance writers and others to spend time in court talking to such offenders to get their stories and to prepare a report about them. Police Commissioner William  Bratton says that crime decreased greatly in direct proportion to issuing summonses and misdemeanour arrests. However City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito says some of these minor offenses should just be decriminalized. In fact during one amnesty day in Brooklyn, hundreds of people with warrants for petty violations were able to have them resolved just by turning up.

Canada has two houses of parliament - the elected House of Commons and the non-elected but appointed Senate. Though the US elects members to both of its houses, Canada does not. There has been criticism of the Canadian system, some wanting the members to be elected, some wanting them appointed or elected for a term only not for life as is current, some questioning the political bias of the Prime Minister who appoints people, historically, whose views he applauds. With recent controversy about overspending of senate personal budgets, the debate about the Senate has reached new heights. Prime Minister Harper has now added one more element to this debate. The Senate has 105 seats and currently there are 22 vacancies. Under the BNA Act when a vacancy occurs by resignation, death or otherwise, the Governor General is to summon someone fit and qualified to fit the vacancy (and the Prime Minister generally makes that choice and approaches the Governor General about it). Under the BNA act also any changes to the governance of the Senate have to be decided on by the Senate, House of Commons and at least 2/3 of the large provinces. However the Prime Minister has not followed this principle and has left those 22 spots empty. NDP leader Tom Mulcair says he wants to abolish the Senate entirely. Currently the Conservatives hold 47 seats, the Liberals hold 29 sets and 7 are independent. Since he took power in 2006, the current Prime Minister has approached the Governor General to appoint 59 of those senators. Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall says the Senate should be elected and since he thinks reform is not possible, he wants the senate abolished. Prime Minister Harper has now said that he either will force the provinces to reform the senate or he wants it abolished and to pressure others to act, he is not naming new senators. The Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that to abolish the senate would require unanimous approval of all provinces and the support of the House of Commons. Even reform of the Senate would require half the population, in 7 provinces to agree to things like term limits or elected Senate.

In Holland the public is moving away from daycare use. In 2014 the number of people applying for the daycare discount declined 8%. Fewer parents use daycare centres or playgroups and those who do use them use them for fewer hours. The move away from large scale daycare has led to the loss of 30,000 daycare jobs in the past four years. Dozens of daycare centres have closed or gone bankrupt as funding changes have shifted. The Dutch government, in response, has promised to provide more money for childcare and hopes to generate 7.000 new jobs there.

July, 2015

Sometimes the caregiver is a group of individuals in a church, even by extension, the church itself whose message has become a symbol of positive care. After the recent killing of Rev. Pinckney in Charleston, South Carolina, people reflected on the role of churches in the US for people of colour. Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in about 1787. The church has endured a fire and been rebuilt, has been outlawed then met secretly, and was victim of an earthquake and was rebuilt. President Obama in a moving eulogy to Pinckney summed up the role of the black church in American history. He said that the black church enabled slaves to worship in safety, were rest stops along the Underground Railway, were bunkers during the civil rights movement, helped people organize for jobs, helped them network, kept children loved and fed and out of harm's way and taught them they are' beautiful and smart ' and that 'they matter'.

The National Seniors Council has found that half of Canadians over age 80 report feeling lonely and that not having a social network puts seniors at greater risk of depression, sedentary living and dementia. Generations United, a US group, found a flip side of the news though, that seniors who spend time with children retain better memory skills, have fewer falls and burn more calories. These insights are part of the reason for movements to incorporate intergenerational contact into lives. One British Columbia housing co op invites children to help seniors maintain a garden. In Vernon BC Sharon McKenzie moved her elementary school class right into a senior's residence for several weeks and has done this as part of a project that is in its eighth year. Seniors take part aspects of the regular school curriculum. Dr. Valerie Kuehne of the University of Victoria reports that relationships with caring seniors also benefit kids, help them stay in school and do better in school. Trudi Johnston, an Ontario realtor organized an intergenerational build recently for Habitat for Humanity. 20 students and 20 seniors installed insulation and built walls together.

Having a law on the books to protect the vulnerable may not be sufficient to protect them if the law is not enforced. Health Canada has found that though it is illegal to sell tobacco to minors, the compliance rate with the law is rarely 100%. Secret shoppers were sent into 5500 stores in 30 cities in the fall of 2014, some aged 15-17 and some of legal age and then reports were sent back about whether they were permitted to buy tobacco. One out of every seven stores sold the tobacco to minors. The compliance rate with the law was only 68.7% in Edmonton, 71.9% in Halifax, and between 84-89% in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Quebec City, Regina. Stats Canada estimates that about 8.8% of teens ages 15-19 smoke though in some provinces the legal age to smoke is 18 so not all are breaking the law.

John Stuart Mill, British philosopher believed that individuals should be free to do whatever they wanted as long as they did not cause harm or infringe on liberty. The default setting was permission unless proof of harm. However in some areas there is concern the default setting is to restrict freedom.
-in Surrey BC a family playing soccer in a public park was required to stop playing because they did not have a permit
-in Texas two girls operating a lemonade stand to raise money to buy their dad a birthday gift were shut down by police because they did not have a peddlar's permit
-in Caledon Ontario a children's tree fort was torn down by officials
-in Ottawa Ontario a couple that planted a vegetable garden in their front yard was told to remove it because it constituted a tripping hazard
-On the other hand, occasionally bylaw enforcement officers show humanity. Many only give warning tickets, not fines, and some do not issue a ticket at all if they understand and some sympathy for the situation, such as when about to issue a parking ticket, they see the car owner coming running back to the car. In Halifax Nova Scotia it is illegal to park cars or even motorcycles, inside the circle by the ferry terminal. Motorcycles that park there are ticketed. Recently Constable Shawn Currie noticed a few motorcycles parked there, including a small plastic one operated by a 3 year old boy. As a joke he bent down and wrote the toddler a ticket, to the great amusement of the boy's family and the delight of the little boy. The parents took a picture of the fake ticket and the incident went viral. The little boy, according to his mother, is so happy with his fake ticket he wanted to sleep with it.

When you are looking for someone to take care of someone you love, it is common to be particular about who this caregiver will be. In the past family members and extended family have been asked, by preference, to provide care, sometimes disrupting their other plans, flying across a country, quitting a paid job to provide this care. Sometimes however no family member is available so friends are recruited, or if none are available, strangers with some proof of being competent and trustworthy. Word of mouth, classified ads and agencies sometimes help people as they search for someone to take care of a child, an elderly relative, a handicapped relative or even a household pet. There are large groups that offer formal service, especially large scale daycare chains and nursing home chains, and there are less formal operations, family day homes, or even live in caregivers or drop in homecare providers. A new agency called has set up an online service to help people find a caregiver and its website boasts that it operates in 16 countries with 15.2 million members. It is now operating in Canada and will even help people find housekeepers or jobs as caregivers. (ED NOTE: I still believe that the route to optimal care is people you know and ideally family members. I think government should make it possible to afford the range of care options by equally funding the child, or the frail senior or handicapped person and then letting the family choose the caregiver. Sadly to date the state preferentially funds only non-family care and the money does not "flow with" the person who needs care but often goes to directly to the institution offering care. I would vote for equal funding. Happily the coming federal election has both Liberal and Conservative parties promising more funding to "flow with" children (ie, the Universal Child care Benefit). However all 3 parties still will, in addition, preferentially fund use of non-family care.

In Canada several political parties are promising an increase in the minimum wage. Other advocates however suggest that the real way to avoid poverty is to have a guaranteed annual income. Andrew Coyne, writer at the National Post has weighed in on the options:
-the minimum wage - is a favorite of the NDP party and this party has just come to power in Alberta. The promise is to eventually increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.This proposal is not to those without paid work and not to those well paid, just to one small sector whose current paid earnings are low. Coyne argues that increasing what the lowest paid get might make employers hire fewer of them or even lay off some already employed. He argues that this solution does nothing to redistribute fairly the incomes of all people and says that the more natural market tends better to 'bring the supply and demand for labor into balance'.
-the guaranteed minimum income is a proposal that would ensure no one lives in abject poverty because the state would provide funds regardless of paid labor status. As people earned more, they would access this fund less. The tax system would fund this benefit and Coyne admits that it has no incentive factor for people to earn. Milton Friedman suggested this type of benefit as a 'negative income tax'. Coyne argues that this means however is better since it lets the market function naturally in the paid labor sector.
(ED NOTE: Much work done in the nation is not viewed as work. The care sector puts in long hours providing vital care and yet is viewed as not working, so is not helped by increase in minimum wage though that is also a good initiative for the poor who are earning. A guaranteed annual income that applies across the board seems to still not recognize vital roles. I would like a welfare component for those who are starving but a particular recognition of the caregiver role to actually value the work as not the same as unemployment.)

Though there are ways the poor can get help to save for education, not all are aware of it or are accessing the help. Kaila Basilij, marketing director for a national project called Smart Saver has created an online way to connect to some of this help. Basilij says that there are over 100,000 kids in Alberta who are not getting the money they are entitled to get. An earlier program Alberta Centennial Education Savings Plan ACES is winding down and the new minister of Innovation and Advanced Education, Lori Sigurdson, says her government still wants to help people access education. Another federal grant available requires that a person open a registered education savings plan and some banks offer free RESP accounts yet not all eligible know of these options.

There is a national program for needy families that helps them access employment insurance money but not all who are eligible for it apply. A spokesperson at Employment and Social Development Canada has told the press that about 800 families per year for the last 8 years have had money withheld. The cash was supposed to have been paid as a supplement where family income was under $25,921.The average underpayment due to an administrative glitch has been about $35 a week ($1820 a year). Minister of the department in question, Pierre Poilievre, also says that 200,000 families have not registered for a child benefit program they could access. Those being sought will soon receive a letter and the benefits which in some cases are $350 additional for the year. There are concerns expressed by Canada Without Poverty that the reimbursement may change the income level of those who now get social assistance and Leilani Farha of Canada without Poverty hopes that there is no conflict.

Ken Battle of the Caledon Institute of Public Policy has recently studied options for how to fund care of children in Canada, and what role the government should play. He is in favour of a single streamlined support for the lower and middle class but does not feel that the affluent need government help. He says the purpose of child benefits is first to reduce poverty (through tax reductions or cheques), and second to recognize parenting and the fact that it costs money to raise a child. He argues that society has an interest and obligation to help with the costs of raising the next generation and feels that the current array of benefits should be dismantled into one program, an enhanced Child Tax Benefit which for the very poor would be $5,700 per child per year and of lesser value as income went up. He says that the current UCCB and CCTB plans for the very young come nearly to this $5700 level but that increases are needed for older children to bring their help also to the $5700 level. (ED NOTE: I disagree, and favour a universal benefit. And work taking care of kids is work. *Kids have equal value and the family allowance of earlier years was universal. Universal programs are the least costly to administer and least invasive of privacy.*)

*Although it was commonly assumed a few decades ago that a man went out to do paid work and a woman was in the home to raise the children, the shift to the dual income family has not been as absolute as some may have assumed. Nora Spinks of the Vanier Institute of the Family found that a new trend emerging is still of a single income family, but with the mother earning and the dad at home. Her research has found that:
-in 1976 in Canada 36% of households with kids had two incomes and that number in 2014 is now 69%
-in 1976 at-home dads were 2% of couples with children under age 16 but in 2014 they were 11% of such couples
-Across the provinces trends differ. In Quebec and Saskatchewan 73-74% of families with children were dual income. However in Alberta only 65% of such households were dual income
-Spinks found that today's parents of young kids, themselves kids in the 1980s and 90s, probably experienced high rates of parental divorce and had some experience with joint custody. Many likely got used to the idea that dads can also cook, change diapers and provide care of kids.

June, 2015

When early settlers came to present-day Canada they found native North Americans already here. It was decided to try to help the young of these tribes get an education and learn to read and write so residential schools were set up from 1840. The schools eventually involved taking native children from their birth parents and forcing them to learn the English language or French language of the white culture, and housing them in boarding schools with little contact with their birth family. A colonialist mentality prevailed. Over time 150,000 children were housed in such 'residential schools', about 30% of all native kids. The federal government funded the schools but the schools were administered by churches, especially the Roman Catholic, Anglican and United Churches. With underfunding, conditions deteriorated at the schools and many diseases spread quickly, especially tuberculosis. About 3,000 children died while at the schools and eventually attendance at such schools was made voluntary not compulsory for native families though at one point they were not able to access their Family Allowance cheque from government unless their child was in attendance. Eventually public pressure led to the closure of such schools, with significant declines in the 1960s in attendance but ultimately with the closure of the last school in 1996. One school was taken over by native leaders and still operates but with native administration. The Canadian government and church leaders have offered formal apologies to the students who attended such schools, and to their descendants, for what is now perceived as deprivation of their native language and culture, and for the abuses that occurred at the school including harsh discipline and physical abuse. In 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a formal apology to the residential school survivors and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up to examine the issues in depth. This commission has now completed its report. It has offered to all levels of government, law schools, medical schools, businesses and the public, calls to action to raise awareness of what happened, to keep it in the public consciousness through museums, monuments and a national holiday to honor the victims, and through policy change. Some of the recommendations include:
-fund museum displays, monuments in every capital city in the provinces and territories and public archives records to preserve Aboriginal history
-have a national day for truth and reconciliation to honor survivors
-investigate the situation of missing and murdered Aboriginal girls
-look at the foster care system and aim at keeping Aboriginal families together if possible in the birth family and if not safe there, with a family where the culture is maintained
-let Aboriginal governments set up their own child-welfare agencies
-develop parenting programs for Aboriginal families, making sure the programs are 'culturally appropriate'
-develop K-12 education courses so all students in Canada learn about Aboriginal history
-create college and university degree programs in Aboriginal languages
-fund new healing centres for Aboriginals who have suffered mental health issues, addictions, chronic diseases
-give current Aboriginal offenders in the justice system alternatives to imprisonment and give trial judges more flexibility to depart from mandatory minimum sentences
-respect Aboriginal land title claims.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies has recently published a study of childcare and early education in that country, though it excludes parental care from the definition of 'childcare'. It identifies
-formal childcare - 'long daycare', outside school hours care
-informal care - grandparents, relatives, friends, neighbours or nannies provide care (but not parents)
The study does not make a strong distinction between 'early childhood education' and 'childcare', encompassing them as one element as if all preschool experience is early learning. The study however, given those restrictions, did find some patterns:
-45% of all children in Australia are in long daycare at 2-3 years of age, 55% are not
-30% of one year olds and 30% of 4 year olds were in long day care
-only 13-15% of kids ages 5-9 were in outside school hours care
-use of formal 'early childhood' care is high.It peaks at ages 4-5 years when 93% of children are in formal ECE, though that figure includes children already in school
-use of formal ECE before age one year is 16%, and for those aged 2-3 years it is 58%
-at all ages children in single-parent households were more likely to be cared for by someone other than the parent, with more use of relatives and more use of a mix of relative-based and formal care
-when asked why parents of kids under age 6 were using non-parental care, 66% of families indicated it was for the parent to engage in paid work, 11% said it was to give parents a break and 23% said it was for the benefit of the child. There is little financial assistance or support to enable a parent to be the caregiver but significant financial and social incentives for non-parental care.

Dr. Jeffrey Bridge of the Research Institute of Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus Ohio has recently released a report looking at suicides. Though attention is often focused on suicides of teens, this study looked at suicides of younger children, aged 5 to 11. It found that between 1993 and 2012 there were 657 such suicides in the US, most happening when a child was 10 or 11. This means that one in every million young children commits suicide, but broken down, it also was clear that if the person was a boy, rates were higher and if the person was an African American boy, highest (3.5 per million). Dr. Stan Kutcher of Dalhousie University has also found that giving a lot of formal attention to suicide prevention in the schools not only may not help but may even have negative effects. Studies looked at school boards and public institutions that have been urged to purchase programs that Kutcher says are like naturopathic 'vaccines' that have "no scientific proof behind them". He says the "Let's Talk" day has helped raise public awareness of mental health issues but that programs like "Signs of Suicide" or "Yellow Ribbon' have not yet developed a track record that shows merit. There was little change in rates of kids seeking help after schools used the programs and in some cases kids asked for help less after such a program. In some cases suicidal thoughts may have increased though self-reported suicide attempts went down.Researchers are concerned that focusing on suicide may even 'give young people ideas' that normalize suicide.

Male and female fetuses are not, apparently, equally strong. Dr. Victor Grech of the University of Malta has looked at birth rates and found that male fetuses seem to have a disadvantage genetically for survival. Studies have found that though birth rates are 51.5% male, this may be nature's compensation for the fact that women are more likely to miscarry males if the women are under stress. He found that
-male births dropped sharply after the 9/11 terrorist attacks
-male births dropped 3 months after the Quebec referendum about a possible split from Canada
-in 1991 male births dropped in East Germany the year after reunification
-male birth rates dropped in 1997 the year of the death of Princess Diana in a car crash. Grech notes that the difference, although significant, is not on the scale of gendercide and the abortion of female fetuses so there is also a continued threat to female fetuses. He also notes that around the world at least 100 million women are "missing simply because they're female."

In 2014 the government of Canada established an employer panel for caregivers to look at the phenomenon of workers who take time away from the paid job to do care roles. Nicole Bernier of the Institute for Research on Public Policy has weighed in on the issue, arguing that national caregiver strategies in the UK, Australia and New Zealand could serve as role models here. She would like to see legislation to protect workers' incomes and to note the 'losses' in productivity felt by employers. She would like to see more homecare, nursing care and programs for caregiving offered by third parties. Bernier does not want government to actually compensate the unpaid caregiver though she admits that caregiving saves government $25 billion a year, just for care provided in the US by people aged 45 and over to others for free.
(ED NOTE: I disagree with some parts of the analysis. Employers are not to blame for care responsibilities people have and though flex time and home-based time options are good ideas, employers should not have to pay workers to not do the job they pay them for. So who should pay them? Since the benefit is to society, government should ensure that unpaid caregivers get some financial recognition. Yes this would make them 'paid' but not at professional rates, just to recognize some of the costs and some of the income loss and some of the savings to the state that this work entails.)

The United Nations has just published its Report on Women looking at global trends. It however defines the work of women only as existing in the paid sector so its terminology and goals focus on earnings in the paid sector. This focus is evident in several ways:
-it lists numbers of women 'employed' or 'working', ignoring unpaid care work
-it focuses on the goals women have such as their right 'to a good job with fair pay' but not their right to be caregivers if that is their preference
-it reports crisis in terms of paid work.It notes that 'only half of women of working age' globally are 'in the labour force' (then ignoring contributions through unpaid caregiving as labour)
-it considers 'high levels of unemployment' to relate only to paid work and itemizes women's 'lower levels of labour market participation' though it does admit those levels are 'in part the result of their unpaid care and domestic responsibilities". It identifies the domestic responsibilities then as something of an obstacle that perpetuates the gender gap in income.
-the report does point out that "unpaid care and domestic work ' contribute to human wellbeing and to overall economic development "through nurturing people who are fit, productive and capable of learning and creativity". The study does admit that unpaid care and domestic work produce and reproduce the labour force and that conventional analysis of labour markets and employment 'tend to ignore it altogether.' The report states that "despite its enormous value, unpaid care and domestic work remains largely invisible in standard measures of the economy." The writers of the report state that they take a 'fundamentally different view' and say that unpaid work has immediate repercussions for economies large and small.
-the report notes that the International Conference of Labour Statistics agreed in 2013 that unpaid care and domestic work will now be categorized as work' and that better measurement and valuation of these activities should result.
-the report recommends that governments try to 'recognize, reduce and redistribute' unpaid care and domestic work.
-the study recommends pensions for homemakers and universal child allowances that seem to be for care of children even by family members.
-the study recommends 'strong public care systems' for children which likely means universal daycare, but for those providing care at home, only 'support, a voice in policy marking and recognition' (with little mention of money)
(ED NOTE: The UN study seems inconsistent, and does not examine the full implications of valuing unpaid care roles as work.)

May, 2015

Drs. Lauren Jones, Kevin Milligan and Mark Stabile has recently published a study of how low income households spend any financial benefits they get from government. (Since there had been concern that with more money people would just buy more 'beer and popcorn', the study tracked income transfers and their effect.) The National Child Benefit, the Canadian Child Tax Benefit, the earned income tax credit in the US and the working and child tax credits in the UK are benefits provided directly to households with children, money that can be spent at the discretion of the recipient. This study looked at the CCTB and NCB over twelve years using Statistics Canada surveys of household spending. It observed four areas - education spending, health care spending, risky behavior spending such as purchase of alcohol and tobacco and stability spending for rent, clothing, food, transportation, recreation and care of children. It noted two avenues of spending:
-resources channel-money spent for tuition, reading material, health care and healthy food that helped improve education and health outcomes
-family process channel-money spent on housing, recreation, clothing that had indirect benefits such as improving household relations, reducing stress and decreasing financial burdens in general.
-The study found that among low income families an increase in benefits is spent for both resources and family process. There was more money spent on food, transportation and care of children. There was less money spent on alcohol and tobacco, which researches suggest is because having more money reduces stress. Low income families given extra money buy more basic necessities: "Our results imply that universal transfers to families are very well spent."

Elderly people with dementia often wander and feel confused and disoriented. Some nursing homes lock doors to keep them from wandering while others are built in a circular design so a wanderer can exercise but not leave the premises and get lost.However in Holland a novel experiment is being tried - a whole community that is safe for wanderers and other seniors that has the look of a little town. Hogewey is 20 km from Amsterdam and it has its own grocery store, barber shop and theatre. It has 152 residents who may not be aware even that they are in a nursing home community. Hogewey was opened in 2007 and a smaller version of it has now been set up in Penetanguishene, Ontario. Citizens in Hogewey live in groups homes with about six others. Each home has a health care worker and the residents are free to stroll. Day trips are organized outside the community with supervision and special bikes allow side by side riding by resident and health care worker or family member. Residents pay part of the fees and the state subsidizes the care. The Penetanguishene centre, called Georgian Bay retirement home, also has the appearance of a town from the 1950s or 60s. Not all people approve of this approach to dementia, however. Julian Hughes of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in London England says that it is worrisome to have a whole village with deceitful aspects. Fake bus stops which exist at some facilities exist so patients can seem to wait for a bus and then caregivers can distract them to take them home.

Daycares across Canada often claim that they are in high demand with long wait lists. They use these numbers to argue to government that the state owes them creation of more daycare spaces. However a recent study by Helen Ward of Kids First Parent Association of Canada found that in the city of Toronto as a case study, the vacancy rate is not what it appears. Between 2009 and 2014 there were 1877-3666 unoccupied spots at daycares in that city, or a vacancy rate of 3.58% - 6.64% at a time when apartment rental vacancy rate in the city was around 1.6%. Ward noted flaws in the assumptions of the daycare lobby including;
-all parents who earn need daycare. Many choose and prefer other care styles. Paid labor force participation does not equate with demand for daycare
-wait lists often list the same child on several lists and even list names of children not yet born so the size of the list also does not indicate daycare demand
-money allotted from government to daycare does not go to children but to a 'space' for them and is given even if the space is empty
-home daycares and most preschools get government funding but at lower rates than for those in daycare centre spaces. There is inequity even among those who use 3rd party care
-data is collected for daycare use but is rarely publicized
-when the Ontario government set in place province wide early kindergarten policy many daycares lost customers and the province compensated centres for that lost revenue
-Ward recommends restructuring the subsidy system for care of children. She wants funding to go to parents directly to let them choose the style of care they want. She wants vacancy rates for all publicly funded daycare centres to be made public and easy to access. She wants reliable data on parental preference to be collected.

In the US the Pew Research Centre has tallied the number of women who give birth and found that contrary to an earlier trend where more highly educated women were having fewer or no children, there is a new surge in births among them.The centre found that of women in their 40s who had an MD or PhD, in 1994 35% reported having no children. In 2014 however only 20% of young women with those degrees were without children.Among those who had a master's degree or higher, in 1994 30% had no children but in 2014 only 22% had no children.Researchers suggest that women are finding that career and motherhood are not mutually exclusive.

The number of stay-at-home dads in 1989 in the US was 1.1 million but it is now2 million according to a Pew Research Study. However the definition of at home dad varies depending on research done. Some studies consider at person who is unemployed but looking for paid work as still attached to the paid labor force so not an at-home dad. The US Census in 2011 noted that 7 million fathers were providing a significant proportion of the care of their children .

A recent survey of living situations around the world has found a high proportion of young adults still living in the parental home. The US Census in 2014 found that 15% of those aged 25-34 were still living with their parents.The Office of National Statistics in the UK found a similar number. Around the world European Commission data indicates among those still living in the parental home:
-Slovakia - 74% of those aged 18-34
-Bulgaria 51%, Greece 53%, Serbia 54%, Croatia 59%, Romania 46%, Italy 49%
-Reasons for this trend include the shortage of rental housing, the recent financial crisis, the high rates of youth unemployment. Young adults are delaying marriage also and child-bearing. From 1993 to 2013 for instance in Slovakia the average age of marriage for women has gone from 23 to 29 and for men from 25 to 31. The average age of women having their first child has gone from 22 to 27.

There is a new role emerging in many countries, of someone who helps a family through the process of dealing with death. The death midwife or death doula helps navigate the red tape and officialdom but also tends to the spiritual and practical aspects of care. The doula will help plan vigils and funerals and offers guidance about rights and options. Some are former nurses or grief counsellors, chaplains or graduates of divinity college. Others have worked in the funeral industry. Some have taken course about end of life such as the one in Toronto at the Institute of Traditional Medicine. However there is no licensing or regulation for such death care providers in Canada. In the US however in 2009 a bill was passed to require a license for death midwives. They have to have pass an exam about state and federal laws and about the rules for care of dead bodies.Senator Vicki Walker of Oregon said the bill was necessary to protect the rights of the dying and of the grieving who are very vulnerable at that time.

A medicine used to treat people with osteoporosis may hold some answers for those with asthma. Dr. Daniela Riccardi of Cardiff University found that in asthma there is inflammation of the air tubes but that what is really happening is that the receptor cells are just going into overdrive due to sensing calcium changes in the environment. When calcilytic drugs were inhaled the cells stopped creating the asthma symptoms of twitching, narrowing and inflammation in recent studies of mice and humans. Riccardi says that in five years it may be possible to administer the drugs directly to the lungs of people to stop asthma from happening at all.

Dr. Matthew Bromwich of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario often screens children for hearing. The bulky machines for such tests cost $35,000 or more and even if they are delivered to third world countries like Uganda, the machines often are not used. If they break down or no one knows how to operate them the hearing does not get tested. Bromwich had an idea of designing a little computer app that carefully adjusts volume to test hearing simply for under $400 using an Ipad.His "Shoe Box' app is now being used by CanHEAR Uganda and is designed simply as a little game kids play to move figures around or click on objects when they hear sounds.David Chan, a medical student at the University of Ottawa, goes into schools as a volunteer to screen Canadian children for hearing loss. He thought it would be great to use this app for Canadian schools too.Since February the app has been used in 8 Ottawa elementary schools and 3 cases of hearing loss have already been diagnosed there.

In some US jurisdictions, on divorce or separation parents are ordered to pay child support not based on ability to pay but on the basis of 'imputed income' of what they could be earning if they had a median wage job. Because this formula ignores actual income it was deemed to encourage full time paid work. However it also ignored labor market situations, health of the parent in question and ability to pay. The second problem recently identified by media is that when a parent is unable to pay the assigned support amounts, the system then is highly punitive, adding penalties including seizing bank deposits, garnisheeing up to 65% of paycheques, suspending driver's licenses and sometimes sending the person to jail. A study by the Urban Institute in 2007 found that 70% of those in arrears for child support actually only earned $10,000 a year and the courts were asking them to spend 83% of that earning on children's support. Vicki Turetsky, of the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement admits that the tools developed in the 1990s were 'designed for people who have money'. She says "Jail is appropriate for someone who is actively hiding assets, not appropriate for someone who couldn't pay the order in the first place". The result of the policy has been that many dads have lost their jobs and gone to jail. A 2011 US Supreme Court judgment ruled that those without ability to pay child support should not be send to jail for failure to pay it. However many dads without lawyers to represent them remain vulnerable.

When it became medically possible to create clones of cows or sheep, there was international consensus that it would be medically unethical to clone a person, according to Dr. George Daley of Harvard University. However a recent medical development has raised concerns. Doctors have sometimes argued that it would be useful to be able to intervene with a human embryo to suppress a gene that carries disease from even developing. Then the question also became what if a person could suppress a gene for a trait not just for that embryo but for it ever to be genetically transmitted to any future generations from that embryo. In China Dr. Junjiu Huang and Dr. Canquan Zhou have announced that recently at Sun Yat-sen University they collected human embryos from a fertility clinic. These embryos were flawed, already had extra chromosomes and were going to be discarded. The researchers injected into these embyros in a way to precisely alter the gene in every cell. They tried this with 85 embryos. 81 of the embryos did not successfully have the gene in question changed but of the four that did, some overrode the editing and created genetic mosaics with other collateral damage to DNA. Dr. Daley says that this study 'should give pause' to any practitioner trying to use IVF to eradicate disease. Dr. David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate also says "It shows how immature the science is" and others have confirmed a concern that the result of genetic manipulation with so little expertise could result in babies whose every cell has been altered by science. Dr. Edward Lamphier of Sangam Bioscience in California says that genome editing in human embryos using current technologies "could have unpredictable effects on future generations," and that this makes it "dangerous and ethically unacceptable."

The government of Canada has announced its April 2015 budget with some announcements for caregivers. The GST tax will be reduced in a few years from 7% to 5%.
-the Canada Child Tax Benefit for those with kids 0-17 years was begun in 1993 and is paid based on household income. It can be as high as $1446 per child and is a refundable benefit so is received even if parents have no net income. The amount is indexed to inflation and is $101 higher per year for third or later children. It is phased out however for households with higher income.
The National Child Benefit was begun in 1998. With its supplement it is provided with provincial government cooperation and some provinces reduce it if the family is receiving welfare. The benefit can be $2241 per child but is lower based on income and number of children.
-the Conservative government has increased these benefits.
-households with children under age 18 will be able to declare sharing of income to provide at most a $2,000 reduction in tax
-student loan applications will not count money the student earned while studying and will reduce the expectation of parent contribution
-there is a new tax credit for seniors to renovate their homes
-the maximum amount a person can put into a tax free savings account will increase from $5,000 to $10,000
-compassionate care benefits through EI will increase from 6 weeks to 6 months to care for someone seriously ill or dying.
Other parties have countered with their own proposals. The Liberal party is promising
-to remove the income splitting promise of tax reduction through shared income
-to provide higher per child benefits than the Conservative government offers.This could be as high as $6400 per child under 6 and $5400for children 6-17 years though the benefit is reduced for middle and higher incomes.
-to cut the middle income tax bracket from 22% to 20.5%
-to make the highest earner, earning over $200,000 a year pay 33% not just 29% currently.

April, 2015

In earlier times juvenile offenders were sometimes sentenced to life without parole.In some states of the US but not all, there is a move now to reassess that trend, not just for those currently accused at a young age, but for those already serving time. Ten states including Illinois are applying a new standard to cases after a 2012 decision by the Supreme court that ruled in terms of sentencing' children are different'. The court had said it was useful to look at mitigating factors, the delayed development of the brain of teens, and at the age and background of the offender. The states of Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania however are not going to look again at the life sentences of the previously convicted. Adolfo Davis had a crack addicted mother and an absent father, and was raised with not enough to eat at his grandmother's home. He started shoplifting and stealing food stamps and joined a gang at age 12. He says for him the gang was his protection and his' family'.At age 14 he was part of a drug robbery that led to two deaths. He was sentenced to life without parole and has now been in prison 24 years. Father David Kelly of a Chicago church says that Davis has really changed since the double murder conviction and that he now is anxious to help at risk youth avoid what happened to him. He wrote poetry that got published in prison magazines and got past the rage against his parents that he had been feeling. He shows remorse, has earned a high school diploma and is now a teacher's aide in basic education classes at the prison.Interestingly though, not all people are open to the idea of reassessing the life sentence. Families of the victims have been wary, much original evidence has gone missing or key witnesses are dead. Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Murderers says that if cases are reopened, the families of the victims will suffer.

In Canada people with disabilities have some tax recognition. However at tax season several tax advisers have pointed out that many eligible Canadians are not aware of the options and are not using them.
a. medical expense deductions - for prescription eyeglasses, prescription drugs, and dental work. In 2014 the tax department also added to the list of eligible medical deductions the cost of a service animal, the cost of mental or physical therapy for the disabled. Attendance care expenses, bathroom aids, cosmetic surgery after injury or due to congenital abnormality, furnace or air conditioner costs for those with certain respiratory illnesses, extra cost of gluten free food for those with celiac disease, cost of medicinal marijuana, walking aids or scooters or wheelchairs, wigs used after disease all may qualify. The government does not however reduce your tax by the full amount of the deduction. This is a deduction off net income and the total amount of the deduction cannot exceed a certain amount. That amount if $2171 or 3% of your net income, whichever is lower. You also must produce medical receipts for these expenses.Cost that do not qualify include diaper services, vitamins, over the counter drugs, cosmetic surgery, blood pressure monitors, fitness club fees, and health care premiums.
b. disability tax credit - this is a nonrefundable tax credit and can be worth up to $2500.In addition the federal government may allow $680 more and a province may allow between $181 - $1030 more if the disabled person is child under age 18. This credit has recently been expanded and the Canada Revenue Agency estimates that though 1.1 million Canadians are eligible, only 620,000 even apply. To be eligible for a disability tax credit the disability must' significantly restrict activities of daily living, walking, eating, speaking or some combination thereof'. A physician must sign the application to be in this category. If a person does qualify, he/she may also be able to claim up to ten years of retroactive payments. MP Cheryl Gallant says that the credit is being studied to ensure that the disabled actually get the benefit since a number of groups have sprung up to help people apply and then to themselves take a large part of the credit for their consultation. The Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act of 2014 aims to address that problem. Some agencies have taken 30-40% of the credit as their fees.
c. income support systems in each province for the nonretired disabled and the national Canada Pension plan disability payment for those who are retired.
Other proposals have been made to help the disabled, since a nonrefundable credit only helps reduce tax for those who pay tax. Other options may be
-joining the eligibility criteria between programs. Right now qualifying for the pension disability payment is seen as different from qualifying for the disability tax credit.
-making the disability tax credit refundable so that the disabled get money paid to them even if their earnings are below the taxable level

Statistics Canada has just released data about the economy and general social trends up to 2014. For caregivers this data may be of use:
-The Canadian population is now 35,540,419, up 11.3% since 2004.
-the populations of all provinces and territories is up since 2004 but the ones growing fastest are BC up 27.3%, Yukon up 16.1% , Alberta up 12.8% and Ontario up 10.4% /(I wonder if the BC increase is due to retirees? _ editor)/
-in the last twenty years the number of births per year has remained stable at about 385,000
-in the last twenty years the number of deaths has gone up from 206,464 to 256,721 a year
-the largest ethnic group is English at 18.8 million with French at 7.1 million and Chinese at 1.1 million
-the number of immigrants has gone up from under 1 million in 1901 to 7 million in 2011. However the proportion of the population that is immigrant has remained about the same at about 20% , dipping to 15% in the 1950s and 60s.
-the largest city in Canada is Toronto at 6 million, with Montreal at 4 million, Vancouver at 2.4 million and Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa at about 1.3 million each
-19% of women and 12 % of men report having arthritis
-17% of women and 18% of men report having high blood pressure
-16% of women and 22% of men are currently smokers
-28% of women and 42% of men are overweight
-88% of women and 81% of men have a regular medical doctor
-life expectancy for women has gone from 66.3 years in 1941 to 83.6 years in 2011
-life expectancy for men has gone from 63 years in 1941 to 79.3 years in 2011
-the most common age for a woman to give birth is now between 30-34 years. Second highest is 25-29 years and third highest is 35-39 years.
-the most common cause of death is cancer, second is heart disease, third is cerebrovascular disease, fourth is accidents and fifth is respiratory disease.
-rates of suicide are low but are three times as high for men as for women
-rates of murder are low but are more than twice as high for men as for women
-the percent of the adult population with post-secondary education is up from 29% in 2004 to 31% in 2014
-postsecondary tuition fees are highest in Ontario at $7539 and lowest in Newfoundland at $2631
-crime rates are mostly down from 2003. Break and enters are nearly half as common. Impaired driving is stable. Drug offences however are up
-across Canada 32% of adults rent, 30% own their home fully and 38% are still paying a mortgage
-the biggest household expense for average Canadians is shelter, then income tax, and transportation. The other expenses are food (half as costly as shelter), pension and insurance contributions, then household operations and recreation
-the median after tax income is:
-$30,700 for single men and $26,900 for single male seniors
-$26,400 for single women and $23,900 for single female seniors
-$51,800 for elderly married couples
-$70,400 for married couples not seniors
-$84,600 for married couples with children
-$42,200 for lone parent families
-the highest paid sector in terms of weekly earnings are those in forestry, fishing, mining or oil and gas. Second highest are in utilities and public administration
-the number of farms in Canada has declined but the amount of land used as farms has stayed stable at about 65 million hectares.
-married couples lose 1/3 of their income when they retire

At the UN, the Commission on Population and Development met April 13-17. It examined the projections that world population will be 8.4 billion by 2030, with Africa leading the way with a 40% increase and Europe expecting a slight decrease. It will be looking at concerns about
-pregnancies and control of births in areas where the economy struggles to support them
-the aging population in the western world and their pension sustainability
-the rise in urban populations in particular, and higher population density in those areas.

March, 2015

Though the birth rate across Canada is much lower than the 2.2 replacement rate and immigration is encouraged, movements around the country have also led to significant differences in pattern. Rural areas abound with elderly people and while some provinces lose youth who head to other provinces, those other provinces get the influx and benefit. A recent study by Statistics Canada found that:
-there are now more seniors than youth in the urban areas of Hamilton, Vancouver, Victoria, Halifax, Moncton and Kelowna
-there are now more youth than seniors in the urban areas of Edmonton, Ottawa-Gatineau, Toronto, St. John's, Abbotsford-Mission
-some of these relocations are for jobs and some apparently are to areas near the more costly big cities, the suburban satellite communities where housing costs less.
-the fastest growing city in Canada between July 2013-June 2014 was Calgary Alberta, centre of the oil and gas head offices.  Calgary's growth was 3.55%, down from the 4.26% of 2012-2013 however. The average metro growth in Canada was 1.4%.
-the median age of people in Kelowna is 44.2 years while in Calgary it is 36.1 years

Robby Novak is a boy in Tennessee who has osteogenesis imperfecta, a brittle bone disease. His adult brother in law, Brad Montague, thought it would be fun to give him a hobby so they created a home video with Robby as the 'kid president' of the United States. Robby is seen philosophizing about the world from his cardboard "Oval office' and some of his statements have gone viral. There is now even a book entitled 'Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome'. The 11 year old's advice includes:
-put down your phone "Treat the people in front of you as awesome"
-treat firefighters and grandmas 'like they just performed for an entire arena' Robby threw a parade in his home town for the lady who delivers his mail
-create a world with fewer selfies. Create a world with more 'otherpeoplies'
-make good news spread faster than bad news. Write a blog or newsletter.

Scientists can now analyze a person's DNA to determine their entire genome sequencing and can compare this information with known patterns for certain diseases. It would be possible to inform a person, then of risks that person has of getting these diseases, though the information would not necessarily be linked to any treatment or cure. Dr. Beth Tarini of the University of Michigan has released a study of patient demand for such a genetic test for themselves or for their children. Do they want to know the risks or not? The study found that 59% of all people asked would like to know. Nearly 62% of parents want to know their own complete DNA results and 58% of parents would like to know the DNA results of their children. The genome sequencing is not a difficult test. It can be performed using a small amount of blood or saliva. There are risks however associated with how to interpret the information. It may not be 100% accurate as a predictor of illness and there may be issues of invasion of privacy according to Dr. Daniel Dodson of the U of Michigan. However researchers hope the study will help doctors talk with patients about their decisions to undergo the testing.

The dying often do not want to die away from home. They feel comforted by familiar places, smells and faces. Care at home also is much less costly to the health care system so governments have been trying to figure out ways to enable this option as a benefit for everyone. Dr. Darren Cargill of Windsor Ontario offers palliative care and has developed an extension of the on-call program for doctors. He wanted to provide 24/7 on call service by palliative care experts to help patients who want to die at home. There have been several technical roadblocks however.
-Hospital physicians are paid a basic fee to be on call. They provide services and bill the Ontario health insurance plan if they are called in to the hospital during those hours
-if doctors take a call that comes in outside their official on-call shift however they are not able to bill the OHIP plan. Taking calls for advice or refilling prescriptions by phone are not compensated, so some palliative care teams have been forced to work for free during those intervals.
-the province of Ontario and the Ontario Medical Association set aside $5 million to pay doctors for 30 palliative care teams but the money did not get distributed. The funding may soon start to flow but has been limbo since 2013.

To find out if a person has cancer of the thyroid it is common to do a fine-needle aspiration biopsy. This invasive test is not completely accurate since it takes a sample of tissue and may not happen to find the cancerous nodule though its rate of accuracy is quite high. Dr. Donald Bodenner of the University of Arkansas has recently done a study of a much less invasive test that also is highly accurate. The tester is a dog. In the study a rescued male German Shepherd mix named Frankie was trained to sniff the urine samples of people and if he smelled thyroid cancer, to lie down but if he did not detect the scent of cancer to turn away. In the study 34 patients provided a urine sample when they appeared at a clinic concerned about their thyroid. Frankie was made to scent these samples as well as samples from other people of known cancer status. The results Frankie gave were compared to surgical results of the same people later. The lab found cancer in 15 patients and no cancer in 19. Frankie's results were a match to the lab results 30 of 34 times. Frankie was right 87% of the time to find cancer and right 89.5% of the time to find no cancer. The results of the study were presented at a conference of the Endocrine Society, a group organized in 1916 to research hormones and the clinical practice of endocrinology.

Multiple Sclerosis has no known cure yet but researchers are working hard to find one. Recently a new idea has shown some promise, one which shuts down and then reboots the entire immune system of the patient. Professor Basil Sharrack of the NHS Foundation Trust in England has outlined results of a study of twenty four patients with MS, many of whom were wheelchair users and vision impaired from the disease. They were given high doses of chemotherapy to knock out the immune system and then were given stem cells from their own blood to reboot the immune system. Some of the patients have been able to walk again and see well again. Though joy and optimism about this treatment have broken out for many, Sharrack has cautioned that it is a very aggressive treatment and that patients at the start have to still be quite fit to withstand the effects of the chemotherapy.

Dr. Kathleen Hempstead of Rutgers University has released results of a study of economic factors and suicide. She found that there is a growing proportion of suicides among those aged 40-64. Researchers looked at national data bout violent death, suicide and homicide from death certificates and coroner and police reports. Dr. Valier Taylor of Women's College Hospital in Toronto confirms the trend in Canada also, noticing that the financial stress baby boomers had when young has continued into their adult years. With easier access to medications for self-harm, some are taking that route. The study found that
-the baby boom generation has had not only more suicides but a higher rate of suicide at every interval as it ages, compared to rates of earlier generations
-In Canada of the 3890 suicides in 2009, the rates were highest among those aged 40-59
-rates of male suicide are 3 times that of females
-rates of attempted suicide are 4 times higher for women than for men
-during a recession suicide rates go up. In the UK rates went up 4.5% between 2007-2009
-debt, job loss, house foreclosure, loss of retirement savings are factors in such suicides
-of those aged 40-64 depression was cited in 81% of reports
-suicides of men are usually linked to one external event such as job loss. Suicides of women are usually liked to long-standing chronic problems.

Though taxes are based on income, many other things are not- groceries, utilities, transportation. In Seattle, Washington rents are soaring lately and many lower income workers have moved to the suburbs but have to commute daily via transit. Dow Constantine of Sound Transit transportation agency has been implementing a new pricing plan for poorer clients of his services. The new ORCA lift program lets riders get a discount if their household income is low. At most the charges will be $1.50 a ride, over half off peak fares. Though people must apply for the reduced fair program, they need only show ID and membership in a program of food banks or health clinics and a recent pay cheque stub. Public transportation in the US has faced a funding crisis and over 70% of the country's transit systems raised fares, cut service or did both during the recent recession according to trade group American Public Transportation Association. San Francisco however opted to offer low cost fares to the poor in 2005, though only 20,000 people have enrolled. In Greene County Ohio social service agencies purchase travel vouchers and give them to their clients.

The providing of care to the young, sick, handicapped, frail elderly or dying has traditionally been done by women, and unpaid. It is dubbed 'unpaid labor' but actually that many feel that that expression should not imply that it is right to not pay it. It simply is currently unpaid. On International Women's Day March 8 2015 a campaign was launched to demand living wages for all caregivers, including for mothers. Welfare Warriors, The Every Mother is a Working Mother Network, and Global Women's Strike called for events and many were held in Peru, Ireland, India, London and in the US in Los Angeles and Philadelphia and Milwaukee. The campaign argues for an economy where caring for children is funded and made a priority and where mothers are provided with resources, where grandmothers are valued if they help raise their grandchildren and where the elderly are not warehoused or devalued and where race is not relevant to equally valuing carework they do. An International Petition for a Living Wage for Mothers states in part: "Women do 2/3 of the world's work - in the home, on the land and in the community- but most of the work is unwaged. Women are the primary caregivers everywhere in the world."  (ED NOTE: I disagree. There is today a gender convergence of child care roles and functions performed by mothers and fathers in Canadian families. Paid caregiving for both mothers and fathers thus makes the most sense.)

Sarah Marquis of Hackney in England consulted a doctor in 2008 about abdominal pain. She was given painkillers but after 3 days, doctors realized she needed her appendix removed and removed it. The appendix by that time had burst and caused a serious infection. Marquis' life was saved but she was rendered unable to have children. Ms Marquis had to take time off work when ill and felt that hospital negligence had not only taken from her the ability to have children but had harmed her career mobility. She had been earning 85,000 pounds a year at a law firm. However in the court lawyers for the National Health Service being sued offered an unusual defense. They claimed that the 1.5 million pounds she was suing for was not merited because being infertile had probably helped her career. The trust admitted liability for her injuries and apologized but offered only $300,000 in compensation. At issue then became whether having children would have interrupted her career or not. Ms. Marquis claimed that she would have continued her career even with children so not being able to have them was not actually a benefit to her career. The hearing continues.

It was twenty years ago this year that member UN nations agreed to start to value unpaid work. Under the Platform for Action, signed at Beijing in 1995, all members promised to start to tally such work and make it more visible. This year on the anniversary several initiatives were launched:
-a webcast during the hearings of the Commission on the Status of Women
-a UN Women's Empower Women team to discuss principles put into practice
-a conference hosted by UN Women, UNCF and UNDP about unlocking domestic capital for women's economic empowerment
-a conference about making women's voices heard on social media
-discussions were held about how men contribute to child caregiving, but so far only discussions…the plot thickens.

Internationally there has been a decline in births in most industrialized nations. The 'birth dearth' has been significant enough to raise concern among legislators that there is not a guaranteed income stream in 1-2 generations so that taxpayers are adequately able to fund government programs. To correct for this imbalance, many nations are encouraging births. National daycare programs have not had that effect and it has come to the attention of many nations that the real incentive to have babies must involve allowing time to spend with them.
-Australia has offered a birth bonus and one year maternity benefit
-Sweden provides 18 months of time home with a baby, to be shared between the parents. The fertility rate in Sweden in 2013 was 1.75.
-Norway gives new mothers 12 months home with the baby at 80% previous pay or 10 months at full pay. The fertility rate is about 1.8. Fathers are required to take four weeks home with the baby or lose some of the benefits given to the household.
-Japan had a fertility rate of 1.3 and began adopting more paid time home with a baby. In 2001 that involved 40% pay. Clinics have been set up to help women who struggle with infertility
-Singapore- tried to address its 0.78 birth rate recently by giving a $15,000 grant per child and by discouraging apartment builders from creating too many single bedroom apartments that support a single lifestyle
-South Korea- with a birth rate of 1.2 in 2010, the government halved daycare fees, and named one day a month Family Day, encouraging workers to go home from work early.
-Russia- President Putin vowed to increase the birth rate over 5 years by 30%. Money, cars and a refrigerator were offered as prizes to any women who gave birth June 12, the national day and 9 months before that, Sept 12 was named Day of Conception
-Romania - since 1966 has taken the penalty approach instead of enticements. To get its birth rate up it made it illegal to have an abortion unless you already had 5 children and were over 45. It made it very hard to get a divorce and it created a tax penalty on anyone male or female over the age of 25 who was childless.
-Italy- offers money incentives to couples that have children
The birth rates in other industrialized nations also continue to be low. China's is 1.6, Spain's 1.26, UK's 1.94. Ireland at 2.01 and France at 2.08 are near the 2.2 replacement level but are not there yet.
(ED NOTE: The incentives need to be significant or they won't change the tide. If the nation does not fund kids for the span of childhood and only for a few months at the start, if the nation does not provide funding for the caregiving years and if it does not respect care of a child as work, if the national economy is troubled and the paid job market is unstable, these factors often outweigh small incentives. Germany found that funding mothers at home for a few more months between ages 13-26 months did not itself increase births much. It is my view that we need significant recognition of the costs of childrearing, and removal of penalties for parents who choose to stay at home with their children--fathers and mothers. Parental benefits that 'flow with the child' to age 18 are necessary to successfully encourage births.)


February, 2015

Statistics Canada has released a study of lone parent families. It found that being in a lone parent family was not unheard of in the 1940s or 50s but that the reason was more commonly death of a parent than divorce. Today there are more men getting custody of children at least part of the time after a divorce and there are rising numbers of single parents who never married. The study found:
-80% of children in lone parent families live with mothers, 20% with fathers
-in 1941 2% of kids in lone parent families had a parent who had never married. In 2011 those with never-married parents were about 35% of kids in lone parent households
-in 1931 about 25% of kids in such families had parents who were divorced, separated or with one parent absent. In 2011 that was 60% of such children
-in 1931 75% of kids in a lone parent family had a parent who had been widowed. That number in 2011 was 5% of all kids in lone parent families
-in 1981 3 % of children in Canada were in homes with parents living common law. In 2011 that number was 12%.

Radil Hebrich, 59 was in a subway station in Montreal in January and by all accounts, had been drinking and stumbled on the platform. His body went across the yellow warning line and he was hit in the head by a passing subway train. He fell back onto the platform and lay there bleeding, clearly viewable later on security cameras. Passersby however did not help him and it was several minutes before anyone took action and called for help. Emergency services arrived 16 minutes later and Hebrich subsequently died. Coroner Jacques Ramsay has released a report of the incident expressing concern at the lack of immediate help from strangers. Three subway trains and dozens of people passed Hebrich as he lay injured. Ramsay does not conclude that earlier intervention would have saved the man's life but said he suspects each person nearby thought someone else would help.He has recommended that the Montreal Transportation Authority review its safety protocols.

When people purchase items at the checkout, it is common to be given a chance to also contribute to a charity. The cashier at over 30 major retailers across Canada regularly is required to ask customers as they buy something if they would also like to donate money to a cause. Ipsos Reid conducted a survey of 1082 Canadians in 2013, finding that 62% of them oppose being asked to donate this way and 44% feel undue pressure to donate. Some are angry, embarrassed or just inconvenienced. 67% said that they were not sure what the retailer did with the money and what part of the donation went to administration. CBC Marketplace investigated the donations policy of one large retailer - Indigo - which has A Love of Reading Foundation, a registered charity formed in 2005. Customers who are asked to donate are told that the funds go to help school libraries buy books for kids. Marketplace, however, learned the details of this arrangement. About $1.5 million is raised per year for such books but the schools then have to purchase through an Indigo affiliate store (including Chapters and Coles) and the schools have to pay full retail price for the books.Greg Thomson of Charity Intelligence research groups says "It's not as charitable as it seems on the face of it". Laura Carr of Indigo however says that though Indigo does make a profit selling the books to the schools, this money goes back into administration of the fund, office space, marketing and that Indigo has costs of retailing and distribution to meet. In recent Canada Revenue filings the foundation has two full time employees whose salaries total $208,896.


Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease are difficult to diagnose in their early stages. However, Dr. Ildefonso Rodriguez-Leyva of the University of San Luis Potosi, Mexico has conducted studies that may speed up the process. Researchers took ordinary skin samples from 20 people with Alzheimer's disease, 16 with Parkinson's Disease and 17 with dementia of other kinds and compared these skin samples to samples from 12 healthy people of the same age. They found that:
-people with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's had 7 times higher levels of a tau protein than did people without the conditions
-people with Parkinson's had 8 times higher levels of alpha-synuclein protein than did healthy people The occurrence of these signs could enable earlier diagnosis and using tests that are not invasive.

In the late 1990s Sue Rodriguez, aged 42, was dying with Amyotrophic Lateral sclerosis. She wanted the right to get help to end her suffering for this terminal, painful, incurable disease and her lawyers argued that the Criminal Code prohibiting assisted suicide violated her right to life, liberty and security as she defined it. She lost. The Supreme Court ruled against her argument. However in 2015 by a unanimous decision the Court ruled to strike down the ban on consensual doctor-assisted suicide. Its ruling applies to very restricted situations - consensual, doctor-assisted, for patients who are mentally competent and for patients who are suffering a 'grievous and irremediable medical condition". The court ruled that current laws look at the right to life but have been viewing it as the 'duty to live' and in this way have limited individual choices when people are 'forced to tolerate intolerable suffering'. The court was considering a more recent application of two women. Kathleen Carter, 89 had a degenerative spinal condition and her daughter Lee Carter eventually after the court challenge was taking a long time, took her mother to Switzerland and arranged for her mother's assisted suicide there. Wanda Morris of Dying with Dignity, a nonprofit organization, cheered the news and its statement about compassion and autonomy. Though many have applauded the ruling some have spoken out with questions:
-Dr. Catherine Ferrier of McGill University and head of the Physicians' Alliance Against Euthanasia, said that competency in the aged is hard to determine and suffering is hard to define.
-Dr. Chris Simpson of the Canadian Medical Association is pleased that the ruling does not compel individual doctors to take part if it is against heir conscience.
-Doctors at the Canadian Medical Association have disagreed in a recent poll about how comfortable they feel with requests for assisted suicide. 26.7% would be willing to write a prescription for drugs that would lead to death, if that was what the patient requested, but for the patient to administer when desired. However only 20.9% were willing to actually administer the drug, when requested, themselves. Dr. Manuel Borod of McGill University Health Center said that doctors often believe that giving the prescription may enable the patient to reconsider and that many of them will not in the end use it. In Oregon, about one third of patients who request doctor-prescribed suicide drugs do not use them. Dr. Jeff Blackmer of the CMA wants government to clarify which type of assistance it is discussing.

Two recent situations with seniors with growing dementia have raised concerns about whether official rules at financial institutions show realistic understanding of competency of patients:
a. Bruce Gabriel of Kingston Ontario is a 64 year old lawyer and former insurance agent.He has however been diagnosed with vascular dementia and Alzheimer's. In 2010 while his wife was away at work he phoned his insurance agent and canceled his two life insurance policies. He had already paid $17,000 in premiums on them and cashed them in for under $2,000. The policies would have paid his family $140,000 when he dies. When his wife learned of what he had done she approached Sun Life and for four years tried to get them to nullify what he had done and they refused. His medical condition was not fully tested until 3 months after he had cancelled the policies so they claimed that the medical proof she gave was not sufficient for his condition at the time of the cancellation.
b.Richard Keep was suffering mental impairment for some time and on his own one day in 2012 purchased an expensive SUV impulsively. He already had a car and the financing on the new vehicle at $70,000 would require monthly payments of $800 over 7 years. Keep's original diagnosis of Parkinson's was eventually changed to dementia and he had the condition for 5 years and then passed away. His wife Judy Alsager, upon learning of his purchase, went to the dealership to cancel the deal but the general manager said that the official buyer was the only one named on the transaction so he would not cancel the deal without Keep's approval. She approached the Bank of Montreal that was financing the deal and they too said they could not come and get the car and could not even speak with her without consent from Keep.
In both situations, after legal efforts failed, the women approached Go Public, a news department of CBC-TV and Go Public interviewed those involved. Since then SunLife has now agreed to make an exception on compassionate grounds and has reinstated Gabriel's two life insurance policies. BMO offered to remove the lien on the house and forgive the debt if Alsager returned the vehicle to the dealership. David Harvey of the Alzheimer Society in Ontario wants large companies to reverse or mitigate financial damage to a family where there is medical evidence of cognitive impairment. He says that policies must be more flexible to recognize the challenges of clients who have dementia. He suggests good basic consumer protection, a cooling off period and time to annul contracts in view of 'our changing knowledge of cognitive impairment.'

"Generation Squeeze" is a BC lobby group that advocates for young people under age 45.It has recently completed a study finding that governments spend more on seniors over age 65 than on people under age 45 and feels this imbalance is unfair.Its statistics find that
-social initiatives for Canadians cost government $33,321-$40,152 per senior
-social initiatives for those under age 45 cost government $10,406-$11,614 per person under age 45
The study authors say they are not happy with the dilemma young adults face to "make our way out of this time and income squeeze unless we give up something fundamental…the opportunity to have the family we may want or the financial foundation we’ve patched together." They advocate as a result low cost childcare, 18 month parental benefits with a new baby, and a 70 hour paid work week not 80 as is current.
-Generation Squeeze members include many advocates of childcare coalitions and research groups advocating daycare or even providing daycare such as the YMCA.
-The group says that:
-it used to take 5 years to save for a 20% house downpayment in 1976 and now it takes 10-15 years
-boomers are wealthy because they own their homes but for GenSqueeze housing is their key source of debt
-the CO2 emissions of older people's generations have given young people an inherited cost of environmental change
-pension increases have cut poverty for seniors from 29% in 1976 to 6% today but no parallel help has been given to GenSqueeze
-a "New Deal for Families" would save the younger generation $50,000 before their children start school, "giving them a chance to pay off student debt, reduce housing costs."
Given that the younger set also has paid income and seniors usually only have pensions, some of this imbalance may be explained logically, since pensions are included as a social initiative. However Generation Squeeze is concerned that the imbalance makes it hard for students to pay off student debt and makes young adults face high housing prices without much help.The study suggests that health care costs of the elderly add to the senior cost imbalance. Eric Swanson of Generation Squeeze wants the state to increase spending on younger Canadians by $1000 per person, while keeping the current level of spending on seniors.
(ED NOTE: I feel it is misleading to consider social benefit and pension money as handouts. Seniors have earned and contributed to their pensions all their lives and this is their own money just coming back in installments. Do we count salaries as handouts for the young for clearly the income of the young is higher than is the income for seniors? Health care costs of very elderly seniors can be high but for those aged 65-80 are often still quite low and it seems unfair to represent all seniors as a heavy weight on health care budgets. 'Junior seniors' are often very healthy for years. I agree that we need to help youth but I think rather than social initiatives and programs such as national daycare we need fairer taxation, more benefits for raising kids, more support to help tend the sick or handicapped or frail elderly at home and outside of costly institutional settings.)


January, 2015

Dr. George Vaillant of Harvard University has released results of a 75 year study about adult development. His team tracked 268 Harvard undergraduates from 1938 to the present, taking up the project himself 30 years ago. The 44 all male grades of that first 1939 class were studied for lifestyle, family and financial outcomes over time. The results showed that life satisfaction was closely related to early upbringing.
-alcohol was the main cause of relationship and marital problems
-smoking and alcohol were the key factors for early disease and death
-IQ did not predict success. Those with an IQ over 150 did not fare better than those with an IQ of 110-115. Good looks and intelligence were not the predictors earlier theories assumed
-men who had a loving relationship with their mother ended up earning more money and being more effective at their paid work. Annual salary differences of those with good maternal relationships were $87,000 higher.
-those who reported a warm relationship with their fathers had less anxiety, more enjoyment and more life satisfaction than those who had not had such a warm relationship.

Studies of family backgrounds and drug and alcohol abuse usually focus on high risk neighbourhoods in poverty. However Dr. Suniya Luthar of Arizona State University found in 1999 that the rates of teen substance abuse were actually highest in households with median income of about $150,000. Richer teens can afford the drugs and transportation to get them and the fake Ids that are sometimes used. Affluent teens had higher rates of stealing money from their parents and higher levels of depression and anxiety as early as seventh grade.Though the neighbourhood the wealthy live in may seem safe and suburban, it was found that teens there were often left alone after school and parents were working long hours to maintain this upper middle class life. In 2012 another study examined the issue. Dr. Terese Lund and Dr. Eric Dearing of Boston College found that depression and anxiety levels among teens were highest in affluent neighbourhoods and lower in middle class neighbourhoods. Dearing admits that the labelling of mental health problems may be likelier in homes of the affluent.

Veronica Rutledge, aged 29, was shopping recently in Walmart in Hayden Idaho with her two year old son and three nieces. Rutledge and her husband, Colt are gun enthusiasts and for Christmas she got a handbag from him where she could conceal her small handgun. As it happened the two year old, unnoticed by his mother, opened her purse, found the gun, started to play with it and aiming it at her, shot her in the head, killing her instantly. The incident has prompted huge debate about gun control in the US where there are 30,000 deaths a year involving firearms. In 2011 unintentional shooting led to the deaths of 140 children and teens according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The Walmart store chain is a big retailer of guns in the US and a recent Gallup poll found that 15% of American women own a gun. A recent fashion trend in the US is for handbags to hold such guns. Tom Hall of Calgary was visiting the Idaho store at the time of the accident.He has written to his local Canadian newspaper about his horror seeing the event unfold.He is concerned about the children on scene, unable to quickly forget the screams of pain and agony as the nieces watched what unfolded. He says proper governance was lacking to such a severe degree that it must be addressed. President Obama has been pushing for universal background checks for all gun buyers but his move was defeated in Congress.The US Government Accountability office estimates there are about 11.1 million concealed handgun permits in the US. Meanwhile in Canada some parents are blogging about the danger of complacency. Shootings also happen in Canadian cities and there is also concern about gun control and registration in Canada.

In the UK the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills asked people about who should provide' childcare'- mothers or fathers. Currently and since April 2011 there has been provision for dads to take some parental leave from paid work, but not concurrently with the mother and only as a single block. The new Shared Parenting Leave would allow parents to use 50 weeks of leave for 37 weeks of pay, and for parents to evenly split the time between each other.Women have to take the first two weeks because of postpartum recovery but then the dad could be home instead, or at the same time as the mother, or in any shared or off shifting arrangement they choose. A poll to see what parents preferred for 'childcare' found that:
-53% of those asked thought dads and moms bear equal responsibility for childcare
-50% of women and 56% of men liked the shared parenting idea.

In Canada, when parental leave is offered after a baby is born it is usually given to the mother, not the father, is often unpaid, is only funded if the mother had paid work and it is often based on the assumption that women should return quickly to paid work. The rationale for the benefit is usually that it helps women remain 'attached' to the paid labor force. However a recent study has found that parental benefits may serve at least as important a role in another type of attachment - of the baby to the parent, and second, that they also work very well if offered to fathers. A US study found that among 1000 low income US fathers, over 45 years, in high risk neighbourhoods, that being a father is a key factor in keeping a man out of gangs and criminal activity.
-when men play with kids they have a surge of oxytocin and prolactin hormones.
-Scandinavian countries for 20 years have been offering men parental leave, sometimes paid, sometimes unpaid. In Sweden the time can be taken in installments till the child is 12. 70 countries now have some paternity or parental leave days for dads but very few of them outside Europe make this a paid leave. In Sweden the leave is paid and 85% of salary.
-a US study found that employers in the US prefer to hire and promote men who are fathers. They tend to promote them faster and the man's salary goes up 6% for every child the man has
-in Norway over 90% of fathers take at least 6 weeks of paid lave
-in North America Dr. Gary Barker says we teach youth to devalue caregiving and discourage boys from seeing themselves tending children. He suggests that society change that predisposition. He likes the Roots of Empathy program in Canada and the Program H curriculum used in over 20 countries to help men see themselves as caregivers.
Sun Life Financial has just released as study of disability leave in the public service, noting trends for women and men. There are 11,670 federal employees currently on disability from a staff of 242,000. (4.8%). Of those approved for disability in 2013, 1968 were women and 864 were men.
-there are however more women than men in the public service - 55% of the staff are female.
-rates of approved claims however still are tilted to women. Dr. Linda Duxbury of Carleton University found that women are more likely to report disability than are men.
-age is a factor in claims for disability. The average age of claimant is 46 years for women and 49 for men. Mental health, depression and anxiety are the main reasons made for the claim. The federal government is considering no longer offering sick leave, and offering instead a short-term disability plan but unions are balking at this shift. Treasury Board president Tony Clement is suggesting a net result of fewer paid sick days, earlier rehabilitation and getting people back to paid work sooner.

The age of majority in Canada depends on for what purpose, since 12 year olds must pay full price at theatres and restaurants but can't yet drive. 14 year olds can learn to drive in Alberta but not in Ontario and the legal drinking age varies per province but is often 18. The age for voting is 18 but the age for joining a political party is younger, often 14. The age to permit a person to quit school is 17 in most provinces and the legal age to marry varies but was 21 in the 1970s. Now under age 16 a person needs court consent to marry but between 16 and 19 can marry with parental consent. However in terms of youth justice, the age of majority is often 16 or 17. After that age the person is tried in adult court. There is however an option to try younger teens as adults or as youth depending on the nature of the crime. Tried as a youth, the teen faces lower penalty. The issue came up recently in Regina where two accused between ages 14 and 17were in the borderline age area. One boy shot and seriously wounded an ex girlfriend, a crime that some observers say should make him tried as an adult. A teen gang member killed a man for wearing a red shirt and that crime also is being considered as worthy of trial as an adult. The differences are significant
-tried as a youth, second degree murder gets 7 years conviction with up to 4 years in custody. Tried as an adult a 16 or 17 year old can get a life sentence but can get parole after seven years.
-tried as a youth, first degree murder gets ten years conviction with 6 of them in custody. Tried as an adult the sentence is life but the person is eligible for parole after 10 years.If an actual adult committed first degree murder the sentence can be life and parole eligibility does not start for 25 years.
-those sentenced as adults also may have their names published while sentenced as youths there is a publication ban.

The Fraser Institute has suggested in a recent study that the tax brackets should be changed.Professor Niels Veldhuis of the Institute suggests that the two middle rates could be eliminated so that the rates would be 15% (for nearly all Canadians) and 25% (for only the top two percent of earners making over $250,000).The institute also suggested eliminating many tax credits and deductions, simplifying the system, reducing administration costs and leaving more money for middle class families.

President Barack Obama in his last term in office has announced his plans to address caregiving, even though Congress and the Senate may not agree. His plans include:
-giving federal employees up to six weeks of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child
-extending health care to all American workers
-giving all US workers up to seven paid sick days a year
-adding to funds of states that pay for family leave programs. Currently over half of American workers can get up to 12 weeks of time for family care but it is usually unpaid. The new plan would subsidize making the leave paid.
Some of the above benefits already happen but are discretionary and the president hopes to mandate that all federal agencies must offer them.Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president has said "The success and productivity of our workers is inextricably tied to their ability to care for their families and maintain a stable life at home. The president intends to ensure that the federal government is a model employer."

Gauguin's painting "Fruits on a Table" and Pierre Bonnard's "Woman" have become lost. They were owned by Mathilda Marks, daughter of the founder of British retailer Marks & Spencer. However she died in 1964 and the paintings were stolen from the flat of her American husband in London. Thieves were trying to smuggle the paintings by train across France en route to Italy but panicked at a train station near Turin and left them behind. The two paintings were found by train officials and considered simply lost property and were put into the lost property office for five years. They then were put up for auction. Nicolo, an Italian worker, went to the auction and paid about $35 because he liked the paintings, though he did not recognize them. He put them in his kitchen in Turin and then when he retired took them to Syracuse, Sicily. His son one day was looking at them more closely though recently, and contacted Italian police thinking they might be valuable. Experts confirmed that the two works are genuine. The paintings were then taken by police to try to find their rightful owners but Marks and her husband had no children and no claimants emerged. Nicolo has been given back the paintings. He plans to sell one of them and take his wife on a trip, and to buy a farm. The paintings are estimated to be worth nearly $51 million.

When an armed gunman entered a café in Sydney Australia, claiming to represent followers of Islam, other Muslims risked backlash. A person riding a subway train noticed a fellow rider removing her religious hijab, and was sad to see this. She ran after her at the train station saying" Put it back on. I'll walk with you'. Others learning of this situation stepped up for Muslims, with a hashtag offering "I'll ride with you' to anyone who was afraid to ride the subway or bus.

Canada has its remote areas and the main 'number one' Trans Canada highway crosses the entire country, going through many of them. In rural Saskatchewan the remoteness has also been counterbalanced by a particular friendliness and helpfulness of residents. Katie Callahan's car spun out on black ice near Broadview Saskatchewan and rolled, landing upside down. Many strangers came to help. A local priest Father Valentine, helped retrieve all the strewn belongings and a nurse offered them a place to stay. Salvation Army worker, Ed Dean has helped many in the quest to find a rental car, has even driven some stranded people 400 km to Calgary, has put people on buses or given them beds in which to sleep.

The expression 'pay it forward' has taken on new meaning, not just from a movie about doing good deeds because someone did one to you but also in actual dollars and cents. In Naples Italy, there is now a tradition of paying for two cups of coffee and only drinking one, leaving the paid receipt for the second in a jar for someone else to use later. The tradition is called "café sospeso" or suspended coffee. Bars that have such a tradition now often display stickers on the window. The needy can come in and have a free coffee there. Sergio Arturo, one coffee bar owner, says that he served 1500 espressos daily and about 10 are left suspended by customers. About five people come in per day for the free coffee. Some other restaurants are extending the tradition. One pizzeria in Naples offers a suspended pizza program so 15 pizzas can be delivered per week, free, to the poor.

Though racism is taboo in most official policy in the US, strong suspicions have arisen that it still abounds informally. The Office for Civil Rights at the US Department of Education has found that though 2% of white girls were suspended from public elementary or secondary schools in 2011-2012, 12% of blacks girls were. In Georgia five times as many black girls as white girls were suspended. Dr. Jamilia Blake of Texas A &M University says that black boys seem to be viewed as more threatening than white boys, and that black girls are seen as 'unsophisticated, hypersexualized and defiant'. In one example cited in the New York Times, two girls, one white and one black scribbled graffiti on a bathroom stall door. Parents of both girls were contacted and the girls were accused of vandalism, Edward Perkey paid for the damages his daughter caused but parents of Mikia Hutchings, who is black were not able to pay the $100 and had to deal with allegations of criminal trespassing. Miika had to spend her summer on probation and do 16 hours of community service. The friend who is white, had no such consequences.

In the wake of several teen suicides, attention was focused on bullying especially among teens and over the internet. However a recent study at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto tracked coroner reports for teens who committed suicide between 1998 and 2011 and found that bullying was rarely a key factor. 94 suicides were studied, of victims aged 10-19. The average age of those in the study was 16.8 years and more than two -thirds were male.Their medical records were added to through interviews with family, friends, doctors and even suicide notes. It became apparent that the chief stressors for teens were depression (40%), conflict with parents (21%) problems with girlfriends or boyfriends (17%), school problems (11%), criminal or legal problems (11%). Dr. Hazen Gandy of Ottawa says that suicide is a result of a complex set of dynamics and is not surprised that the key feature is depression.

In Canada's foster care system aboriginal children feature prominently. In 2011 Statistics Canada reports that nearly half of children in foster care, aged under 15, were aboriginal. Often as they become adult they seek to discover their roots. Lori Campbell of Regina in such a search has learned that she was put into foster care at age 14 months and then adopted by a white family. She learned that she had five brothers and one sister who also all were put into care or adopted. Though social media she was able to post a photo detailing what she had learned and then to connect some of the missing pieces though the search has taken her 23 years. Meanwhile she has also heard from many other aboriginal adoptees who also want to find their birth relatives.

Microsoft has surveyed Canadians about what age a child should be on getting a first cellphone. Kathy Buckworth, who helped design the survey, was surprised at the result. Most parents felt a six year old was too young and the majority thought a child should be 15 before getting full access to the Internet and texting. Buckworth suggests that at whatever age a child starts, that restrictions be put on data plans and texting.

Kristen Hawkes of the University of Utah has done anthropological study of cultures and the role that grandmothers play. She found that the fact grandmothers live past their own childbearing years may have had a huge impact on human development.
-female chimpanzees live to age 35-45 in the world and rarely live past their own childbearing years.
-humans however live longer and when they can no longer have children of their own they still can help collect food and feed children of their children. This enables mothers to have more children and to have supplementary caregivers.
-if human females ovulated their entire lives all children would be dependent on mothers for survival and deaths of mothers would result in deaths of children. Hawkes therefore reasons that the existence of grandmothers has increased the longevity of humans.

The 2013 General Social Survey has now been analyzed and data has emerged about who make up the support networks for Canadians.
-96% of Canadians have some close relatives and 94% have some close friends
-47% of Canadians have at least twenty acquaintances, neighbors and 'other friends' who are not direct family members
-as people age they have fewer friends, 20 between 25-34, 15 between 45-54, and 10 after age 65.
-38% of Canadians see, speak to, text or email friends daily
-30% of Canadians contact family members daily
-contact with friends is most often by text, or email or in person but with family is most often by phone
-63% of Canadians get together regularly with friends
-43% of Canadians get together regularly with family

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel of the University of Pennsylvania was born in 1957. His father is 80 years old and he has a sister with cerebral palsy. Emanuel has recently written in the New York Times his controversial proposal that he wants to end his life at age 75. He is not in favour of mercy killing for those who have severe illness because he feels that they usually are just suffering from depression, which can be treated. But he plans to die at 75, even if healthy, having lived by then a full life. His reasons given, ones that some of his family do not agree with include:
-though longevity has increased to age 81 for women and 76 for men in the US, the last years are not healthy years. He says they are often years with disability, that rob a person of being able to be productive or even creative.
-he is concerned about the increasing rates of Alzheimer's disease which is now the situation for 5 million Americans over 65 and one in three over age 85.
-he sees no need to do tests to discover illness after about age 65. At that age he will not have any more colonoscopies and he will never be screened for prostate cancer. He will not have a cardiac stress test and will refuse treatment for any cancer he develops after age 75. He will not get flu shots or use antibiotics. He does not want to prolong any dying process.
(ED NOTE: I disagree with any blanket policy in this regard, and would suggest that when he is 75 and still healthy, Dr. Emanuel may well reassess his position.)

To prepare for retirement many people take part in pension plans but Sun Life Financial Inc says that not enough are doing so. Tom Reid of Sun Life says that many plans involved employers matching contributions the employee makes and because employees are not taking part in such plans, they are walking away from a lot of money. He estimates that there are hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits to seniors not being used because people don't take part in such plans.In some defined plans employers contribute dollar for dollar what the employee gives but others provide 50 cents per dollar the employee gives. Pension contributions also can be deducted and reduce taxable income but the public may not be aware of the advantage to them of having a little less money per month now.

In the General Social Survey Canadians are asked how they spend their time over a 24 hour period, and 167 categories of activities are surveyed. The categories include:
-core housework- making meals, cleaning up after meals, doing laundry, cleaning indoors
-non-core housework- cleaning outdoors, sewing, mending, household repair and maintenance, gardening, pet care, plant care, household paper work, unpacking groceries
-shopping and services- shopping for food, for personal goods, getting personal care services, getting medical and dental care
-primary child care - feeding, teaching, reading to, playing with children, providing medical care, driving children to activities The data from various years is also analyzed to see trends and notable recently for those adults 20-29 years old:
-over the last twenty years there has been a 10% decrease in time spent on housework
-men's paid work week is slightly longer than is women's
-women spend slightly more time on housework than do men
-having children creates more need for doing housework
-women at home with kids spend twice as much time on childcare as do women with paid work outside the home (32 hours compared to 14 hours for preschoolers, 12 hours compared to 5 hours for children over 5)
-married men with children do longer paid hours of work than do single men or married men without children
-married women with children do fewer paid hours of work than do single women or married women without children.
(ED NOTE: I appreciate that we are noticing what part of the economy actually depends on unpaid work. It seems sad that we only notice it when the caregiver actually dies or is seriously injured before we make adjustments but at least we are doing surveys. I am irritated that the focus of the GSS is not on the value of the work though, but instead on the gender of who does it. That to me is not relevant. Whoever does the work, it should be valued work in the economy and should be noticed up-front with the provision of family benefits).

Though tolerance of diversity is a well-respected tradition of democracy, there is a delicate balance at play. Bradley Miller of Western University is concerned that gay marriage is a subject that may be crossing the line. He says that those who object to it are now often treated as bigots and are denied their rights as parents if they do not want their offspring to have such discussions in school. Professor Miller has recently been appointed as judge, effective Jan 16, 2015. His suggestion that legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada harms religious freedom and free speech has been examined by some commentators. Though some have expressed concern that the Conservative government seems to be appointing as judges those with conservative views, Dr. Dennis Baker of the University of Guelph says that this topic is a reasonable one for a law professor to address.

The United States is not without its social problems but it also is not without its solutions. In fact there are 339 federal programs for disadvantaged youth, overseen by 12 agencies and departments at a cost of $224 billion. However 75% of them are not working, according to Ron Haskins, of the Centre on Children and Families at the Brookings Institute. Haskins helped develop the 1996 welfare overhaul and feels that only programs that can prove they work should be funded. He says that the childhood education program Head Start and the substance abuse prevention program D.A.R.E have few benefits and nearly none of those benefits are long-term. What does work? He itemizes the following:
-A teen outreach program where 6,000 children in grade 9 discuss life skills, sense of purpose and healthy behaviours. The 9 month Florida program has helped reduce risk of school suspension, dropout and teen pregnancies.
-a reading partners program in 160 elementary schools where volunteer tutors are paired with children twice a week. Reading skills have been shown to improve on standardized tests.
-a Pennsylvania program where nurses visit first-time mothers of low income. The visits happen till the child is two years old and usually 20-30 visits take place. The nurses discuss child-rearing and health issues and the results show less abuse of children and higher health scores for the children.


December, 2014

Susan Pinker is a Canadian psychologist who studies human relationships and the business world. She recently published "The Village Effect: How Face to Face Contact can make us healthier and happier". In an age of technology and social media, many people may assume that we are all very 'connected' to each other through the Internet. However Pinker found that humans still are wired to need actual personal contact with each other in order to learn well, to be happy, and to extend our lives.She find that it is not just family or close friends who ground us but also the small chats we have regularly with clerks, neighbours and others. Her research found that:
-in families the more meals they eat together, the larger the child's vocabulary and higher the child's school grades
-a University of California study of 3000 women with breast cancer found that women with friends were 4 times as likely to survive as were women with few social connections
-in one Sardinian village many residents live into their nineties and one key factor seems to be that there is a cultural response of everyone looking out for everyone else, or 'reciprocal altruism'
-Pinker notes that with some online social networks, people post pictures and messages about themselves to their friends, but that these are 'crafted' images for public consumption. She says that the 'friends' we contact by social media are often not friends at all. Many companies are starting to listen and are replacing the phone answering digital message with a real person.

While some researchers are emphasizing the needs of children for cuddles, lap time and one on one contact, others are looking at using technology more and more. A new app to track student behaviour has been designed to let teachers record a student's conduct digitally and to make a public display of the points given or taken away, with the student's name, cartoon avatar and score displayed on a screen for all to see. Greg Fletcher at Hunter Elementary School in Hunter, New York is among many teachers who say it helps them record classroom conduct efficiently and have a record to show parents. However critics of the plan abound. The ClassDojo app, some say, violates privacy of the children and is not a fair system because it allows grey area judgments about what action of 'disrespect' merits loss of points. One principal in Wisconsin told his staff not to display this data publicly to the class, fearing that the app may seem to publicly shame a child.

It costs $60,000 to train a purebred dog to be a therapy dog. The training starts with puppies and helps the dogs notice challenges people may have such as low blood sugar, migraine headaches, panic attacks as well training the dog how to behave in public, how to be calming, understand commands, how to act around wheelchairs, obey traffic and other signals.However many people cannot afford the cost of such dog training. Jim Stanek suffered a traumatic brain injury when serving in Iraq and experienced post traumatic stress disorder. He and his wife Lindsey had an idea of training rescue dogs as therapy dogs, for him and for others. They set up Paws and Stripes, a nonprofit to match veterans with dogs. The training costs $6,300, takes only 9 months, and helps give a new purpose to dogs in shelters who are smart, confident and friendly. The American Kennel Club has endorsed the new venture and so far over 50 dogs have been matched with veterans through the program.

When a family member is sent to surgery, relatives sit in the waiting room, often for hours and often worried about what is happening down the hall. After frequently checking at the desk they learn updates about the situation but often worry if there are delays. To help family members, some doctors are now sending messages from the surgical suite to update family members on their smartphones. St. Johns Riverside Hospital in New York is one of many that uses the MD-Connect-Me app. Dr. Andrew Salberg has been using the technology for about 6 months and sends quick messages from a selected range of standard options- procedure is going well and as planned/ patient is resting and requests no visitors at this time - etc. At Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando parents can even see photos and text updates of their child's operation. The photos self-destruct in less than a minute. An app called EASE uses WiFi or 3G, LET connections to send a medical or surgical update to the mobile device of a family member who requests it. The updates disappear after 45 seconds and the app can be downloaded for free. However in the US there is another concern about such technology- privacy.According to the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, rules have been set down for what information a medical service provider can and cannot share with others. They can share information to obtain insurance premiums or get payment, to assess case management and care and to decide on appropriate care. Information can be shared with the public in cases of a risk of contagious spread of an illness or when it is a work-related injury or illness where employers must be informed.With the new apps, doctors have to make sure that identifiable health information of the patient, their past, present or future physical or mental health or condition is not spread in any way that violates this law.However there is a category for medical information that is 'de-identified', so that the naming of the patient, address, birth date, Social security number and other common identifiers are removed. In the case of such information not traceable to a patient in particular, there are no restrictions on disclosure of this information for statistical purposes.

There are currently 1.3 billion people in India and many observers have argued that overcrowding and overpopulation should be addressed.In 1951 R. A. Gopalaswami argued that mass sterilization would stem the tide he noted even then, when one-seventh of all people in the world lived in India. In 1976 India passed a law making sterilization compulsory and six million people were sterilized that year alone. Today the programs are voluntary but incentives are offered. However the mass sterilization plan has over the years come under criticism. This month in 2014 Dr. R. K. Gupta was charged with attempted culpable homicide and negligence after 60 women got sick and 13 died at free mass sterilization camp. Authorities have accused the doctor of failure to sterilize surgical instruments. Others claim that the surgery was fine but that the women returned to their native villages and were given substandard antibiotics. Authorities have now also arrested the director of a firm that makes drugs amidst a claim that the poison zinc phosphate has been found present in the drugs. Gupta has been known to perform 83 surgeries in six hours, averaging about one every four minutes. He claims that rate helps him met quotas local authorities have established. A former ambassador from the US, M. C. Chagla, says that a better answer may be an oral contraceptive that works well. He says that sterilization should be voluntary but encouraged and safe. A father in law of one of the dead women says that he thought the program was run to benefit the poor but 'they have cheated us'.

Canada has universal health care and provides medical care for doctor's appointments and emergency treatment, and hospital stays for a wide range of medical conditions.The universal plan is funded by taxation and government programs. After seeing negative effects of extreme poverty during the Depression and post war, a 1962 provincial program in Saskatchewan under Premier Tommy Douglas was expanded federally in 1966 under a minority government of PM Lester Pearson, amid much controversy. Under the plan the federal and provincial governments each paid 50% of the costs. Over the years the costs of operating this program have skyrocketed but the principle of inclusion and universal coverage remains for all citizens. However over time some procedures and some medications have been delisted- not covered. A typical family doctor for instance now can 'extra bill' for medical examinations required by bureaucracy - for instance to get a driver's license, provide a sick note to an employer, to process citizenship applications, get employment disability or Canada pension disability benefits, for pre-employment forms and for travel and health insurance purposes.

The cost of taking care of a child includes costs to feed, clothe, educate, house and supervise. In government tax plans, however, no costs are admitted unless a third party caregiver is paid and 'childcare deductions' and 'childcare expenses' are only recognized for non-family based care. Research groups that study the 'cost' of care of children similarly only define this cost as out of pocket cost to pay a third party. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has recently published a study of 'costs' of care of children using that restricted definition. It found that
-cost of care of infants is higher than cost of older children. In Toronto care of an infant under 18 months is $1676 a month while care is $998 a month for preschoolers
-costs are lowest in Quebec where the provincial subsidy is significant and costs to parents are highest in Brampton Ontario.
-if a person compares cost of a daycare space to what an average adult income is, the percent of that income that is childcare ranges from 4% in Gatineau Quebec, 15% in Winnipeg, 24% in Edmonton, 26% in Ottawa, and 34% in Toronto

Those who argue that parents should get free or low cost daycare say that is needed so women can 'work' by which they mean earn. When mothers are at home or earning only part-time, they make the case that women would prefer full-time paid work but can't find daycare they can afford. The NDP party has promised a universal daycare plan at $15 per day to equalize the costs across the country, but also to favour only daycare as a care style. Kate McInturff of the CCPA does not endorse universal child care benefits that the Prime Minister's Conservative party offers, because she believes that having more women in the paid labor force is to be preferred. (ED NOTE: When children are raised in the location and with care style parents prefer, some will use it for daycare and some not. The most enlightened policy is one that allows parents such a choice.)

Kingston MP Ted Hsu has proposed a return of the long form census which was cancelled several years ago. Hsu feels that that census study captured vital information that has now been harder to track such as trends in economic needs of households. His bill C - 626 to return the long form census will move through the stages of second reading in the House of Commons in the new year. It is expected that Committee hearings on the bill will take place in March or April.The short form census remains compulsory and mandated by government to survey the basic data about household composition. The long form census was instituted in 1971 to get more detailed information about immigration status, ethnic origin, religion, education, housing, education, labour market activities and unpaid work. The long form was mailed to one in five households and its response rate was 94%. Unlinked to identifiable data, the trends of this long form census were then extrapolated to the general population and used in planning public programs, pensions, public transit, health care infrastructure, social services and education and in development of programs to fight poverty.
-Over 350 organizations have asked that the long form census be returned. Two high level employees at Statistics Canada have resigned. Dr. Munir Sheikh and Phil Cross, economic analyst, expressing ethical concerns about reliability of the new voluntary data. Statistics Canada has also had its budget reduced 12% in 2012 and many other surveys were cut or reduced in scope. The National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics, the National Population Health Survey and the Survey of Household Spending are among 34 programs affected by these cuts and organizations have expressed concern about the challenges of government creating fair programs or accurate forecasts.

When couples in Canada adopt a baby abroad, there are many legal requirements to be met. However officials are noticing that occasionally once in Canada, such children are not easily traced. Adoptive parents have been known to give away the child they adopted to someone else. In 2006 five year old Moses Gilbert from Africa, adopted by BC parents, was given to a woman in Texas, someone the parents had only met online. This process of 'rehoming', placing an adopted child into the care of another person, is not legally monitored. BC Child and Youth Advocate Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has raised attention to this issue and the lax rules around such a practice. In Canada parents can legally put their child in the custody of another person without informing authorities or going to court. In BC however there is a new law that requires reporting of the transfer of an adopted child to another home. Officials look at the welfare of the child including what the child needs plus the competency of the caregiver, the criminal record, and past history of the adult. One of the problems is that international adoptions are not tracked by the provinces. Turpel-Lafond would like to see federal legislation in this area.

One in 2500 newborns contract a life-threatening heart condition known as Long QT Syndrome, and may suffer sudden death later in life.Medications make the condition treatable but it often goes undetected unless there is genetic testing. The Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario can do such genetic testing for $1500-$2000 a patient but has recently learned that the tests for that particular condition have a cease and desist order on them. A US company has patented the genetic test at the University of Utah, Genzyme Genetics and Yale University. They alone can do the test and they charge $4500-$4800 per patient.CHEO lawyers are concerned that this test has been patented at all, arguing that a patent should never be issued on human DNA. Currently if a genetic test done in Canada even discovers the condition incidentally doctors are not permitted by law to inform the patient, meaning a potentially fatal condition could go untreated. CHEO lawyers are making an application to the Federal Court to declare patents on such genes invalid.

The province of Quebec has offered the nation's first 'universal' low cost heavily subsidized provincial daycare system for several years. However the original $5 per day fee charged to all parents was not enough to cover costs and that fee was raised to $7.30 per child per day. That amount also has not covered costs and the government of Quebec has suffered severe financial hardship. Liberal premier Philippe Couillard has now announced that the fees will be increased on a sliding scale based on parental income. Families with household income totalling $55,000 or less will still pay the base rate. However those with incomes of $100,000 or more will pay $835 more per year; those earning $120,00 will pay $1456 more per year; those earning $1400 will pay $2130 more per year and those earning $175,000 or more will pay $2678 or more per child per year. Those who promote free or low cost daycare are upset. Parti Quebecois leader Stephane Bedard says the premier has broken a promise and should apologize. Gina Gasparini of the Quebec association of non profit daycares says this is a step backward and will negatively impact families. The siding scale, however, seems reasonable to many.

November, 2014

A recent study found that children who are spoken to more often then go to speak better. The criterion though of simple 'quantity ' of words the child hears may not be the important factor according to new research. In 1995 Dr. Betty Hart of the University of Kansas found that parental tone and responsiveness to the child highly affected the vocabulary and even IQ of the child. Though children from low income households were found to sometimes know fewer words than did children from higher income households, the quality of the communication mattered more than did the number of words, by such research. Dr. Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek of Temple University has released results of a study finding that among 11 and 14 month old children in the home, the prevalence of one on one interactions and slower high pitched voice from the parents to get the baby's attention were the most reliable predictors of language ability at age 2.

When people go missing or wander, it is possible to imagine nowadays a technological solution. With Microchips it is possible to find lost objects and yet to install those in people raises issues of privacy invasion. Microchips in pets are already available though they have to be scanned at a shelter or animal clinic once the animal is found. They do not help find the animal. GPS tracking however is already done for several demographics
-children at a ski hill, who have the tracking device in a backpack, wrist or ankle bracelet or on the zipper of their jacket
-marathon runners who have the tracker in their bib and who can then get the benefit of having their run timed
-convicted offenders released on day parole or with limited movement conditions who are already sometimes tracked through GPS.
There are proposals to make GPS locating more available for those with early stages of Alzheimer's disease. The police currently in most Canadian provinces are routinely sent to missing person reports involving persons over age 80, children age 12 or younger, victims or witnesses in recent or future proceedings from family or criminal court, anyone known to be suicidal, anyone whose mental or physical capacity puts them at risk for injury or death, those with Alzheimer's.

Malala Yousafzai was born in Pakistan. At age 11 she started a blog about her love of books and worked with the BBC in its production, using a pseudonym since higher education of young girls was banned in her area. In 2012 a gunman shot her in the head as she rode a school bus in Mingora and the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. She spent 3 months recuperating from the injury and now lives in England under death threat if she returns home. In 2014, now 17 years old, she has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her continuing efforts to get girls the right to an education in her country. Kailash Satyarthi of India has worked since 1980 to rescue children from slavery. He has taken part in peaceful demonstrations and protests and has been instrumental in rescue of many children. He has also survived several attempts on his life as he exposes the exploitation of children for financial gain. He has also been given the Nobel Peace Price.

Mosharraf Zaida is head of Alif Ailaan, a group that tries to improve education in Pakistan. Zaida however has warned that the situation there is complicated and that simply getting more children to school is not going to fix the problem. Currently of the 200 million residents, 52 million of whom are children aged 5-16, the constitution already guarantees free compulsory education. The fact nearly half of those children, 25 million are not in school and that most of those are girls, is not in sync with the constitution. The barriers to the girls getting adequate education then are not legislative or due to a few Taliban extremists according to Zaida. The real obstacles are a school curriculum that does not encourage logic or numeracy, and the construction of schools that do not have walls, running water or bathrooms. The real problem, he says, is also that many of the teachers are not qualified. In the early 1980s the curriculum and textbooks were "Islamized' says Zaida and all teachers were put on the same salary scale. The result has been that in the Annual Status of Education report even the boys who do attend school are not achieving well. Nearly half of the 10 year olds are only at age 6 level for language competence. Math scores for 10 year olds are often at the 7 year old level.

Statistics Canada has published a survey of styles of care of children, entitled Child Care in Canada. It however did not look at parental and family-based care options, only at 3rd party care. The study found that parents are not universally or even as a majority choosing or preferring institutional settings for care of their children, even if they do hire help
-only 46% of parents report using 3rd party care at all
-even in Quebec where daycare is heavily subsidized, not all parents use it. Hiring 3rd party care was the choice of 58% of parents in Quebec, 43% in Ontario, 40% in Alberta, 34% in Manitoba
-when parents did choose a third party to tend the children aged zero to 4, 33% chose daycare centres, 31% chose home daycares and 28% chose care by a private arrangement.
-when parents were asked why they chose a particular care style, 33% said its location mattered most and 18% said trust of the caregiver was a key factor.

Much has been published recently about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
a. Dr. Richard Friedman has written in the New York Times that though ADHD looks like inability to pay attention and impulsive behaviour, he has found that often it is from underfed brain reward systems - the person is just bored. He says the brain pays more attention when there is dopamine produced in the brain but that those with ADHD have fewer dopamine receptors. They get excited less over mundane things. Friedman's theory is that for some people just taking on a more demanding set of tasks, more unpredictability in career role can be an effective treatment for what was called ADHD. He is concerned that the drug industry is driving some of the increase in diagnosis of the condition, where drugs are suggested as the only or best treatment.
b. Dr. Peter Nieman has examined results of studies by the Boston Children's Hospital that found that taking ADHD medication does not interfere with height as had been feared. However use of the medication long term was found to pose risk of higher childhood body mass index and obesity. Dr. Nieman says that in Canada there is a problem because children who seem troubled often can see a medical doctor for free but have to pay to see a psychologist for assessment. The result is often that a medical doctor may prescribe a drug that may not be needed whereas a psychologist might use behavioural therapy or other non drug treatment that do not pose these risks of side-effect.
c. Dr. Allen Frances maintains that ADHD as a mental disorder itself is not visible on X ray, lab test or objective exam and psychiatrist Dr. Stefan Kruszewski says that 'virtually anyone at any given time can meet the criteria for bipolar disorder or ADHD". Given those grey areas then of who deserves the actual classification, and admission that all people from time to time are anxious or sad, the CCHR Mental Health Watchdog is asking people to reconsider the high rate of diagnosis of mental illness. There is concern expressed that raising awareness of 'mental illness' and stopping the stigma, though well intended, may also tend to benefit big pharmaceutical companies if the only suggested treatment is always then a drug.

The Government of Canada has just announced its new family finance plan which delivers on several earlier promises.
-a universal child benefit of $160 a month up from $100 a month to all children aged 0 -5years
- a new universal child benefit of $60 a month to all children aged 6-17 years.
-the option for parents with children age 18 and under to declare household income as shared and to assign it to the adults in ways to tax them least. This option is not available for single parents or other household configurations however. The total amount they can 'share' or reassign one to another for tax purposes is limited to $50,000 however and the total tax benefit they can claim over the nonsharing style is capped at $2,000
-the child care expenses deduction for those who use daycare is raised from $700 a year to $8000 a year with no parallel tax break for those who do not use daycare.

In Canada the foreign caregiver program allows people from other countries to come to our country and provide care of our young or sick or handicapped if there is no one here willing to take on that role.The Live-In Caregiver program has come under criticism lately for several reasons however. There were long delays and administrative rules so that a huge backlog developed. The wait time often was 39 months between applying to get a caregiver and getting one. Some caregivers were treated well but others were forced to work longer hours than had been contracted for. There were concerns that the caregiver, away from her own family for two years, was forced to disrupt her own family bond. Though such caregivers could apply for permanent residency status and get family members then to come over too, these options took 3-5 years. There were then also criticisms that some caregivers were just using the program to get their family into Canada. Recently changes to the program have been proposed:
-A $1000 fee charged to employers and families wishing to hire a caregiver was put in place
-it would be made optional to have the caregiver actually live in the same home as the family
-the caregiver would be allowed to take a study course for more than 6 months as was current
-Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has designed an express entry system would be set up in 2015 so outstanding candidates would be fast-tracked
-Some caregivers approve of the move but others have expressed concern that those already here may then be forced to wait behind the line for those on the express track to residency. Under the new plan there is a promise to process 5500 applications a year, each taking only six months to get through the system. The government says it will also double the number of caregivers it grants permanent residency to each year.

The issue of unpaid labor is now on the international radar. Wikigender has invited the public to an online discussion entitled "Addressing unpaid care in the post 2015 agenda". The consultations took place Oct 20-24 among four experts
-Dr. Allison Agganwal of the Australian Human Rights Commission
-Deepta Chopra and Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed of the Institute of Development Studies
-Valeria Esquivel of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development
The consulted agreed that cooking, cleaning, caring for children, caring for the ill and elderly is an important function of life. It noted that unpaid care is 'not sufficiently included in policy making and programming' and found that women spend more time providing such care than do men. In July 2014 the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals produced a document that recognized and valued unpaid care and domestic work under its fifth goal, 'Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls'. Key questions addressed included:
-how to better collect data bout unpaid work
-what governments and UN bodies should do to "reduce and redistribute unpaid care work."

The New Democratic Party has proposed its new policy goal of universal third party childcare. Leader Thomas Mulcair claims that such a plan would cost parents only $15 a day and not the current high rates in some locations of $150 a day or the low rates in Quebec of $7 a day. The program, heavily subsidized by government, would be 'affordable' to users, though all taxpayers would then be paying the bill. In its first year, the proposed plan would cost $290 million more to create spaces for 60,000 funded children in daycare at a price of $4733 per child to the state. By 2018 he would create 370,00 new spots at a cost of $1.86 billion total. Economics professor Paul Fortin of the University of Quebec at Montreal says that the plan is good because it already has been shown in Quebec to nudge women into the paid work force, and with that he says they pay more tax and the state gets more money. However many detractors of the plan have surfaced. The plan that cost $5 billion a year to make 1 million spaces would cost the state $5,000 per child per year. Many have argued that it would be more efficient and fairer to fund children directly at that cost, and let parents choose whether they use sitter, nanny, parent , grandparent or the daycare. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says a better answer than the daycare plan is just to increase the tax deduction for parents, and to let all parents get it, not just daycare users but also parents at home. Gregory Thomas of the foundation says a federal entitlement program is unfair it if subsidizes only one specific type of childcare. The Mulcair plan has also been called into question because it requires that the provinces pick up 40% of the ultimate cost. Many provinces are balking at this idea. Andrew Coyne of Postmedia News has looked at the plan and observed that most of the provinces are in deficit and this new cost sharing plan is unlikely to be popular there. He also notes that the Mulcair claim that the plan would 'pay for itself' has not proven true in Quebec where heavily subsidized universal daycare has led to a government struggling with deficit and to rumours that fees to parents may increase. Coyne himself also suggests another option, that the funding "be sent directly to parents, to be allocated to the provider of their choice."

October, 2014

Joanne Diplock is a Winnipeg resident who has been a music educator for 40 years.She has worked with the Baby Suzuki and Kindermusic programs as well as with students of various ages, believing that early introduction is important. Diplock says that hearing develops in utero and exposure to music helps children learn language and even helps them with reading and confidence. She had the dream of one day offering her skills to those who could not afford the $150-$300 per term costs usually associated though with formal programs and was able to set up a free program to low income parents at St. John's Church last year. The Little Miracles program was for kids in the north end of town in a church that also has a food bank, community barbecue and Christmas breakfast programs. For the music program, children come for a music lesson, have a snack and then get a chance to play, over the course of an hour and a half once a week. Parents are invited to watch and participate. The program has several volunteers including grandparents very used to playing with young children and her students have ranged from newborns to age 5 years. Included are children with motor or mental challenges. Diplock has been able to get funding from grants institutions to cover costs of the instruments, snacks, toys, blocks and other learning material. The program is so successful that this year 25 families signed up and there is a wait list. Two other centres have recently approached her to also bring her program there. Diplock is very enthused about the program and happy to report that once-shy parents are also becoming engaged in playing music games with their kids.

Scientists found that the ozone layer has been thinning since the 1970s. The assumed cause was that man-made chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons CFCs were doing harm. These chemicals are used in aerosol cans and refrigerants and release chlorine and bromine which destroy ozone molecules. There was concern that with a thinner ozone layer, there would be stronger sunlight on earth, crop damage, solar radiation and skin cancer. Mario Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland in 1995 received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work, which included their 1974 forecast of ozone depletion. However there is now good news. A UN panel of scientists has found that since the phase out in the 1980s of some aerosols and refrigerants, the ozone layer has started to recover. The ozone layer is also being built up partly because of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Cooler air in the stratosphere, partly due to more carbon dioxide helps build the ozone according to NASA scientist Paul Newman.

When cars were first designed to have electric lights it was common for them to only operate on one system. If the headlights and taillights were working, the dashboard lights went on and if not, not. Nowadays however the dashboards lights may be fine but the car front or tail lights may be out and no indication is available to the driver of the problem. This risk of then driving down a dark street and being unseen by others could lead to serious crashes. Lorraine Sommerfeld of Driving Magazine has suggested that manufacturers ensure the two systems are in sync. There is an automatic mode for instance that is not always set but that she feels should be, so that the dashboard does not work if the lights of the car are out. She suggests that all people talk with fellow drivers in the family to make sure that they set the system so the two work together.

When budgets are cut, schools often scramble to meet academic standards.In some provinces, laws have been adjusted. In Ontario the push by parents to have earlier and earlier kindergarten has led to challenges of how to fund it. Though optimal group sizes for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten are very small, some governments have defined the level as a play level so with larger group sizes. Other school divisions have sometimes shifted standards, permitting larger groups even for grade one as long as there were two adults in the room, one a teacher and the other an aide. The institutionalization of very young children continues apace. Another recent shift has been to combine grade levels for grade one kids with kindergarteners. In Ontario there is no class cap for kindergarten but the legal limit for grade one is 23 students. The normal group size for kindergarten is an average of 26. Allowing both levels together permits the system to have a larger class. The move to 'split grades' is common now in Ontario and has come under scrutiny by the Globe and Mail. There are currently 261 classes of K-grade 1 split. James Ryan of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association says that when a kindergarten-grade one class has kids from ages 4-7 in it, it is very hard for teachers to find a level to teach at and the result often is to 'water the curriculum down'. The Ontario government has a $12.5 billion deficit but continues to promote providing full-day kindergarten. Alberta and Manitoba by contrast have opted out of it and it is also still not the norm in Newfoundland or Labrador. The Globe and Mail found that in Ontario there are some classes in Ontario kindergarten split classes of 40 students.

Alex Jensen of Brigham Young University has released a study of 282 families each with two teenage siblings. Professor Jensen asked the teens to describe their home life and relationships within the family and then their own behaviour regarding cigarettes, alcohol or marijuana. The study found that:
-if the teen thinks that one sibling is preferred over another by the parents, that teen is more likely to use alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana
-if the home is perceived as warm and welcoming this effect is less but if the home is perceived as high conflict, this effect is greater
-A tribute Erma Bombeck wrote to each of her three children when she died in letter form read, "You were always my favourite."

Many apps for children's games require registering the child's name and information to help walk them through stages of a game. The ones that charge money may also collect data about the credit cards of the household.Many apps collect email addresses, names, locations of users and some then go on to post that information. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has just fined TinyCo Inc, a maker of children's game apps, $300,000 after charges it improperly collected children's information violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Yelp Inc also has paid a $450,000 civil penalty for similar behaviour, both companies having been charged with failing to get parental consent before collecting personal information from children under age 13. Tiny Pets, Tiny Zoo, Tiny Monsters are some of the children's mobile apps that have been downloaded over 34 million times.

Pope Francis has honored grandparents in society in a recent speech at St. Peter's Square. He said, "A people that doesn't take care of its grandparents and treat them well is a people with no future".He questioned national economic systems that value only productivity and that marginalize the elderly and the young who are not currently earning. He pointed out that grandparents are entrusted with a 'great task transmitting the history of family and community and sharing their wisdom and faith.'

Schools often use computers not just in classrooms but in administration, to collect and store marks, student ID, personality profiles.However this data collection has slowly expanded, sometimes just for efficiency. Large schools may find it useful for students to purchase cafeteria items just by a palm print connected to a bank account. The wealth of information schools are now able to collect has now come under question recently for privacy reasons. Data some schools collect includes:
-name, address, age, birth date, email address
-marks in all subjects since kindergarten, assignments, messages to and from teachers
-reading apps to record how a student is reading and what
-school sports data, contact information, game locations
-disciplinary history, family trauma history, learning disability status
-personal medical files including pregnancy
-biometric ID including fingerprints, scans of vein patterns of palm
-religious, moral or sexual preferences, beliefs, affiliations
-family political and religious beliefs, family income, gun ownership
-personal social media accounts and email addresses, social insurance numbers, criminal records.
-There is now an industry that contracts with schools to provide this software and some are expressing concern not just about cost of such contracts but about the use of this data including selling it to marketers for a price, and about the risk of breach of privacy. The Software Information Industry Association of the US reports that sales of educational technology software were currently at $7.9 billion. The Family EducationalRights and Privacy Act is a federal law that limits what public schools can disclose of student records.Fordham Law School in Manhattan in a recent study found however that some public schools in the US set no limits on the information collected on students or on how companies use the data. However in 2013 over 100 bills have been introduced across the US to limit such use. Some of these bills include:
-Senator Darrell Steinberg of California introduced a bill to prohibit educational sites, apps and cloud services used by schools from disclosing or selling student data.
-Florida prohibits collecting finger or palm prints of students
-Kansas forbids surveys of religious, moral or sexual beliefs without parental consent
-Louisiana prohibits collection of data about family income or gun ownership of students' families
-Rhode Island and Maine protect students from having to tell schools their personal email addresses
-New Hampshire prohibits Social Security numbers, criminal records or information about family members from being stored in a state -run database
-Colorado, Idaho and West Virginia oblige schools to admit what data they are collecting. Colorado also requires that schools admit what cloud services and apps they are contracting with to hold student data.
Defenders of the technology however are keen to ensure computers still provide the advantages they promise. James Steyer of Common Sense Media points out that the education technology revolution has merit as long as parents can trust it is only used for that purpose.

The Conference Board of Canada found that in the mid 1980s people who were 50-54 years old earned 47% more than those aged 25-29 but that nowadays the older group earns 64% more than the younger group. At issue, then, is whether seniors have too much money, whether the young have enough opportunities for fair earnings and whether the present system is fair. The Bank of Montreal found recently that in the 1980s a 25-34 year old earned one quarter what an older worker earned but today the younger person earns only one ninth of that sum. The Royal Bank found that one problem for young people is that the cost of housing has nearly doubled in the last few decades and that with high tuition, the debt load of young people is unusually high. Paul Kershaw of the University of British Columbia now weighs in, claiming that provincial and federal governments are spending $12,000 per person under age 45 but between $38,000- $45,000 for every Canadian aged 65 and over. He says that those 45 and under are now squeezed by this tilted balance in benefits and entitlements. (ED NOTE: Unfortunately Kershaw's formulations say little about structural barriers to productive youth engagement in employment; he is concerned only about youth entitlement to benefits, which fosters a sense of entitlement among youth. What about constructive solutions like the Guaranteed Annual Income and living wage? Entitlements should be directed primarily toward children, seniors and the disabled.)

Martin Turcotte ofStatistics Canada has released Sept 2014 a study of the homecare needs of Canadians. He divided them into three groups to acknowledge not just those who receive home care but also those who don't but wish they did, or those who do but wish they got more of it
-the most dominant provider of care to someone else is family. 45% of those who got care got it from family and professionals, 43% from family only and 12% from professionals only.
-2.2 million people or 8% of Canadians over age 15 got care at home due to a health condition, aging, or disability
-461,000 people or about half a million over age 15 needed such care but did not get it
-of the 2.2 million who did get care, 15% or 331,000 said they did not get all the help they needed.
The study admitted that most seniors prefer to live at home as long as they can and that without adequate help at home there is a risk of health deteriorating. The study found that
-of those who got care - seniors are the most likely to get home care and they get more of it the older they get - 10% were aged 65-74 but 45% were aged 85 and older
-for those who did not get care but needed it two thirds had asked for a family member or organization to help but one third had not even asked for help. Some did not have family they could ask or may have been in areas that offered it less.
-for those whose care needs were only partially met - people in greater poverty were more likely to be in this category. 18% of those with unmet needs had household income under $20,000. 30% of those with unmet needs were immigrants. Seniors with no children were more likely to not have all their needs met than were seniors with several children. The more hours of care the person received, the more likely it was that their care needs were met. The study did find that those in lower socioeconomic ranks tended to be inpoorer physical health, more likely to be sick and to have a lower life expectancy. It also found that social networks matter because family and friends caregivers provide most of the help given to care recipients.
Turcotte also found that caregivers themselves sometimes need help, dealing with the stress of providing care, the funding of it, or even the physical demands of it.

Samantha Nutt is a Canadian medical doctor born in 1969. She is married to Ontario minister of health and long term care,Eric Hoskins.Nutt has 16 years experience working in war zones and founded War Child Canada/ War Child USA. She has recently made speeches and written aboutmisconceptions people have about humanitarian missions. She says that if people visit a war zone for two weeks and try to help out this 'volunteerism' does not always give long term benefit to the people allegedly being helped. It even can upset children who actually want someone stable in their lives. She notes that sometimes organizations will fund with every good intention solutions which do not work well in that venue. Infant formula for instance may seem like a great gift but in areas without clean water to dilute it or without ways to sterilize it, it can be even harmful to babies.Nutt has recently written "Damned Nations Greed. Guns, Armies and Aid' and is expert in how war impacts civilians, particularly women and children.

A recent program to help children with autism is claiming great success and admitting that it is often parental involvement that leads to this success. The program is considered training for parents and 'parent-delivered'. The Centre for Autism Services Alberta Infant and Toddler program after a two year pilot project now has permanent government funding. Children who have significant communication and socialization skill delays, rigid repetitive behaviors before age 3 have been responsive to early help, especially if treated very young. Families report high satisfaction with the program and feeling more confident in their ability to care for the child. Successes cited include:
-73% of children on entering were nonverbal and communicated at the 6-8 month old level though average 2.5 years old
-by program end 73% were able to make theirneeds known and to follow simple directions, 36% could ask and answer some simple questions and could understand multi-step instructions.
-at the start 82% had problems eating, 73% had a short attention span or were hyperactive, 55% had sleep problems, 45% showed aggressive behavior and 36% had high separation anxiety.
-after the program the children showed significant improvement on each of those dimensions
Autism Spectrum Disorder is currently diagnosed every 1 in 110 children.

Though some women's rights activists may cite a decline in birth rate as a victory for birth control, for women's empowerment in careers and for addressing global overpopulation, others, often economists and demographers, may see it as negative.A declining birth rate may predict future lacks of government tax revenue, lack of workers to do the needed labor, and greater demands on the people already here to pay higher tax and work longer. In the US the birth rate has been shifting slowly though in the Latino community is remained high.The Brookings Institution in Washington has recently found in 2014 that
-in 1991 41 of every 1000 teenage girls gave birth but in 2013 that number was 26 girls
-the birth rate for women aged 20 -24 years in 2013 reached a historical low from the time records were first kept in 1940
-Amalia Miller of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville says that for each year motherhood is delayed, women's career earnings go up 9% , her work experience goes up 6% and her average wage goes up 3%. Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution says that 'preventing unexpected births' lifts a woman's lifetime income by $52,000, and increases rates of high school and university graduation, while decreasing risk of being convicted of a crime or of 'becoming a teen parent'. (Bev Smith writes in response: "Actually this is a circular reasoning. I am concerned that we are talking of current tax penalty and poverty as if those penalties are unchangeable. Yes, if you have a baby young you have lower income but what if we had funding for having kids as in Australia and other countries with a birth bonus? Yes, if you are home with a child you have fewer years at paid career but what about funding for the at home years and what about businesses valuing the at home years as part of wisdom gathering and did not penalize them in career? In other words you can't cite current penalties as reasons not to correct current penalties. I am also very unhappy to see not becoming criminal and not becoming a teen parent mentioned in any parallel way. That hints of an agenda that is strongly about earning and money and not really about kids' well-being.")

Though farming is now a hugely expensive operation, and large farms can be very competitive with small ones, 98% of the 20,000 farms in BC still are family operated. The small operators thrive however because they become expert in their specialty area. Andrew Arkesteyn-Vogler of Sumas says that he needs bookkeeping and employee management skills, quality control and marketing strategy. He has experimented over the last few years with at least 100 vegetable varieties but focuses on what works best. He currently grows 40 types of market vegetables on 4.5 hectares of land. His produce can be sold at farmers' markets and other outlets. To use large-scale tractor-driven seeders it is usually necessary to lease additional land to make it worthwhile and many small farmers do that. The BC Association of Farmers' Markets admits however that only 5% of their farmers are under aged 35.

Most consumers laws in North American now protect customers for food safety and mark on package labels the dates for expiration, sell by , use by , best before. However, given the economic downturn in the US and people's keenness to save money, a new type of marketing has been set up - the salvage grocery store. This type of store also called outlet or discount grocery store, often sells items not sold at traditional stores. The items usually cost half as much to the customer and may include food near or past expiration date, dented packages, salvage from truck wrecks, manufacturer overstock or store closeout items. Town Talk Foods and the Grocery Clearance Center are two such stores in North Texas. Gary Gluckman of the Grocery Clearance Center says regular customers come in 2-3 times a week just to check out what's new and some even created a Facebook page to alert others to deals. The stores do undergo government safety inspection and no bulging or leaking cans or broken jars can be sold. Expired baby formula cannot be sold and neither can expired baby food or expired over the counter drugs.

Dr. Noah Zatz is a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has recently written about the ironic nature of how housework is treated in economics. He says that the invisibility of the role is unfair and inaccurate not just for parents but that it has 'profound consequences' for others too. It affects these groups:
-parents whose role is devalued
-domestic workers who get paid but not well for the role. He says these people do essential work but rarely get labor protections.The Supreme Court called them 'quasi' employees not fully-fledged employees and he feels that label undermined their collective bargaining rights
-government policy that assumes that family members can and will work for free to do care roles. He says many policies siphon work wherever possible unto this unpaid sector
-people who have too many roles to play and have to hire someone to help out. He feels that there is not enough recognition in the economy for those who have career-family conflict.
-underpaying those who do the care role as babysitters, daycare workers
-He says that parents and caregivers get no credit currently for their contribution to the household economy, no unemployment or disability protection, no retirement security and no social insurance programs. They do not get the tax credits that flow to parents who both have paid income and are seen to work. Their role in the economy is just ignored - "no income, no work, no spending."

If you see someone driving erratically it is often recommended that you pull over and phone the police. In some cases it is legal to make a 'citizen's arrest' to apprehend someone on the verge of some dangerous act but the risk to the person taking that action may be high. The rights of the ordinary citizen though have been re-examined in California lately. In Isla Vista California in May 2014 family ofElliot Rodger 22, asked police to help because they feared he was unstable. He had legally purchased 3 firearms earlier.However there was at that time no process in place to ensure the police would act on this advice. Rodger went on to kill six people and wound more than a dozen others.New California legislation promises that citizens will now be allowed to ask a judge to issue a restraining order about someone else's guns. The officials would be able to temporarily seize any firearm they were in this way empowered to check out, if the person seemed potentially violent and that person's name would be placed on a list of people prohibited from purchasing weapons.California by this law becomes the first US state to let family members petition to take firearms from people. Josh Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence says that family members are the most acutely able to understand the situation and are most aware of substance abuse, mental health issues or traumatic brain injury that may be clouding judgment. Citizens already can ask the police to issue restraining orders in cases of domestic violence so this system would operate in a similar way. However there are those who object to the new law. Gun rights advocates say people need their guns to prevent crime and they have a right to defend themselves.

Justice Minister Peter Mackay at a recent meeting of the Ontario Bar Association was asked why so few women were named judges in Canada. He said that that not many applied and that many were prioritizing child-rearing instead. Lawyer Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich of the Canadian Bar Association however reflected on his response. She noted that the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs Canada lists qualities needed in a judge. These included the ability to listen, the ability to maintain an open mind while hearing all sides of an argument, the ability to manage time and workload without supervision, the ability to make decisions, the capacity to handle stress and pressure of the isolation of the judicial role, a sense of patience, common sense, integrity. Shethen outlined the qualities listed in litigation procedures when a parent's parenting capacity is being measured, for instance in cases of divorce and child custody. She noted that the competencies and capabilities of a parent are integrity, the ability to recognize the unique needs and characteristics of a child, the capacity to be flexible in attempting different possible approaches to handling children's behaviours, the capacity to structure demands and expectations according to the child's ability to exercise judgment independently, and to handle the stress involved in parenting. Jaremko Bromwich then observed how similar these two lists are and how fit mothers are in fact, for being judges. (ED NOTE: I completely disagree with the statement that a parent's parenting capacity is measured in cases of divorce and child custody. Whether or not judges are parents themselves, they are not trained in the area of child development and family dynamics, and are thus not qualified to make these types of assessments. The best laws are those that limit judicial discretion, especially in the child and family realm.)

Emma Watson is an actress in the Harry Potter movie series and has attained international fame as the character Hermione Granger. She has recently graduated from college no longer herself a child, and has been named UN Women Goodwill Ambassador.Recently she spoke at the UN headquarters to launch a campaign about women's rights. In the speech she pointed out that the word 'feminist' is not as respected by young women as she had hoped and she feels it has been misunderstood. For her it is just a word that asks for equality and is not about man-hating. She also suggested that the movement for women's equality will not succeed until men come on board too, which is why the campaign is called "He for She". She pointed out that at the UN Conference at Beijing in 1995 when all member UN nations voted to start to value women's traditional roles, only 30% of the audience was male. She said that men have their own liberation to gain and need to also have their needs met for equality, pointing out that suicide kills more men than do road accidents. She says men don't yet have the benefits of equality either so she is advocating working together on mutual goals. Importantly, she spoke at length about her own close bond with her father.

Employment insurance premiums are collected from workers and employers on every pay cheque and then benefits are paid out to those who qualify. Recent revelations from the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions Canada have found though that:
-not all unemployed Canadians are deemed eligible to get EI benefits. In 2006 only 46.9% of the unemployed were given them and in 2014 that number is expected to be even lower, at 38.6%.
-however premiums are still high. The current rate of $1.88 per $100 of insurable earnings is still charged though government lets small businesses get the effective rate of $1.60. All other workers and businesses still pay $1.88 till 2017 when the government says it will drop the rate to $1.47
-the current inflow of premiums however has already created a surplus of $3.5 billion. The report shows that Ottawa still will collect $4.6 billion more in 2015 than it will likely pay out. This style of money management has been questioned by Michel Miellette in the report since surpluses flow into general revenue. With rumours that government plans to announce it has erased the federal deficit, some have suggested that the surplus of EI premiums is a slush fund. However Finance Minister Joe Oliver denied this allegation.

The Government of Quebec set up universal daycare some years ago charging customers only $5 per day and having the government foot the rest of the bill. It raised that cost to $7 a day when costs increased but it continued to maintain its support for child-rearing and the family. It delinked its employment insurance program from the federal one to offer a more generous maternity benefit package and offered money for milk programs and books to schools.However the new government of Premier Philippe Couillard is rumoured to be planning to cut some of these supports.Mr. Couillard has campaigned in the spring of 2014 that though Quebec has 23% of Canada's population, and generates 20% of the nation's wealth, it spends 27% of all the money provinces spend. He wants to cut costs. Sylvie Levesque however said that the programs were set up to boost the birth rate and that there were in some ways successful. The current Quebec birth rate is now above the national average though it was declining before 2000. Quebec also offers five weeks of paternity benefits to fathers. 76% of fathers take this leave though in the rest of Canada only 26% of fathers are home with the newborns for this time period. (ED NOTE: Universal daycare alone did not raise the birth rate in Quebec but maternity and paternity benefits did. I am not against ending universal daycare. I am in favour of funding children universally, with benefits that flow to each child. Then parents could freely make the child care arrangements of their choosing, some using daycare, some sitters, nannies, grandparents, and parents themselves, as as they feel best. It is offensive to democracy to have everybody forced to fund only one care style, whether people use it or not.)

The Australian Institute of Family Studies has found in 2013 that the childcare lobby is misrepresenting reasons women choose to be home with their children. The childcare lobby often suggests that the real need is for more daycare and that more women would earn if government provided it. However the Australian Institute found that 80% of mothers at home with kids under 5 and 57% of mothers at home with kids under 11 say the reason they are home is because they want to be there. Lack of childcare or high costs of childcare is very rarely cited as a reason to be home with the kids.
Luke McCormack of the National Civic Council says that the family is actually the 'basic economic unit in society' and that it organizes supplies, manages assets, coordinates paid and unpaid labor, caregiving, education, exercise, nutrition and accommodation. McCormack says that the state should support family taxes in order to help the family be self-sufficient in what it does.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has told the United Nations General Assembly that his government will commit to significant participation in the Every Woman, Every Child program announced in September 2010 by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Harper will commit $3.5 billion over five years to the fund to support maternal, newborn and child health, civil registration and vital statistics. The new fund will be run by the World Bank The initiative involves having more trained nurses in outlying communities, cooling equipment to keep vaccines cold, more access to telecommunications to help with diagnosis and provision of care. The UN Millennium Development plan is to reduce the mortality rates of children under age 5 by two-thirds by 2015. The number of deaths per live births has already started declining since 1990, and had dropped from 90 to 46 deaths per 1000 births in 2013.


September, 2014

In Winnipeg 45-60 young people per day are reported missing and Detective Sergeant Shauna Neufeld says that many are 'chronic runaways'. She estimates that over half of them come from group homes-'kids in care' - and says many stay way days or weeks at time. Though the police try to find the runaways she says a better answer is to keep them from running away in the first place. Dr. Erma Chapman of Macdonald Youth Services in Winnipeg says the runaways are often looking for excitement and opportunity. They are lured in some cases by alcohol, crystal meth or crack cocaine and Det. Sgt Neufeld notes that mental health issues, developmental delays and fetal alcohol syndrome play a role in some of the runaway situations. (ED NOTE: I agree that prevention is the best plan but if the government were viewed as a parent, the runaway rate from group homes run by government is so high one might wonder about the competence of that 'parent'. The state is not equipped to be a good parent and a changing scene of caregivers at group homes provides only minimal stability. I would favor also going way back to the start, not to the group home but to the birth home and supporting the birth family. There is far too little support to parents to help them meet their responsibilities to their children's needs; the result is expanding numbers f children in state care: a false economy.)

Free public education is a tenet of many democracies, not just a right of children but an obligation of government to provide.However a grey area has surfaced. Linda Guerry of Quebec is concerned that several thousand children in that province are not going to school and not allowed to go, because their parents are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents. The collectif education sans frontieres says many of those parents are in Canada illegally, some are rejected claimants of refugee status and some are temporary workers who stayed after their permits expired. Their children however are paying the price for this political limbo, according to Guerry. She wants free public education to the children regardless of parental immigration status.
-in Ontario by contrast no child under age 18 can be refused admission to a public school based on immigration status
-in 2007 the Toronto District School Board established a 'don’t ask, don't tell' policy that said students would not be reported to immigration authorities if they did come to class
-in British Columbia, on the other hand, parents must show resident status to register their children in schools

In the US where it is legal for ordinary citizens to 'bear arms' it is also legal for children to learn how to shoot them. In Arizona one gun instruction facility, called Arizona Last Stop, owns a 30 acre property in the Mohave desert. It offers private range experience with lessons from a certified ex-military firearms instructor to children 'at least 8 years old' as long as anyone under age 18 is accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.Experience is offered in use of many types of firearms including fully automatic machine guns. Recently instructor Charles Vacca, 39, was teaching a 9 year old girl on the range. She had successfully fired a 9 mm weapon several times in single shot mode and the instructor changed the setting to give her experience with it as a semi-automatic. Unfortunately when she next pulled the trigger the gun recoiled and the bullet went over her head and shot her instructor in the head. He was pronounced dead in hospital shortly after. Mohave County Sheriff Jim McCabe says no charges will be filed against the girl or the shooting range. The ethics of children using firearms in the first place is rarely addressed.

During the first world war, in Canada people with links to what were now considered enemy countries were looked at more askance. The War Measures Act now branded many earlier immigrants to Canada as 'enemy aliens', and arrested them, sometimes put them into caged internment camps, sent away their children and wives to camps.In 2014, 100 years after the 1914 War Measures Act was passed, some groups of descendants of those immigrants have urged a recognition of what happened during that war. Professor Lubomyr Luciuk of the Royal Military College of Canada has been part of Project CTO, to commemorate the internment ofAustro-Hungarian and Ukrainian immigrants to Canada. During the second world war the War Measures Act was used to intern Japanese Italian and German Canadians and it was used again in 1970 against some Quebecois. Descendants of the Ukrainian internees however are not asking for financial compensation but only for recognition. Mary Manko Haskett, was at age 6 imprisoned with her family and her 2 year old sister died at the camp.However Mary says the redress campaign "must be about memory not money".She says she has not asked for compensation or even apology but just forCanadians to remember what happened. In 2005 MP Inky Mark and others spurred on passage of Bill C-331, The Internment of Persons of Ukrainian Origin Recognition Act. Across Canada on the actual anniversary of the passage of the War Measures Act, plaques were unveiled to aid with that remembering.

Dr. Robert Wood of Johns Hopkins University has released results of a study of food allergies.The study found that food allergy rates are higher among city kids than among rural kids and have been increasing among children for the last 20 years. The National Institute of Health in the US found that 3% of adults but 6% of kids have one or more food allergies. The current study examined 516 inner city children over 5 years, in Baltimore, Boston, New York City and St. Louis. The children from birth to age 5 were investigated for health history, and tracked about exposure to household allergens. Their blood was analyzed four times over the study to see if there were any immunoglobulin E antibodies to milk, eggs and peanuts. The presence of such antibodies indicated the child had been exposed to these products and had a sensitivity. Those with clinical symptoms of allergy plus elevated igE antibodies were deemed to be allergic. In the study, it was found that
-55% of inner city kids were sensitive to milk, eggs or peanuts
-nearly 10% of inner city kids were allergic - 4.3% to eggs, 2.7% to milk, 6% to peanuts
-29% were sensitive to but tolerant of these allergens
Breastfed children actually had a higher risk of developing food allergies, while children living in houses with a certain links to bacteria, endotoxin, had lower risk of food allergy. Children who have food allergies are more likely to develop eczema and wheezing.

Doctors are starting to notice a medical condition that they have been calling "preschool onset depression'. It is labelled for 3-6 year olds who have certain responses to stress and certain changes in brain function. Dr. Joan Luby and others have recently studied if such an early diagnosis correlates with the occurrence of 'major depressive disorder' at a later age. The study found that
-the early diagnosis was a 'robust predictor' of major depressive disorder in later childhood
-children who has preschool 'conduct disorder' also were more likely to have major depression in later childhood
-parenting style, exposure to trauma and maternal history of depression are also factors linked to childhood depression
(ED NOTE: We are so quick to label problems but very slow to acknowledge how much little kids need to be loved. As parents, we know we love them but they may not feel it if we are unable to invest enough time with them. Whatever label we give the problem, medicating it or providing more and more professional intervention is not likely to solve the problem. We need to fund parenting itself, to enable parents to spend more time with their kids.)

In Canada, with universal medical care, the services of a family doctor are free, with appropriate referrals to the specialist psychiatrists also being free. Lineups and wait times for psychiatrists are, however, long. The treatment of mental health issues by such professionals involves listening, discussing problems and occasionally prescribing medication. By contrast, Dr. David Zitner, family doctor at the Dalhousie Medical School says there is another medical care sector - psychologists, social workers, physical trainers who also address mental health issues. That group, however, charges fees not covered by health care. The wait times for them are much shorter. Dr. Zitner quotes a recent study by the National Institute for Mental Health in the US that found that 2% of the US population is severely depressed, but that 10% of the population is being prescribed potentially harmful antidepressants. He says that there is huge overuse of such prescriptions and a spike in unnecessary adverse drug reactions. Dr. Zitner suggests that non-medical professionals should be empowered to help ease the load from the medical profession with counselling and behaviour therapies. He says psychiatrists should only be seeing people who have exhausted non-medical solutions.

The incoming head of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Chris Simpson, has asked government for a national strategy for seniors' care. He says tax incentives would help provide vital care to frail seniors and would help them avoid stays in hospital. He wants community support for family members and respite care for family members who provide at home care. In his view seniors' care is "the paramount health care issue of our time." Studies have found that keeping the elderly in hospital is very costly and not necessary if care options are available at home. Currently 15% of hospital beds are occupied by seniors waiting for transfer to other places.

When governments aim at job creation to solve family financial problems, the creation of a job itself has been criticized for not always solving the dilemma.
-moving from unemployment to paid work is a step up only if the amount of money brought home goes up. Often the fact a person has a paid job loses dental and medical benefits so they do not end up in a better financial position
-some jobs are very low paid.The issue of the amount of a minimum wage is often raised. Alberta has just increased its minimum wage to $10.20 an hour and some US workers are on strike at fast food outlets to get $15.00 an hour, instead of the current federal minimum wage in the US of $7.15. With high costs of housing and food, those earning only minimum wage often are unable to fully participate in society
-some jobs have only part-time hours
-many jobs provide no benefits for the workers who put in part-time hours.This failure to have sick pay, medical, dental or pension makes a precarious situation for workers but ends up costing employers much less
-many jobs that do offer part-time work schedule split shifts, make unpredictable short-notice changes and preclude workers from making comfortable arrangements for studies, other jobs or for care of children. A recent article in the New York Times highlighted the dilemma of workers at restaurants and stores that are weather dependent. Big box retailers may call in more staff just to handle a delivery one day, but may send people home if there are few customers or during a storm. Some workers are often called in to work a late shift one night and another to start early the next day.

Nepotism is the favouring of relatives or friends when jobs are handed out by the rich and powerful. It is not illegal in the private sector but in public office it is. In government run organizations the policy is to hire on merit alone. This dual standard however has recently come under scrutiny. It is common for people to want to further the career of competent people they know, even if they are relatives or friends. Dr. Miles Corak of the U of Ottawa has studied parenting styles and careers and noticed that many people who do well in life did so thanks to the help of parents. Be it the backyard rink that Wayne Gretzky's dad built for him or funding to help a child get through university, most parents help their kids. Corak found however that some also introduce them to a job. In fact 40% of Canadians adults surveyed, at one point worked for the same firm as their fathers did. Among the very rich, those in the top 5% income bracket, 70% of Canadians worked for their dad's firm. Corak notes that children benefit greatly when parents pass on work skills to their children. However he also finds that there may be a larger social cost if the very wealthy are handing jobs by priority to children of their friends. He says there is a risk that:
-the rich get more political power that way
-the rich skewer public policy that way - to get education or tax benefits for own or their friends' children

The controversy continues over the high numbers of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. The NDP and Liberal opposition parties have asked for a national enquiry, joining appeals from the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association. The Toronto Star editorial board endorses such an enquiry pointing out that:
-aboriginal women are 2.1% of the population of Canada but account for 16% of female homicides and 11.3% of missing women
-aboriginal women are more likely than are non-aboriginal women to be attacked by strangers, twice as likely to suffer domestic violence and 3 times as likely to become the target of violence
-1.3% of nonaboriginal teenage girls are parents but 8% of aboriginal girls have children
-3% of nonaboriginal women but 31% of Inuit women are in crowded households
-50% of adult sex workers in Winnipeg and 70% of sexually exploited youth there are of aboriginal descent, though aboriginals are only 10% of the population in that city
-However columnist Andrew Coyne of Postmedia says that an inquiry is not needed. He says the real problem is the social circumstances of both men and women who are aboriginal- unemployment, substance abuse, chronic violence and abuse. He also argues that:
-the murder rate among aboriginal women has not been rising
-the police solve about 90% of all murders of nonaboriginal or aboriginal women
-the murder rate among aboriginal men is twice as high as for aboriginal women

Relate, a British relationship support organization, found that about 4.7 million people in that country do not have a close friend. Christopher Middleton, writing for the Telegraph commented on that number, saying he suspects that most of those without close friends are men. He has found that
-women say their friendships with other women improve with age
-men tend to have fewer male friends as they age
-women seem to throughout their lives to top up their self-esteem or talk about men's failings
-men rarely badmouth women, particularly not their wives when talking to other men, or do it with a lot of guilt and caution

To ensure that the needy get help, governments can either raise taxes and fund programs, or they can encourage people to give to charities that help those in need. To encourage the charity route, many governments permit tax deductions for contributions to charity lowering their individual tax, and the charities also enjoy a tax free status. Andrew Coyne of Postmedia has recently written however that he would like to see the charitable tax credit abolished. He says that what happens with it is that the public subsidizes charitable gifts by giving up tax for those who gave. He also feels that charities should have to raise their own money based on the value of their work and not depend on the lure of tax credits to donors. There are currently 85,000 registered charities in Canada. (ED NOTE: I think that charities should be more carefully audited to ensure they are living up to their declared function as we hear regularly of those that give most of their donations to their staff and administration. However, people often are only likely to give money if they get something back besides a good feeling and a tax break is a motivation. To remove it may kill many charities, which would then pressure government into creating programs and raising taxes.)


August, 2014

A private Calgary fertility clinic has confirmed that a patient seeking in vitro fertilization was told that because she was Caucasian she could not use sperm donors outside her race.Dr. Calvin Greene, administrative director at the Regional Fertility Program confirmed that there has been in the past some hesitation about creating 'rainbow families'. However, Paula Arab, spokesperson for the clinic said that the policy changed as of May 2013. Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne said there is a need for clear ethical guidelines on the topic. He says that publicly funded fertility treatments are based on the medical suitability of the patient, number of embryos to be implanted and number of cycles to be covered. However he did not say that individual physicians should be forced to provide fertility treatments if they are not in agreement with the choice of donor.The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta says that physicians have the right to withhold any non-emergency treatment due to moral or ethical objections as long as the individual doctor refers patients who will provide the services they seek.

The idea of watching how kids grow up is not new. Several movies over the years have looked at a particular stage of development and created compelling on screen characters, even occasionally with another actor doing a flashback or fast forward to this person at another age. However the idea of following the growth of an actual child onscreen is fairly new. Richard Linklater decided to find a seven year old boy and follow him till age 18, filming intermittently over those years. Linklater wrote a plot of a fictitious boy and hired actors Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and others to play roles with him but the child actor who is acting out growing up in real life was also growing up. Ellar Coltrane was hired to play the boy. The movie "Boyhood" is getting enthusiastic reviews for its realistic portrayal of childhood and growing up, and the remarkable resilience of children.

Many US hospitals have recently changed policy to remove visiting hours and let family and friends be near the patients as they wish. In Canada the policies are also shifting, sometimes formally, sometimes informally.In 2008-9 a survey of 606 hospitals found that 75% of all hospitals and 90% of ICUs restricted visitors. However a survey in 2014 found that only 42% of hospitals surveyed still limit visiting hours. The Institute for Patient and Family Centred Care in the US has found that families benefit from being able to be near the patient and healing rates improve. Families are less angry says Beverley Johnson of IPFCC nonprofit. Families help provide care of the patient, track medications, help them to the washroom and find out how to treat wounds for when the patient is released home. Fears that family and friends would get in the way, would bring illness, would disrupt other patients have not come to pass in most cases. Linda Hamlam-Stroud of the Ontario Nurses' Association said that there can be minor problems for workers if the hospital room is small or if a visitor turns violent or if a procedure requires privacy and visitors may be asked to leave briefly. She says however that nurses already are good at such crowd control and it is nothing they can't handle.

In rural areas of Guinea, Africa an outbreak of a new disease was discovered and it has a high death rate. The Ebola Virus leads to vomiting, diarrhea, high fever and uncontrolled bleeding in half its victims and death comes to 90% of them. It has been recognized as a difficult virus because its early symptoms are generic and may seem to just be something milder.It is not a hardy virus according to Tom Chivers, writing in the Telegraph and washing one's hands seems to destroy much of it in the early stages but it can stay active for several days outside the body. It is spread easily however through unwashed contact with the body, the blood, or other bodily fluids.Virologist Dr. John Oxford of the University of London says the disease usually is found only in fruit bats but has recently leapt to the human population. The Guinea area is a primitive one with little health care and many traditional beliefs about illness including talismen, fetishes, and witch doctors. It is common for family members to touch the bodies of those they are taking care of and even for those grieving a death to touch the body of the deceased.Understanding how viruses act is not common and those 3rd parties who have tried to intervene have even been pushed away as if they were the ones causing the problem. Doctors without Borders has sent in medical staff often in white suits to keep their own members from cross infection, but the native population is very suspicious of this intervention and often openly hostile. In Conakry, over 80% of those who got the illness have already died and the epidemic has now spread to several other countries. The death toll is now nearly 1000. Latest reports indicate that some medical staff locally and from other nations is also getting the disease and two Americans have tested positive for it. They are being treated in Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. The answer may be coming in the form of a medicine designed and grown in tobacco. The process of creating a cure to a viral infection may involve these new plant-based stages and it is being tried for rabies, retrovirus, pandemic influenza, West Nile virus and Ebola:
-the illness is identified and the virus is found
-antibodies to combat this virus are identified to fit its shape and destroy it. Sometimes nature's natural fighting process is used, whereby a living organism infected with the virus will try to create its own antibodies
-the antibodies now have to be grown in enough number to fight the illness so they are grown somewhere. Growing them in animals risks transferring them to humans so the new idea is to grow them in plants.
-Plants are used to host the antibodies and tobacco plants are being used, as are lettuce, duckweed and modified carrot cells
-when there are enough antibodies the plant leaves are ground up and the antibodies are extracted
-researchers find that many antibodies are produced this way and have to choose which ones are most likely to actually work
-the antibodies are then injected into mice or monkeys as a vaccine containing the virus proteins.
-if the mice or monkeys get better those same antibodies are injected into humans.
Mapp biopharmaceutical in Kentucky is working on antibodies to combat Ebola and tobacco companies are being very helpful in this regard. In the past the same process of developing medicines has had mixed results:
-Pfizer produced an enzyme to treat Gaucher's disease
-Biolex Therapeutics Inc worked on a drug for hepatitis C using duckweed but it went bankrupt

In hospitals when a crisis arises, family and friends are often herded out of the room quickly so staff can deal with the patient, and if necessary resuscitate. There have however been critics of this practice, some people suggesting that the family should be allowed to stay and watch. The Calgary South Health Campus now has a policy where family members will be allowed to stay if they wish, to watch a resuscitation in an emergency room or on any care floor of the hospital. The arguments for letting family stay include
-their presence may help the patient be calm and is already common practice when the patient is a child
-the family deserves a chance to face death with the person, to accept the reality of the situation and to say good-bye.Dr. Colin Del Castilho says that families can get a sense of closure.
The arguments against letting the family stay however include:
-the real life scenario is not as clean and neat as movies would have people think. There is often blood and if there is chest compression it is common to have to break ribs. Real life resuscitations can be chaotic and stressful according to Dr. James Cownar of the Toronto General Hospital.
-panic stricken family members may try to interfere or make unreasonable demands to keep trying
The Canadian Association of Critical Care Nurses and the American Hear Association support giving families the option of watching a resuscitation.

When the doctor examines you, he or she often looks at the file of your past history and adds a few notes to it. This file has in the past been secret to the client and patients were not really allowed to see it. That attitude has however been changing. For the past several years patients in Calgary have been offered a copy of their lab reports, or even of their X rays. To get a copy of a file you used to have to pay huge photocopy fees and wait weeks sometimes months if you changed doctors.In the US over 3 million Americans now can look at the entire medical file kept on them, through electronic access known as Open Notes. This practice began in 2010 for 100 doctors at 3 clinics and has spread. Government in the UK has promised to give open notes to patients by 2015. Those who are in favour of the practice say:
-patients feel more in control of their care
-patients understand their medical problems better and are more likely to take prescriptions they are given
-patients can share their records as they choose with caregivers who then also can be better informed
Dr. Kirsten Patrick of the Canadian Medical Association Journal says that transparency benefits patients and the health care system.
-Those who are against online sharing of the information with patients have said that:
-patients may worry more
-patients may be confused and not understand what they are seeing
-doctors may fear the patient would be offended at what they wrote
-doctors may fear they have to write longer notes and this would add to their workload Sholom Glouberman of Patients Canada says that the notes belong to the patient and there "should be no question about their access to them."

The federal government funds much of the activity on native reserves.Under early treaties, natives are not required to pay tax the same way other citizens must and the land is provided out of respect for their native traditions and history. However scandals have recently been revealed about the use of this money. Ron Giesbrecht of the Kwikwetlem First Nation in BC is chief of a band of 80 members. Reid Hurst Nagy, the accountants for the band have revealed, in accordance with the new Fist Nation Financial Transparency Act, that the chief last year got a salary of $914,219 tax free and an additional $16,574 for expenses. The assets of the entire band are less than 9 times that, at $8.8 million. Some of their assets have increased only recently due to a payment from the province of BC due to economic development and a payment from an environmental services company.Concerns have been raised at the allocation of so much of this new money to the chief alone. In 2010 a taxpayers' federation found that 82 politicians on aboriginal reserves were pay more than the Prime Minister himself earns at $315,462 per year. The survey at the time found that 222 politicians on First nations reserves earned more than the premier of the provinces they were in and 700 earned the equivalent of $100,000 in off-reserve income each.

July, 2014

Among Canadians aged 15-24 there is an unemployment rate of 13.3%. Rick Smith of the Broadbent Institute feels that the federal government is not doing enough to help young people find jobs and is concerned that the program it does operate, Youth Employment Strategy, has been victim of a spending cut from $397 million to $335 million. Even government admits that of the 380,600 young people out of work, only 49.748 have been helped by its program. What Smith proposes is a Youth Job Guarantee. Every person under age 25 would be assured apprenticeship, a co-op position or a job offer within four months of leaving formal education or of becoming unemployed. The jobs would pay about $15 an hour and would last 12 weeks. The Broadbent Institute says that this program could be funded through both business and the federal government, each contributing $670 million. It estimates that 186,000 full time jobs could be created in this way. Where would business get the money? Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney in 2012 said that many businesses were sitting on 'dead money', unused capital that could be be invested or returned to shareholders. Smith suggests that this money would be wisely used for the job guarantee program.

The 2013 American Time Use Survey has been published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Estimates of daily time use for Americans age 15 and up include:
-people did 7.6 hours of paid work a day (7.9 hours weekdays and 5.5 hours weekends). Men claimed 53 minutes longer days than women
-83% did paid work at the workplace and 23% did some or all of it at home
-56% of self-employed workers worked at home
-83% of women and 65% of men spent some time doing household activities such as housework, cooking, lawn care, financial or other household management (women 2.6 hours a day, men 2.1. hours)
-19% of men and 49% of women did housework
-68% of women and 42% of men did food preparation or clean up
-21% of men and 16% of women engaged in sports, exercise or recreation
-in households with children under age 6, childcare took up 2.0 hours a day. If the youngest child was 6-17 years the time for childcare was 47 minutes a day where primary childcare is defined as when care of the child is the primary activity such as talking to or reading to or physical care of a child
-adults in households with a child under 6 provide secondary care of the child, while doing other things, for 5.4 hours a day. If the youngest child is 6-17 this tally is 3.4 hours
-Americans spend 5 hours and 16 minutes of 'leisure' time a day, including:
-2 hours 46 minutes watching TV
-20 minutes reading (4 minutes for teenagers)
-39 minutes chatting with friends and family
-3 minutes attending social events
-25 minutes playing computer games
-19 minutes exercising
-8 minutes a day in prayer
-42 minutes a day in personal grooming (higher rates in Georgia and S. Carolina but low rates in Vermont)
-Americans spend an average 8 hours 44 minutes sleeping

In the law, the amount of time a child 'needs' a parent is now being looked at through an odd route. It is about the conflict a parent feels when the child has a situation the parent would like to be present for, and the employer also wants the parent to be at paid work. Howard Levitt of Levitt & Grosman LLP has written about a recent Federal Court of Appeal case Attorney General v. Johnstone where a worker wanted to have time off to take care of the child, and when the employer refused, the worker filed a human rights complaint about discrimination based on family status. The key elements the courts looked at included:
-is the worker responsible for the child legally? This is true for most parents
-has the worker looked at other non-parental options for care of the child, including government subsidized and non-subsidized daycare, and 'familial resources"?
-does the parent need to take care of the child or is it just their personal preference to do this? The courts look at if you legally can not provide this care and still not be charged with neglect. For instance if you want time off to attend a school concert or sports activity after school that is not seen as a legal responsibility. If however you have to rush home because the child's daycare is flooding, that is a legal responsibility.
-is the changed schedule you want from the employer a long term thing or just one exceptional situation? The employer is not obliged to cater to our ideal scenario schedule but only to a reasonable accommodation.
-ED NOTE: I am stunned that the feelings of the child or parent are not recognized as part of human needs too. If we define need surely it should be more than financial need or safety need. Most people make decisions based on moral and emotional needs too. However I agree that the employer does not really benefit from a worker being absent and may be reluctant to pay for the absence or to suffer the lost productivity. What I think is a better answer is for government to fund the caregiving role so the employer is not penalized. The worker gets the time' off' and the money but the employer is not penalized.

There is often the belief among some government officials that a tax policy must not just let the poor have money because the poor don't know how to handle it well and can't be trusted. The setting of conditions on government based programs, social assistance, EI, even charity is also based on the assumption that people must either work for their money or be very closely monitored if it is just a handout. However that view itself has been questioned recently, with some evidence that the poor if trusted, actually do know how to handle money well
-The UN is distributing sacks of grain to Syrian refugees but also ATM cards
-randomized trails of giving cash grants to Mexican families in poverty, to villagers in Kenya and to schoolgirls in Malawi have found that the poor, when given money, tend to eat better and get better living accommodation. Many start small successful businesses
-in Uganda a nonprofit group handed $150 and five days of business planning advice to 900 women in poverty. After 18 months these women had twice the income of women who did not get that help
-19 cash transfer studies in Africa, Latin America and Asia were studied by two economists from the World Bank. They found that in nearly all cases the spending the poor made on tobacco and alcohol with this newfound cash actually was the same as before or went down. Most people worked more not less after they got grants.
-in Liberia homeless men who had in some cases in the past resorted to crime were given $200 in cash and nearly no men wasted it, Most dressed, ate and lived better but after a year when the money ran out they were back where they started.
-in New York City the Opportunity NYC Family Rewards program has sent $8700 over 3 years to thousands of families. It found that hunger declined and self-employment went up when the families got this money.
-However in 2014 when a Chinese millionaire tried to give lunch and $3000 cash each to homeless men and women in New York city, the New York City Rescue Mission would not let him proceed. The Rescue mission helped provide the free lunch he paid for but would not give out the cash to them that he had provided. They took the $90,000 for their own organization. The executive director of the Rescue Mission said he was worried the people might just spend the money on drugs or alcohol.


June, 2014

Bill C-560, An Act to Amend the Divorce Act in the direction of equal shared parenting, a private member's bill brought forward by MP Maurice Vellacott, was recently defeated in a "whipped" vote in the Canadian House of Commons. Although supported by a strong majority of Canadians, as well as by empirical research comparing child and family outcomes in shared parenting and sole custody households (children in equal parenting arrangements demonstrate significantly better general and divorce-specific adjustment than children in absent-father households), the bill was defeated on the grounds that it was "not in the best interests of children." Persistent lobbying efforts by the Canadian Bar Association, which represents 37,000 Canadian lawyers whose livelihood was threatened by the bill and by non-adversarial divorce, were successful in derailing shared parenting yet again in Canada. Shared parenting is thus an example of "good policy as bad politics."  Both Liberal and NDP party members of parliament were instructed to vote against the bill, disallowed from voting freely on an important matter of individual conscience.  The conservative party also, fearing that if the bill was passed they would incur the wrath of the legal and judicial establishment seeking to protect their interests in maintaining their power over parenting after divorce as primarily a legal issue, and the backlash of women's groups seeking to preserve women's power in the realm of family law, whipped its cabinet into voting against the bill, despite the Conservative party's election promise to establish shared parenting as the foundation of Canadian family law. Only the Green Party allowed its MP's to vote freely on the issue.  (ED NOTE: The notion of "whipping" members of parliament to vote along party lines on important matters of conscience, like parenting after divorce, it seems to me, is an extremely lame manoeuver. Although I did not support this version of equal parenting legislation, and am relieved that Bill C-560 did not pass, I applaud the intent and direction of the bill.  Its basic flaw, however, was that it did not go far enough in limiting judicial discretion in an area (child development and family dynamics) in which judges have no expertise and are (mis)guided by their own idiosyncratic biases about what is best for children and families. The behaviour of judges in jurisdictions with shared parenting legislation that allows them to overturn shared parenting when they decide it is "not in the best interests of children" is no different to present adversarial practices. The best laws, as Aristotle wrote, are those which limit judicial discretion, which Bill C-560 did not do.)


“Correlation doesn’t prove causation” is a common critical thinking rebuttal to junk science reporting; that is, when fear-mongers, lazy reporters, and agenda drivers guide the casual reader to infer cause from mere association. Finding causation is difficult and relatively rare, especially outside of the physical sciences. It is thus noteworthy when cause is found. A new study by Sara McLanahan of Princeton University, Laura Tach (Cornell)  and Daniel Schneider (UC Berkeley), in the Annual Review of Sociology, on the causal effects of father absence, is particularly noteworthy. The researchers examined a large body of peer-reviewed studies on father absence, culled them for studies designed to isolate causal effects, and ended up with 47 studies to analyze. They could not identify the precise mechanism of the adverse outcomes, but they did find causal effects between father absence and children's social-emotional development.  They suspect, and recommend further research to confirm, that father absence increases children's behavioural problems and negatively affects their cognitive ability. Put more simply, father absence doesn’t just affect kids’ ability to think but makes them angrier, sadder, and more stressed. When they act out from those emotions, then they sabotage their potential. McLanahan, Tach, and Schneider not only found causal effects, but conceded that these causal effects are strongest where the conventional wisdom would call them weakest, in early childhood father absence and in boys.


The Pew Research Centre has released recent data about parenting styles in the US. There are about 10 million mothers at home. The number of at-home-dads is trending upward. In 1989 there were 1.1 million, but in 2010 there were 2.2 million. Reasons for the increase have been speculated. Some say the recession led to male unemployment and women taking up most paid careers to supplement household income.
However interviews with fathers at home reveal a variety of reasons for the lifestyle and career choice:

-in 2010 32% said they were home because they could not find a paid job but now only 23% say that (6% of mothers at home say they are home for this reason)
-35% say they are home because of their own illness or disability (11% of mothers at home are there due to illness or disability)
-20% of dads at home say they want to be there to provide care for the family (only 5% said this in 1989) (73% of mothers at home say this is their reason to be home)
The Pew Research study looked at other aspects of these trends:
-families with a mother or father at home have lower income than do dual income families. 50% of dads at home are living in poverty, compared to 8% of dads who work outside the home
-at-home dads tend to be older than at-home mothers
-50% of Americans surveyed said they think children are better off if a mother is at home rather than in paid work but only 8% said children are better off if the dad is at home rather than in paid work

Gross domestic product is the market value of all goods and services produced in a country per year. A more productive economy that makes more goods then has a larger tally and if the amount is divided by the number of people in that country, we get GDP per capita. A very productive country with a small population ranks very high but even a very productive country with a large population can rank high. The GDP tally is then sometimes used to reflect on the 'standard of living' of nations, as if the higher numbers are higher standards of living. There has for some time been criticism of the link to standard of living. There is also criticism of the GDP for what it does not count.
-it does not count unpaid work, household labor, care of young children or of the sick, elderly or handicapped at home. It has been estimated by Statistics Canada that were this unpaid labor counted for its market value it would be one-third of the GDP .

-it does not count volunteer work or any transactions done without pay. The problem with such an accounting then, is that in its extreme it may seem to endorse paying people low wages or no wages so that a lot of production happens without much cost. It has been seen as tilted that way
-it does count any paid work that is done to correct a problem. Increased police presence to fight a crime wave, emergency crews to clean up an oil spill, firefighting, flood and tsunami costs for repair add to the GDP and in essence are counted then as good things for the standard of living. This is ironic since the repair may be good but the implication is that we should get more of it, so it does seem to encourage tragedy.
- A pristine forest with clean water and clean air is not counted as of any use because it generates no money. However if something destroys that forest or pollutes the air and water, to clean them up again is seen as part of the GDP. This tally then has been seen as tilted for not valuing intrinsically good things that are just there for our use and enjoyment.
-In Britain and Italy there has been a new way to hike the production number to make the GDP seem bigger. This is done by calculating the income made for workers who usually do not report their income. Those in the sex or drug trades are meeting the criterion of providing goods or services for money and if their role is counted, the UK Office of National Statistics says the contribution to the economy of $18 billion a year would be recognized.

Professor Thomas Piketty of France has recently published "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" in which he proposes an unusual solution to income inequality. He suggests that there be an annual global wealth tax of up to 2% and that within each country there be a progressive income tax going up as high as 80% of income. Piketty has looked at income inequality trends since the 1700s and argues that capitalism will always have the flaw of creating income inequality and must be corrected by the tax system and government intervention. He says that this natural trend of the rich to get richer was altered during the two world wars and the Great Depression and during the recent recession but that inherited wealth still tends to create an elite of super rich. He says that the world is headed towards "Patrimonial capitalism" and does not feel that technology will change that trend. He advocates that a fairer tax system would tax only on money people actually have so that property tax would be based not on the value of your home but on how much equity you have personally put into it. He says that the property class tends to have most of the wealth but that this tax on property would be fairer.

The declining birth rate is a concern to many nations. Some are concerned about the tax base and being able to pay down national debts and deficit or maintain social programs with a dwindling paid workforce. Others are concerned about the impact of the nation's political or religious clout if their population is low. In Iran, with a population of 77 million, government is also concerned about birth rate.After the 1979 revolution, births soared to 3.6 children per couple. However after the Iran-Iraq war, and the deaths of at least 300,000 Iranians, government felt it should push procreation again, this time as a patriotic gesture. Recently however young couples are having fewer children and the birth rate at 1.3 is far below replacement level of 2.1. Couples have expressed concern about the economy and their ability to keep jobs, afford housing and about the intrusiveness of the state. Ironically Iran has a huge population at reproductive age. Nearly 70% of the population is under age 35. To counter these worries, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has announced plans to encourage births, including free hospital delivery, longer maternity leave. He has also cancelled programs from earlier times that were aimed at population control, such as free vasectomies or subsidies for birth control pills or condoms. In Iran the majority of residents are Shiite. However in the world Shiites are only 10-20% of all Muslims and the birthrates in Muslim countries with majority Sunnis are still quite high, at about 4 per couple in some areas.


May, 2014

Since 2010 extremist attacks in Nigeria have escalated as disputes rage over land, religion, water and tribe. Over 5,600 have now been killed in such disputes and members of alleged terrorist groups have been arrested but attacks continue. In Chibok, Nigeria on April 15th, 2014 over 300 girls were apparently abducted from their school. 53 escaped but 276 remain in captivity, at locations shrouded in mystery. Abubakar Shekau has claimed responsibility for the mass abduction and as the leader of the Islamic group Boko Haram says that he plans to attack more schools and abduct more girls. There are rumours that Boko Harma will release the girls in exchange for the release of its imprisoned fighters. Rumours abound about the state of the girls as international concern is expressed and media tries to gain information. An hour long video claimed that some girls were forced to marry their abductors for a purchase price per bride of $12, while other girls were sent to Cameroon and Chad. There are some reports that two girls have died of snakebite, that 20 are ill, and that the Christians among the girls have been forced to convert to Islam. Britain is trying to rescue the girls and the Nigerian government is facing criticism for its failure to act promptly to help them. Many celebrities have increased pressure to solve this problem with First Lady Michelle Obama joining others on Twitter with the hashtag Free Our Girls. The US, Israel and Britain have offered assistance to hunt for the girls but during this hunt, new bombs have exploded in the area. Twin car bombings killed 130 people in Jos Nigeria and hours later 48 villagers died in another attack. Most of the recent victims were women and children at the market.

When immigrants apply to move to Canada there are categories- economics class, family class and refugees. Recently the government changed its criteria for these categories however, with more entering through economics class, and mostly because employers are playing a greater role in determining who can get into the country. Colin Busby, senior policy analyst at the C. D. Howe Institute has studied implications of the new policy. The Temporary Foreign Worker program admitted 210,000 new entrants in 2012, to fill positions of low or high skill in the theory that there were short-term labor shortages in Canada and foreigners must be recruited to fill the need. These workers must serve at least one year and must leave behind immediately family. Later the immigrant can get status to permit the family also to come over but the process takes years. During those years, children are separated from at least one parent for significant periods of time. Busby found this separation poses huge hurdles for the adults who miss time with their children. The adults already sometimes find the job they wanted is not at as high a wage as they had expected. The current plan poses problems for the children too if and when they also immigrate. Busby's research found that children of immigrants face several hurdles:
-separation from the parent
-difficulty learning the new language. Children who learn a language after the onset of puberty are much less able to pick it up than are younger children.
-children who immigrate before 10 years of age risk a 15% high school dropout rate. However if they immigrate after 10 years of age, risk of dropout increases significantly, reaching 20%. Those who come from a country where English was the dominant language such as the UK or Australia do not face the same high school dropout risk as do immigrants who had no English. Oddly, immigrants from the US often do still face the high dropout risk. The researchers noted that Canada is considering a new immigration policy that would even more favor employers as determiners of who gets in, with an 'expression of interest system' for 2015. A list of applicants would be presented to a potential Canadian employer who would then decide to express an interest in a certain applicant and then streamline the immigration process for that applicant. However the researchers feel that any process, either the current one or any new one, should address the need to bring the children over with the applicant sooner.This they say would greatly increase the chances of the children thriving in the new culture. Busby suggests that government 'give more prominence to the family as the migrating unit."

There is growing concern about the negative effect on young children of giving them tech devices to play with. Critics have pointed out that handing a child an iPad or video game to babysit them keeps them sedentary, does not engage them socially or verbally and may stifle creativity. Pediatric occupational therapist Dr. Cris Rowan has collected research including:
-because the human brain triples in size from ages zero to two years, stimulating it is vital. However overuse of cell phones, Internet, iPads and TV has been linked to impaired learning, attention deficit, cognitive delay, increased impulsivity
-use of technology restricts physical activity
-use of TV and video games has been linked to increased obesity
-if parents do not supervise use of technology and since 75% of children are allowed technology in their bedrooms, there is risk of sleep deprivation. Boston College in 2012 found that 75% of 9 and 10 year olds are sleep deprived to the point where their grades are affected
-overuse of technology has been linked in 2010 Bristol University study to depression and anxiety, psychosis and problematic child behaviour
-viewing violent media content may impact children's aggression according to a 2007 study
-watching parents use technology and not attending to their children gives children role models of such overuse also, and deprives children of parental attention and attachment.A 2010 study by Rowan found that childhood addiction to technology may be linked to such detachment from parents.
-In 2011 Health Canada warned that cell phones carry some risk of radiation emission exposure, a category 2B risk for possible carcinogen. In 2013 Dr. Anthony Miller of the U of Toronto said this radio frequency exposure should be reclassified as a 2A risk or probable carcinogen.
-Meanwhile CTA digital has created a way to expose very young children to more technology, creating a potty training seat with a stand for an Ipad to sit in front of it. The child can play games on the iPad while sitting on the training potty,and the company says its $33.99 price for the stand and potty also includes a protective cover and a swivel function for the stand. The product is dubbed iPotty.

It has long been admitted by governments and churches that the treatment of native children in residential schools in Canada in the last century was profoundly damaging. Taking children away from their parents to teach them white culture and language and to deprive them of their native language, culture and their family has been admitted by the prime minister as a violation and compensation packages have been offered to the survivors of such schools. However another group is presenting a case they say parallels those problems.Between the 1960s to 1980s about 20,000 aboriginal children were taken from their homes by child welfare agencies and were placed in the care of non-aboriginal families. Though the intent at the time was to help these children, and to overcome some problems of poverty and challenges they faced at home, the effect claimed was to deprive them of contact with family, culture and language to which they had a right. Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson is urging a national discussion of these issues. He will meet with other ministers of aboriginal affairs in August in Prince Edward Island to discuss the issue further. There are more aboriginal children in government care today than at the height of the residential schools--by a factor of three.

As government and business begin to notice that workers often have caregiving responsibilities back at home, they try to incorporate this reality into their labour policy. Some employers offer personal paid or unpaid leave. The federal government funds care of the dying for a brief period, at home, based on the earning pattern of the caregiver the past year. However recently a big focus is not on funding the care but on counseling and emotionally supporting the caregiver.One key focus is on how much time the caregiver 'loses' from paid work due to caregiving.In 2013 the federal government gave $2.84 million to the Reitman Centre to create a support program for caregivers, to offer counseling for them and to serve as a model to industry. The Working CARERS program has been doped by BMO Financial Group, The Cooperators Insurance company and the Mount Sinai Hospital. The program uses simulations of group sessions to talk about issues for caregivers. (ED NOTE: Frankly I find this barely half of a solution. Why not fund caregiving instead of just giving advice to those who do it?)

It has long been assumed that people stay awake longer and that earlier cultures went to bed early and slept a longer night's sleep. Today's sleep deprivation culture is explained by the development of electricity. In the US the National Sleep Foundation has found that 20% of Americans have trouble falling asleep almost every night and in 2013 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 4% of US adults take prescription sleeping pills. Roger Ekirch however has written "At Day's Close," a history of sleeping that may surprise readers.He found that it was more common for long ago cultures to go to bed when it got dark out, but to wake up in the middle of the night, and to chat and drink tea or have sex or tell of their dreams and then to go back to sleep for a few more hours, and rise with the sun. Ekirch says that segmented sleep is 'the natural pattern of slumber before the modern age'. The double sleep pattern, Ekirch says, was the norm in many cultures. Dr. T. M. Luhrmann, professor of anthropology at Stanford, says that in his research, people in Accra, Ghana and Chennai India often report sleep patterns that value dreaming and that talk about dreaming in the middle of the night. He says, "The way our culture invites us to pay attention to that delicate space in which one trembles on the edge of sleep, changes what we remember of it."

The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network has published a report finding that across Canada there may be over 1000 cases of murdered and missing women, mostly aboriginal. It urges government to set up inquiries. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police had previous estimated the number at 400-500 and has not confirmed or denied the new estimate. The APTN says the Department of Public Safety is not acting quickly enough and is not even making public the RCMP report.Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney refused to call an inquiry however. Instead he promoted his federal budget bill that would create more funding to stop violence against aboriginal women.

April, 2014

The fact that birth rate is dropping in many nations is not new but demographers and researchers do not agree on whether the trend is good or not for the world. Some observers fear that underpopulation of a nation will result in a sagging tax base, a greying of the population, and a resulting heavy burden on young and middle aged people to financially support growing numbers of the elderly. Such observers say that the 'birth dearth' is a crisis. Moves to hike the birth rate have been initiated in many countries such as Australia and Singapore with birth bonuses, and universal and extended maternity benefit pay. Jonathan V.Last of The Weekly Standard has written "What to Expect when No One's Expecting" calling the low birth rate "America's baby bust' and a' coming demographic disaster".At the National Defense University Stephen Philip Kramer has said that to close the baby gap between rich and poor countries, rich countries with low fertility should adopt pro-natalist policies.However there are also demographers who argue that there are too many people on the planet, that we need to use our resources for fewer people to avoid mass starvation. Michael S. Teitelbaum of Harvard Law School is one who is not against the lower birth rate. He has written "The Global Spread of Fertility Decline; Population, Fear and Uncertainty'. Teitelbaum argues that:
-humans may flourish better if there is lower population
-women may prefer to avoid the 'burdens' of bearing children
-with high divorce rates, men and women now see having children as a major risk
-dual earner partnerships are 'essential' and women can earn more easily if they don't have children.Women can attain higher education and better careers
-societies with low to moderate fertility tend to have higher productivity
-China's economic growth 1970 -2010 was huge because it kept its population limited, unlike in India
-children, teenagers and young adults are 'generally less productive' than middle-aged workers.
-if there are fewer children they'll need fewer schools and the ones left will have access to more resources. Young people will have less trouble finding jobs. He alludes to a large bank of youth as being 'surplus relative to labor market demand'
-disaffected young adults in overpopulated areas or having trouble finding jobs have been associated with political upheaval. Teitelbaum says that 'many experts' attribute some aspects of terrorism to this 'youthquake' but that that can change 20-30 years after fertility rates start to decline
-having fewer babies born in a country would then not pressure youth to leave that country to find jobs and would reduce 'emigration'.
Teitelbaum says that some births are needed to maintain society but that a moderate birth rate is ideal, not a high one. Sweden had its birth drop to 1.6 in the 1970s and again in the 1990s but that the rate now is 1.9 so not a problem. The birth rate in France is about 2.0 and he argues that their subsidized daycare for children as young as 2.5 months is a good thing to keep the birth rate high enough but not too high. (ED NOTE: I find that entry age into daycare very concerning.)

One might assume that in 2014 there are a lot more single-parent families, that divorce rate is higher than in earlier generations and that people used to have children at younger ages but are now waiting longer.Some of these observations however are not quite accurate according to a recent study by Statistics Canada. Comparing census data 1901-2011, Nora Bohnert and colleagues found that in the early part of the last century there were actually many single parents, often because of death of a spouse. Men raising children alone was also not unheard of due to higher rates than today of women dying in childbirth. In the last century people often delayed marriage until their thirties and it was only in the 1960s that people were marrying young. The study also found that:
-In 1931 12% of children were in lone-parent families. In 1981 that number was nearly the same, at 13%.
-as a share of types of families, however 6% were lone-parent in 1961 but in 2011 22% are.
-in 1901 31% of census households had a non-family member also resident, including employees, boarders and other relatives. In 2011 only 9% of households had non-family residents.
-in 1921, 9% of those aged 15 or under had lost a parent by death. In 2011 only 1% of kids that age had lost a parent due to parental death
-in 1901 it was not uncommon for children to be living with a nonparental or foster guardian. About 55,000 children were doing so. In 2011 that number was only 29,600 even though there were 3 times as many people in Canada.
-fertility has been up and down but it peaked in 1959 when it was 3.9 children per woman, the highest ever number from 1926-2011. In 2011 the fertility rate is 1.6 children per woman.
-In 1961 young people, aged 24 and under made up nearly half of the whole population, at 48%. By 2011 that number was only 30%.
-the number of lone parent families headed by men went down when maternal deaths dropped. In 1941 28% of children were in male lone parent families but in 1991 only 17% are headed by men
-it is more common to have smaller families now than it was earlier. One child families moved from 29% to 43% of families.- Between 1961 and 2011 families of 3 or more children went from 42% of families to 19%.

Dr. Svante Paabo is an evolutionary geneticist at the Max Planck Institute. He recently wrote about the ability of scientists now to identify thousands of genetic mutations in humans - in fact 31,389 of them.Sequencing a genome from a small bone is now possible and seeing similarities between peoples living today and between those today and of earlier generations is now possible also.It has been suggested that since so much is known, we could consider genetically engineering human stem cells to produce embryos and recreate what other people at other times were like. Dr. Paabo does not endorse this. He says that it is a good idea ethically to create cells and tissues in a test tube to possibly reprogram some to become neurons but he does not want to create whole individuals. He says that the technology is not perfect and known ancient genome sequences cover only about 2/3 of what Neanderthals were like so the remaining sequences are not quite as clear. The 'genetic recipe' is incomplete. However he also feels that the re-creation of Neanderthals that Dr. George Church of Harvard Medical School has suggested is not ethically defensible.Neanderthals became extinct 30,000 years ago and Paabo says he does not want the "recreation of my own grandfather, may he rest in peace"

Some nations heavily encourage women to do paid work, and accomplish this partly be penalizing being home. Canada provides funding help for care of children in 3rd party care but no parallel funding for family-based care. It enables parents to have pensions based on paid work but does not tally in unpaid care roles. It even ties maternity benefits and benefits to tend someone who is critically ill to the paid labor force participation of the caregiver. Japan also favors paid work roles for women and in its tax system has emphasized that preference. Some of its efforts since 1991 have recently been added to. In that year Japan had the world's largest public debt. A decline in the nation's paid workforce, possibly due to low birth rate years ago,over time has been seen by some as a call for more women to get out and earn. Japan introduced its first sales tax increase recently to try to help government revenue but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has now announced more plans to entice women out of the home.
-currently married workers can earn up to $9911 US a year tax free. The Prime Minister is now thinking of not permitting that tax break. To do so however may require women to put in even more paid work hours
-Japan currently has a 73% female labor participation rate while Finland has a 96% rate and the US has an 85% rate(including both full and part-time workers). Economist Akiyoshi Takumori in Tokyo says that income earning potential for women outweighs any benefit the household would lose by her not being home.
-currently married workers who earn only a small amount qualify for extra welfare benefits because they can be placed under the pension and health insurance plans of spouses for free. There is now discussion about whether to continue this policy
-Takami Furuhashi, an employment agent in Tokyo says that many housewives only want flexible part-time hours so they can bring up children and do household chores, Only 30% of housewives in part-time paid work actually want full -time paid jobs, he has found. However pressure to get these women to take on full time jobs is increasing.

The numbers of women who are home with their children has changed over the years, often reported as declining. In 1999 the number in the US was 22% according to the Pew Research Center. However in 2012 it is now 29%. Why women are choosing to be home now is being studied. Some have suggested these explanations:
-the US recession of 2007 saw a dip in male employment to 72.5% of men 20 and older.Women seemed to have picked up the slack to put food on the table and paid employment for them rose to 58%. However it is now back to 55.2%.
-of those mothers who are home only 6% say they are there because they can't find a paid job.
-The American Time Use survey found that mothers with paid work spend 9 fewer hours a week on housework and five hours less per week sleeping than do mothers at home. Many women may choose being at home to get the housework done and to get enough rest.
-the cost of third party childcare is high. The average in 2011 was $148 compared to $87 in 1985.

Douglas and Pamela Allen are Victoria BC residents, both 84 years old.They lived in their own home for years but more recently have moved to independent living facilities. A legal dispute has arisen recently. The Vancouver Island Health Authority claims that at those facilities the couple did not take care of themselves and also refused to accept home support so the facilities evicted them. In January 2014 the couple appeared at the Royal Jubilee Hospital seeking care. On diagnosis there, doctors determined that both of them suffered from dementia and each was committed under the Mental Health Act. The couple has been at the hospital ever since. Their bank accounts were frozen and placed under Public Guardian control.However the couple has now hired a lawyer, Jonathan Aiyadurai who is taking their case to the BC Supreme court. They claim that they have been unfairly treated, that Pamela is being given insulin against her will, that they have no access to their personal belongings and that they should be released from hospital. They say they are wiling to pay for a nurse to make daily visits to their independent living unit.However they also claim that at the James Bay Care Centre they were poorly fed and bathed.Sarah Plank of the Vancouver island Health Authority has refused to comment on the specific case, citing privacy issues but also saying 'when a vulnerable person is not able to safely care for themselves, or we receive a report of abuse, neglect or self-neglect, we have a responsibility under the Adult Guardianship Act to respond to protect the person's safety and well-being.'

Dean Bootsma and his wife had two children.In 2004 one of them died of cerebral dysgenesis, a malformation of the brain. The girl had had a vaccine but doctors have told Bootsma that the fact she had a high fever hours after the inoculation is not evidence that the tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis vaccine caused the problem. Recently though, in 2014, another daughter, now aged 14 was approached at school to get the same vaccine, along with her fellow students. She consented to the vaccine, got it and then the parents were furious. They had hoped they would be asked for parental consent and they were angry that officials had not apparently checked the girl's family medical record. The Fraser Health Authority has defended nurses in the case, saying they followed all legal procedure required to get consent. A fourteen year old is able to give medical consent in BC. Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall told the press that public health nurses were just doing their job, trying to boost number of vaccinated children up from the current 84%. He says the risk from the diseases immunized against is much higher than any potential side effects of the vaccine. (ED NOTE: The issue may really be why we make age 14 the age of legal consent. It has become a handy number for girls who want birth control pills or abortions but a 14 year old is not an adult. If she broke her leg we would tell the parent. We should also tell the parent if she is seeking any other medical treatment.)

The British Telegraph has recently found that two Chinese provinces have been found to be secretly feeding their young children a prescription drug to try to keep them healthy. In China kindergartens are paid based on daily attendance and some observers have suspected that the push to medicate children is purely financial.Parents reacted with anger and the Beijing government has promised to inspect every kindergarten, primary school and middle school in the country to see if they are 'illegally organizing the medication of groups of infants'. In the city of Xi'an it was alleged that two kindergartens were feeding pupils an antiviral drug, moroxydine hydrochloride, developed in the 1950s to stop the spread of the flu.Over 500 parents said their children had headaches and pain after these medications.

In Guangzhou China a baby hatch was opened in January 2014 so that abandoned babies could still find a caregiver and be safe. However already by the end of March, 262 babies had been put into the hatch, 148 boys and 114 girls, and the system became overwhelmed. 110 of the babies had cerebral palsy, 39 had Down's syndrome and 32 had congenital heart disease. Xu Jiu of the Guangzhou Social Welfare Institute has announced that the baby hatch will no longer accept babies.Twenty-five cities in China now have baby hatches but Guangzhou is the first to suspend the plan.

Susan Martinuk is a news columnist in western Canada. Recently her mother passed away and shortly after, her dad became very ill. Told that he was dying, she moved back home to provide care for him for the several weeks or month he was expected to have left. Under her care he did well and though he did eventually die, they had nine months together. During that time she and her siblings endured financial and emotional costs. As a self-employed consultant she was able to work from home but she admits that her ability to do the paid job has been reduced due to the care load and fatigue.In a recent column Martinuk has reflected on the government economics. It costs taxpayers $985 a day to keep a person in an acute care hospital bed. By having the dying at home, taxpayers save money. Even if taxpayers provided a caregiver or nurse to tend the person at home, the cost would be she estimates one third or less of the cost of the hospital bed. However the state does not provide that second option. Her family had to fund private nurse help. Martinuk urges more government action on palliative care. She says the time has come, the research has already been done. There has been $43 million spent already on research, including a 2005 Senate report and a 2011 parliamentary report.

In Alberta since 2004 the disabled can access home care paid for by the state, as long as it meets certain conditions, including that the caregiver not be a family member. In Manitoba a trial program has however funded care of the frail elderly in their own homes, even if the caregiver is a family member. The government of Newfoundland and Labrador has recently announced that it too will operate a paid family caregiving program, to fund care of the disabled or frail seniors, even if the caregiver is a family member. The aim of the program is to reduce administrative burden and to provide more flexibility for clients. The conditions are
-the trial period is for 18 months, there are 250 subsidies available, the caregiver can be a sibling, parent, child, grandchild or other relative of the patient but not the spouse
-the funding is for up to four hours a day of care for a senior or 5 for a person with a disability. There is also funding for an hour a day for meal preparation and 2 hours a week of homemaking
-there is funding for respite care for the family caregiver, but this respite care provider must not be a family member
(ED NOTE: The move to value caregivers who happen to be family is a strong one since finally work is seen as work, whoever does it. The exclusion of the spouse is unfortunate and the requirement that the respite caregiver not be family is also problematic because that detracts from the recognition that work is work.)

When veterans return from military service, they may not all be able to return to full time paid work as civilians. The wounded often are in a precarious position of being unable to earn and the Canadian government has traditionally offered such vets a lifetime monthly pension. In 2005 however Canada changed its operation of this funding, under a New Veterans Charter. It began offering such vets only a lump sum payment. Pat Stogran of the Equitas Society is a former veterans ombudsman. He has questioned this new program saying veterans are now being shortchanged. Lawyer Donald Sorochan has been chosen to represent six veterans injured in Afghanistan suing the government about this compensation change. The suit was filed in October 2012. Sorochan says that Canada had a social covenant with its soldiers and is breaking it. He says the covenant was that "service people will be protected when they get maimed and their families will be looked after if they are killed". In January 2014 the federal government filed its response to the vets' lawsuit however. The government denies that the new charter violates the charter of rights. The court documents reveal government's claim that the vets in question 'seek to advance a pure economic interest'.

March, 2014

Mitochondrial disease strikes between 1,000-4,000 children per year in the US, usually by age 10. The symptoms that interfere with digestion can be devastating and there is a theory that genetic links are exacerbated by exposure to toxins. However there may be a way for mothers who have the condition to give birth to healthy children even though normally the mutations would be passed down through their DNA. That answer is to remove the mother's egg DNA and put in another set, before birth. It is now possible to remove the nuclear material from the egg or embryo of a woman with this illness and replace it with genetic material from a healthy donor. The offspring that results is technically a product of 3 - the nuclear DNA of the mother and father and the mitochondrial DNA of a donor. The Food and Drug Administration however is not sure of the ethics of this procedure since it would result in genetically modified humans. Dr. Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society is concerned, saying genetic modifications of sperm, eggs and early embryos 'should be strictly off limits', since this is the slippery slope towards eugenics. She says women with the illness could consider adoption, or use in vitro fertilization from the egg of another woman. (At Oregon Health and Science University five macaque monkeys have been produced using the procedure and appear healthy, four now being adult. But OHSU researchers reported that as they work on fertilized human eggs, more than half of the single cells formed by merging egg and sperm had abnormalities that monkey zygotes did not have.)

If a teen gets pregnant, the girl has several legal options of how to proceed - including in some areas a legal abortion, the morning after pill if she is not sure she is pregnant but could be, or treatment to carry the pregnancy to term, options to arrange adoption, options for counselling. Parents may or may not be told of or involved in these decisions. However one route is not legal in the US - a home abortion kit - though some are available online from other countries. In Pennsylvania a mother, Jennifer Whalen, found out her daughter was pregnant and now claims that she could not find a local abortion clinic. She therefore purchased illegal drugs misoprostol and mifepristone from overseas and administered them to her daughter. Two weeks later the daughter began bleeding and was rushed to the Geisinger Medical Center. She received treatment there in February 2012 for an incomplete abortion and a urinary tract infection. When authorities became aware of the situation they charged the mother with a felony count of medical consultation and judgment, and with several misdemeanour charges including endangering the welfare of a child, administering drugs while not registered as a pharmacist, and simple assault. The mother faces jail time if found guilty.

Most drugs prescribed have been field tested on adults, but not many were tested on children, though they are then often used for children. This gap in research is of concern to many researchers, given the different body weight and metabolism of small children and their development. However research on children hits a catch-22. Some people feel it unethical to do research on children but then are conflicted about giving kids drugs that have not been tested. Dr. Michael Rider of the University of Western Ontario is concerned about double standards. He says the ethical thing is to do 'what is right for the child'.
-most drugs kids are prescribed are 'off label' meaning use for kids is not even mentioned on the label
-antibiotics, morphine and cancer drugs are often off label if used by kids
-many anti-seizure drugs approved for only for those 12 and up are prescribed for younger kids
-many psycho -active drugs used for kids are not approved for them officially
-the asthma drug Ventolin, used by kids for decades, was only officially approved five years ago for their use
-70% of drugs prescribed in Canada today have no instructions about children's use of them
-it is however not illegal for physicians to prescribe these drugs for children.

February, 2014

Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld have recently released results of studies about what makes kids succeed.They noticed that in the US, children in some cultures tend to score very high on exam results, even if their parents are working class. The children of American Jewish, Indian Chinese, Persian, Cuban, Nigerian or Lebanese parents and the children of Mormons tend to score very well. They wondered what these groups had in common and the researchers identified what they call the 'triple package'. They suspect that in terms of income, occupational status and other measures of success, these communities succeed because they have a sense of inherent value and even superiority, that they also feel insecure in the current situation and they feel a need to push themselves to show how good they can be. The third element, in addition to superiority and insecurity is impulse control. Chua and Rubenfeld, both Yale law professors, feel that these groups are able to channel their energy into a hard work ethic. Not all observers agree with the theory, outlined now in a book "The Triple Package". Dr. Frances Henry of York University says that categorizing certain groups as superior to others is itself 'fundamentally racist'. Meanwhile the PISA exam scores in math and reading,from 15 year olds in 64 countries around the world have been released. In December 2012 children with parents who were wealthy and well educated did not always score higher than children of working class parents. Much discussion has ensued including in the Globe and Mail as the results are more closely scrutinized:
-some countries provide more equality of education than do others, which enables the poor there to compete on a more equal footing
-some high scoring Asian countries may get those scores because the students are tutored privately
-Some observers have commented in the Globe and Mail article that in North American high marks are considered the results of ability while in Asian countries they are considered the result of work.

Crisis hotlines for troubled teens have helped many feel there is someone who cares. However making an actual call does require speaking out loud somewhere and a teen in distress may not have that privacy. A new option has been suggested - texting. Many US crisis groups have started to offer services by texting too and by May 2014, the four largest US phone companies will make it possible to text 9-1-1 from anywhere in the US. National Dating Abuse Help Line and the National Human Trafficking Resource Centre now also can be reached by text. Since August 2013 Crisis Text Line in New York has already handled nearly one million texts from 19,000 teens. Advantages of a phone connection include having counsellors tell by voice tone and sighs the mood of the caller. However, having the crisis message sent by text also has advantages according to Nancy Lublin of the Crisis Text Line. Phones can be appealing to pranksters but texting so far is less so. Texters can send their message even when an abuser is nearby. Text messages can be pulled up from previous calls so counsellors can easily follow the thread of a situation. Some teens are more willing to text and cut to the nub of a problem faster than they might if they had to tell the situation out loud to a stranger. However Beata Momtaz at Samaritans Inc, a suicide prevention organization in Boston, says texters can simply stop sending messages and get lost while a phone call rarely has a person simply hang up.

It is illegal to forcibly confine anyone in Canada, except in the prison system or through extreme medical precaution. It is illegal to force anyone into prostitution or to exploit minors or sell people. However many of those illegal activities are being conducted in some Inuit communities of Nunavut according to Helen Roos, a consultant from Ottawa who recently published a study for the Department of Justice. Roos claims that RCMP have charged a 31 year old mother in June 2013 for prostituting a minor. Roos interviewed members of Inuit communities and reports that children are being lured, groomed to go to southern cities and enter a life of prostitution. She says the ones making the arrangements are often parents or family members of the young women involved. Women at the Qimaavik women's shelter said that some families were paid $15,000 for an underage daughter who was then flown to Winnipeg or some other southern city. The girls ranged in age from 9-14 years. Larissa Maxwell of Deborah's Gate safe house in Vancouver says her group has seen Inuit and Aboriginal youth being offered flights to BC to be sex workers. Reasons for the desperate acts of family have been theorized. One is the impoverishment of the local community and the high rate of frustration that has led to addiction issues. Another problem is that with open adoption tradition, a child may be tended by any extended family member and there is little scrutiny of who exactly this alleged relative is. Carole Saindon of Justice Canada says her department remains committed to combating human trafficking.

Children in foster care do not agree about the value of current government policy protecting their anonymity and privacy. Alberta law says that no one can publish names of photographs of anyone in foster care, even if the person dies there. News outlets can't print their names and parents of children who die in care can't talk to the media in ways that identify the child. Some former foster children think these laws go too far. Three young women who were raised in foster care have recently spoken to an Alberta government panel saying the special treatment for those 'in care' amounts to a stigma and makes them invisible. One girl, Samantha, is now 21 and studying social work. She says publication bans imply people do not exist. One girl, Faven, aged 19, said families should have the right to release information. Monique, aged 20, said children and youth in foster car should not be labelled. She wants the freedom to be able to speak about people normally, without the restrictions or labels. She suggested that youth be given a chance to sign a directive to indicate how their story and photo will be shared if they die.

In New Zealand Otago University and AUT asked some schools to sign up for a study about active play.Some of the schools decided to upgrade their playgrounds and then discovered that the safety regulations to do so were complex and the equipment was costly. The study about active play changed. Researchers had another idea - why not let kids play in more old-fashioned ways and without so many new rules? Swanson Primary School embarked on this plan and let kids climb trees, ride skateboards and play bullrush right on the property. Principal Bruce McLachlan was aware that parents may think the kids were now at risk but he found that in fact accidents declined, vandalism declined, bullying declined. AUT professor Grant Schofield says that modern playgrounds have too many rules and 'cotton-wooling' children is more dangerous in the long run. He says kids learn the benefits of calculated risk taking.

Not only do seniors live longer and need more hospital care, but their care there can take a lot of time and money. Recovery from surgery is slow and yet releasing a patient too early can be dangerous. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre is embarking on a new goal called Home on Day 3. It hopes that getting surgery patients home sooner will free up beds. However in order to use the home-based recovery plan, doctors now have to find out what is available at home and who is there to help. Sunnybrook is also working on a program of telemedicine in which patients don't actually have to leave their homes to see a medical team but can contact them online.This new shift however has created a bureaucratic question since doctors in the past have billed only for office visits. Another solution some people are suggesting is that it should not be necessary to see a fully qualified doctor for minor problems. A nurse practitioner or pharmacist may be able to diagnose and prescribe if legally permitted to do so. Another proposal being looked at is the use of special low priced nursing homes. War veterans right now can live in such a place for $1000 a month including both room and food, thanks to a Veterans Affairs Canada subsidy. However as war vets age and die, such a low cost option may not be available any longer and some have proposed it could be. At the veterans facility the Globe and Mail visited, veterans were treated with great respect and were allowed to eat and watch TV and sleep as they wanted, not according to the stricter schedules of many other nursing homes. (ED NOTE: Shunting the sick home too early does beg the question about whether in fact the at-home family caregiver is not in fact a vital player in saving health care costs. If so, and it is so, this caregiver deserves status and funding so being there is even possible.)

Statistics Canada has recently looked at household expenses for 2012 compared to earlier years:
-rent, mortgage , property tax and utilities now cost $15,811 per year per household
-transportation costs on average are $11,216 a year
-food costs per household are $7,739 a year
-out of pocket health care costs are $2,285
-total cost a Canadian household spends on food, transportation, heath care and other basic goods and services was $56,279

-households headed by adults under age 30 spent 2.8% of their budget on health care while seniors spent 6.4% of their budget on health care.

The focus of some women's rights groups in the 1990s was to get men to do more housework and childcare, as if that would then equalize the workload at home. However this move has not had the same effect as was envisioned and is being reassessed. The American Time Use Survey has been released in 2014 and has found that:
-the paid work hours of men and women are starting to be equal
-in surveys women still claim however to do most of the childcare though men are claiming they have upped their own participation
-women and men seem to spend time differently. Jennifer Senior says that women are more likely to endure sleep deprivation, are more likely the ones to handle the pressure points parts of the day where kids have to get dressed or be driven to swim lessons. Women tend to multitask more than men do, often doing housework and childcare at the same time.
-when they actually had leisure time, the anxiety level of men went down but the level of women did not decline much.
-Jennifer Senior has written "All Joy and No fun: the Paradox of Modern Parenthood" looking at new trends.

How people raise their children involves a legislated basic protection of the right to life. food, clothing, shelter, safety, health care and freedom from neglect or abuse. The law also does allow though wide divergence in parenting sty;e within those limits, to recognize parental right to care for their child in their own language and culture, with their own food and activity traditions, and catering to the individual needs of that child. The role of the state to enforce the first is often used however to carry over into a grey area of the second, where different idea sexist on how to discipline, how to educate, how much freedom to give, how much socialization to provide. Daycares and other large institutional settings such as schools struggle with how to respect divergence and still provide some sort of universal program. Even diets and holidays can create conflict in the large group settings. In some communities with a religious base, government has been conflicted about how much to intervene. In Ste. Agathe de Monts Quebec, there is an orthodox Jewish community of about 200 members, the Lev Tahor community. A complaint was made about children's hygiene there and about whether the provincial education curriculum was being followed.Uriel Goldman, community spokesman said that children are given religious education and he denied any allegations of mistreatment. A child welfare agency however started a court case against a few of the families that cared for 14 children.Pending this court ruling many in the community suddenly relocated to Ontario but a Quebec court ruled anyway, in their absence that the children should be placed in state care for 30 days.The Ontario children's aid society asked for the Quebec ruling to be upheld even in Ontario but the Lev Tahor community said they were now outside Quebec jurisdiction. Ontario Court Judge Stephen Fuerth however has ordered that the children in question be returned to Quebec to enter child welfare care there. Social workers have expressed concern that the children are socially isolated and that they seem terrified of others who are dressed differently.

Quebec at one point had the lowest birth rate in North America and that was a striking change from the tradition of a century earlier where French speaking Canadians had a policy of simply trying to outnumber their English adversaries through the 'revenge of the cradle'. The dramatic shift to having few children though created a crisis not just to carry on French tradition but also for the tax base of the province itself. New measures put in place to entice people to have children again, including universal daycare did not change that picture much.Enhancing maternity and paternity benefits had a small effect but demographers in 2014 are still expressing a concern at the low birth rate in the province.Ontario, Manitoba and the Maritimes also have rapidly aging populations. For people aged 15-64, in Quebec there were 9 to every person over 65 in 1971. By 2013 however there were only 4 to each senior and it is estimated that by 2050 there will only be 2 'working age' adults for every senior in the province. This tilting of the demographics, the 'greying ' of the population risks losing taxes, costing a lot in paying out pensions, costing a lot in meeting health care bills of the elderly and may present government with challenges taxpayers dislike such as making them earn longer or pay higher tax. Jeffrey Simpson estimates that health care costs will rise about 5% each year. Quebec already is the province with highest taxes and highest debt load. (ED NOTE: The answer, of more babies, is not that hard to imagine though. We need simply to across the country, including in Quebec, value having children with a birth bonus, a universal maternity and paternity benefit, with funding per child that flows with the child to age 18, and with pensions for the caregiving years. Not everybody wants babies but a lot more want them than are having them. We can change that by making it affordable and socially valued for those who do.)

January, 2014

Lee Ballantyne, 65, lost his wife Carol on December 30th 2013.They had been married for 43 years and the sadness of the loss was intense. A few days after the death he was eating along at the restaurant Cicco's in his home town of Barrie and he noticed near him a young couple also eating but happy.He was reminded of the happiness of his own marriage and wanted to do something nice for them so he told the waiter he would anonymously pay their dinner bill.He scrawled a little note on a napkin to them also before he left, and it read "You don't know me but my beautiful wife of 43 years died last week. Tonight I dined alone for the first time. You remind me of us many years ago. Please allow me to buy your dinner. It will put a smile on Carol's face and make me happy." When the couple did get up to pay they got the message and were surprised. The wait staff and manager were so moved they also cried and owner Lindsay Weiss said "It was one of the kindest gestures I've ever witnessed'. The couple was able to determine who had given them the gift and traced him down, phoned him to thank him. The story of Ballanytne's gesture was put on social media and spread widely. Ballantyne, who has three sons and five grandchildren was modest but pleased. He said, "My wife's strength and joy of life is now known to millions of people."

Those who want to give every possible advantage to their children, with lots of classes in art, music, sports, with lots of travel and clubs, may inadvertently be creating stress for their young. Julie Robinson of the Independent Association of Prep Schools in the UK says that it is 'too easy for parents to be sucked into a competitive busyness' and she says it is important to not forget the advantage of helping kids experience boredom, take time to play and be creative on their own and develop self-discipline. She admits there is a balance needed because much enrichment for kids' education has a good intent. She says that often children are being pushed too hard and it is important that young people have lots of casual face to face interactions not just online experiences.

Recently incidents have surfaced in homes for the elderly where a person with dementia became the perpetrator or victim of a violent act from another resident.81 year old Francesco Greco was charged with second degree murder of his roommate 87 year old Francisco Da Silva at the Castleview Wychwood Towers nursing home in Toronto. 72 year old Jocelyn Dickson was allegedly beaten to death with a cane and a 73 year old fellow resident was charged with second degree murder at Wexford Residence. Jack Shippobotham, 79 suffered a broken nose, hip and pelvis after wandering into the room of a 'territorial' fellow resident. Joan Warren 76, walked away from a Sunrise of Lynn Valley long term care facility in sub-zero temperatures and was found by a hiker north of Vancouver. In the midst of these tragedies, officials are addressing nursing and long term care housing policy, supervision, staffing, training and security.
-inquests after the deaths often make recommendations but not all are followed. After Ezz-El-Dine El-Roubi, 71 and Pedro Lopez, 83 were attacked by a 74 year old resident at the Casa Verde nursing home in Toronto, an inquest made 85 recommendations. Among those was a call for the province to fund nursing homes better and for facilities to refuse to admit patients until they have been assessed.
-the Ontario geriatric and long term care review committee said that long term care homes are becoming 'mental health institutions'. It urges new protocols for the handling of those with dementia
-Judge Ronald Jacobson said an expert study should be done for needs of those with dementia including the wanderers, possibly equipping staff with GPS devices to track them.
-Alberta Health Services has begun pilots tests of locator technology for patients who tend to wander. -Some health officials are suggesting that anti-psychotic medication doses be re-examined because some have side-effects.
-Susan Eng of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons says a database is needed to follow up on recommendations from inquests and inquiries about such incidents.

All families face hurdles of how to ensure there is enough income for food and housing, how to take care of the children, how to provide a stable home. However military families face significant extra hurdles in those areas because they are often separated for months at a time, and often relocated to new homes every few years. Defence Department auditors have recently studied the situation surveying 370 military families, and visiting 10 bases. The study found that a military lifestyle can create disadvantages and challenges for families. Access to health care for special needs children, to spousal career support, to mental health services is a concern. Though the National Defence Department operates 32 military family resource centers in Canada and 11 abroad, gaps are still seen. One suggestion coming out of the report was that there be fewer forced relocations. The study also would like to have a change in the focus so that the image of 'brokenness' of military families is countered by the image of their resilience.

Some Canadian parents are arranging to adopt a child from Russia and have done much of the paperwork. However since Canada permits same-sex marriage, it is one of the countries that Russia has just decided it will not cooperate with for adoptions. The Russian government in July 2013 passed a law that would not let same-sex couples adopt and that would not let countries arrange adoptions if the countries permit same-sex marriage. This shift in gears has upset the plans of several Canadian parents who have now petitioned the Prime Minister to intervene. Kelly Fox has told the media that in the fall her adoption was put on hold even though she has already visited a child and named him and he waits in an orphanage in Russia.

Over the past several years childcare centres have been challenged to offer a service for parents who work odd shifts not 9-5, for those who work weekends or overnight and for those who want only drop in care. They have also been challenged by the movement to have some of their 3-5 year olds move out of their centres into a pre-kindergarten school setting where parents do not have to pay as much and get more government funding. In response some childcare operators have asked that their staff be permitted now to work in those school settings as aides to teachers while other centres struggle to retain their clientele and parents are conflicted because one option is so much less costly to them than the other. Schools meanwhile struggle to find places for all the new registrants since education funding is often very low and the facilities are already crowded with grades 1-12.
Into this mix has entered another concern. Some parents are asking that the school system now provide classes for their young more like the hours the parent is at paid work, so for a longer school day. In that way parents would not have to pay for much after school care wherever they got it. The length of a school day has been studied recently in the media.
-Michael Grove, British Secretary of State for Education wants shorter holidays and more classroom hours for students in the UK
-Francois Hollande, President of France just changed the school day in that country. Students used to attend for a four long days but got Wednesdays off. Now he has legislated that they have to go all five days, but each one is shorter.
-Asian schools run for long hours each day. In China the school day extends from 7 :30 AM to 5 PM
-Finland however has very short school days, only 8AM till noon and gives students 14 holiday weeks per year. Finnish students consistently also score at the top of OECD performance tests and scientific research is often cited to say that the short day and the earlier part of it are most in sync with the child's biological rhythm for learning
-in Sydney, Australia one primary school has recently shifted to operate classes only 8 AM to 1:15 PM but does have homework centres in the afternoon for parents who cannot pick up their kids.
(ED NOTE: The contrast between what is convenient for parents and what is best for kids' learning is very evident. I am in favour of a shorter school day and parents getting tax funding for making sure they can be home when the child is not in school, or they can provide and fund a caregiver.I do not feel that it is fair for government to only push for and fund nonparental care. We need at least the option of parental care outside school, and to have it as funded as nonparental care is funded.)

Olga Kotelko grew up in Saskatchewan on a farm, with 9 siblings. She became an elementary school teacher and on retirement joined a slow pitch baseball team. However at age 77 she became bored and set out to challenge herself. She decided to try a track competition and discovered she was quite a good runner, especially in her age group. She liked the social world of meeting people on the track and field circuit and took up high jumping, long jumping, sprinting and javelin too. By age 95 the BC resident now holds over 23 world records in track and field, 17 in the category of aged 90-95. The incredible ability of this woman has been studied bygeneticists who convinced her to do a number of DNA and other tests. But it has also been studied by psychologists who are interested in whether her attitude to life, her energy is a key factor.Kotelko likes to do Sudoku puzzles, watches Jeopardy on TV, avoids most processed food, promotes deep breathing when you are nervous, but has a very casual laid-back attitude to life. She is a 'thoroughgoing optimist' according to Bruce Grierson who has written a biography of her entitled "What Makes Olga Run?" He says that Kotelko's positive attitude is not naïve, but a choice to "not let the dark stuff have a negative effect on me".

In the US Charlotte Figi, at age 7, has a severe type of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome. She has had up to 300 seizures a week and when her family tried cannabis they found it helped reduce her seizures to about one a week.When they learned that Colorado has now become the first US state to legalize cannabis for recreational use, they rushed to the state. Media reports indicate that about 100 families have already relocated to the state as 'medical refugees' seeking treatment for a family member using the new legal route. However the legalization of the drug has raised concerns among others.
-US law prohibits banks from making business loans or giving credit cards to any company that makes or sells cannabis. So though the sales are now legal, the businesses selling it have problems setting up
-Mexican drug cartels that operate an underground cannabis market risk losing millions of dollars and there is concern expressed by legal experts that the criminal element may react to this infringement of their turf, possibly through extortion. One security firm has already hired 30 armed former military and police to protect 12 cannabis companies.
-medical researchers are not universally in agreement about the benefits of cannabis and the long term effects on children. Some have expressed concern, according to Nick Allen of the Telegraph, that no one yet knows the side effects of use of the drug at Colorado's high altitude.

When pregnant women develop dangerous medical conditions like high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia there are often signs of low blood oxygen. In the western world these signs can be detected but in the third world they may not be. Dr. Mark Ansermino and Dr. Peter von Dadelszen however have created a way to use ordinary cell phones to help. They made an app that uses pulse oximetry. Light waves are shot through a person's finger tip and can determine blood oxygen levels, useful information for doctors. Globally 6000 women die per year from the high blood pressure condition of pre-eclampsia. The doctors work at the University of British Columbia and are seeking avenues to develop their app and market it. They say it may also help athletes during training sessions.

In many companies if a person is sick and takes several days away from the job, the employer requires proof that the person was actually sick, and this proof is a signed note from a doctor. To get this note the person has to have gone to see a doctor, sat in an office even if suffering from a contagious illness and has created a cost to the medical system of time and money. Scott Wooder, president of the Ontario Medical Association has said on behalf of the doctors he represents that employers should not require such sick notes. Wooder says it is better if employers have a relationship of trust with their workers and accept their word, saying doctors should not be 'truant officers'. In phone in shows after, many listeners agreed. Many workers feel that a relationship of trust is part of professionalism and respect and do not want to waste both their time and the doctor's for minor ailments. There are however those who disagree. The Conference Board of Canada says that illness costs the economy $16 billion a year in lost productivity, missed sales and the burnout and stress of other workers who have to pick up the slack when someone is away.
(ED NOTE: There is the issue of fairness in educational settings. However, with respect to paid work, the key issue in my estimation is caregiving time being considered as a legitimate form of absence from work.)

Scans of the brains of people with major depression have shown cortical thinning and this tendency also appears in their adult offspring as a risk factor for themselves developing depression. The physical link to brain change has recently been studied by Dr. Lisa Miller of Columbia University. She looked at 103 adults who were a mix of being at low or high risk of depression based on family history. Those who said they valued religion or spirituality had thicker cortices in the brain areas associated with depression. The possibility that spiritual and religious practice including meditation can actually protect the brain is intriguing to many researchers.Miller found that regular attendance at a church was not necessary for the effect, but what mattered was a strong personal importance placed on spirituality or religion.

It is quite common now for in vitro fertilization to implant into a woman a fetus or sperm to create one. However it is still a novel idea to insert into a woman an entire womb. In Stockholm some women who had their wombs removed due to cervical cancer, or who were born without a womb, have approached doctors to see if they still could give birth and one option is to have a womb transplanted into them. In Turkey and Saudi Arabia this procedure was tried but both times no babies resulted. However Dr. Mats Brannstrom of the U of Gothenburg has told the press that nine women in Sweden are trying the procedure now and it looks promising.Six weeks after the transplants some have already started getting their periods, an early sign the wombs are functioning well. Donors of the wombs, which were transplanted starting last fall, have been relatives even mothers of the women.

The employee push to have a higher minimum wage so they can meet expenses is usually countered by employers' statements that to raise the wage would force them to hire fewer staff, lay off staff and / or raise the price of their product. A recent survey by Postmedia News found a large discrepancy now between jurisdictions about minimum wage. The Fraser Institute has argued against raising the minimum wage saying that to do so would threaten job prospects for the poor.
-The lowest minimum wage is in Alberta at $9.95 an hour and highest across Canada is in Nunavut at $11 an hour
-Anyone living on minimum wage in Canada is living below the poverty line.
-Minimum wage across the US also varies from a low of $7.25 in New York to a high of $10.55 in San Francisco.
-minimum wage is in all jurisdictions was much lower than what is deemed a living wage. In New York the living wage is $11.50, in San Francisco $12.43. The difference between the minimum it is legal to be paid and how much it isnecessary to have to live is 17%in San Francisco but 42% in Chicago, 58% in New York and 72% in Boston .

-In a sample Canadian city, New Westminster BC, the minimum wage is $10.25 and the living wage is $19.62 so the difference between them is 91%.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has joined Living Wages for Families in advocating for a rise in the minimum wage, saying to increase it would benefit the economy and raise the standard of living .

Canada allows immigrants and also then lets them sponsor family members to eventually come over and join them. The programs that permit this however take years and have many conditions. In the past some of the conditions have been that the sponsor had to prove the newcomer would not need government funds and that the sponsor would pay the bills for 10 years at least. The sponsor must have a defined income level and submit proof of it for the past year and only certain categories of relatives could be sponsored.Over time the number of applications grew so high that the government put a freeze on accepting any more. Its backlog was at one point 165,000 applications. It has however just lifted the freeze and will again accept applications but only to a cap of 5,000 more.To ensure that wealthy applicants do not try to jump the line and charter private planes to get their papers in first, the program also will only permit applications by mail or courier.The conditions have also tightened up
-sponsors now must have incomes 30% higher than was previously required and they must show proof of this income for the past 3 years
-the sponsor must promise to support the newcomer for 20 years now, not just 10
-the sponsor can help bring in parents, and grandparents but not adult siblings through this program.

The Mississippi State Penitentiary opened in the early 1900s as Parchman Farm. Work camps were set up on 1600 acres of farmland and mostly black inmates were forced to do free farm labor as part of their sentence. For years there was a policy allowing inmates to have visits from family, even private conjugal visits in the belief that such family contact would keep them happy and would be a way to entice workers to work harder in the fields. In the 1940s shacks and lean-tos were set up for some of these visits. In the 1970s, there was even special housing built into new prisons for such family visits. However concern has recently been raised that the program should be discontinued. Prison commissioner Christopher Epps says that it costs a lot for such housing and too many babies are 'being born possibly' as a result of them. Many prisons have stopped the program and now only five still operate it. Visits in Mississippi, Washington and New Mexico can last 1-3 days and can be spent with children, grandparents or spouses. Visitors can bring in food and even have a barbecue. In New York 8000 such visits happened in 2013, nearly half with spouses. In 2012 Yale law students found that family visitation programs can work as incentives for good behaviour, strengthen families and reduce sexual activity among prisoners. Many states set up such visits over time, most of them requiring that those who participate have shown good behavior and that the visitor is a legal spouse. Federal prisons still do not allow such visits though and prisoners in maximum security do not get them. However as of December 2013 conjugal visits will also be ended in Mississippi. Many participants are upset. Ebony Fisher, 25, likes to visit her husband who was convicted of rape 7 years ago. He got a 60 year sentence and she feels that the hour they can spend together is vital to having some semblance of a marriage. Amy Parsons visits her husband who is not due for release from his aggravated assault conviction until 2022. She says otherwise, "You never get husband and wife time. Obviously they did something wrong. But they are human. So are we".

The ethical dilemma of keeping a person alive on life support has several angles, often juxtaposing wishes of the family to continue the support and observations by doctors that the person is only surviving because of life support and is not likely to recover. However there are other issues in a Fort Worth hospital recently.In this case the family out of respect for the wishes of the 33 year old patient, want to have life support ended, but the hospital refuses. In this case the issue is that the woman is pregnant. Marlise Munoz collapsed in November at 14 weeks pregnant, having suffered a blood clot to her lungs.Though she has been declared brain -dead and the family has said their good-byes, hospital administration says that the law requires them to keep up the life support. In over 24 states it is illegal to cut off life support to a pregnant patient. The fetus is now at 20 weeks development. Munoz's mother Lynne Machado says her daughter had previously indicated that were there a crisis she would not want to be put on life support. The mother feels her daughter's wishes are being ignored. Her father is also unhappy that the state is only looking at her as a 'host for a fetus'. The Texas legislature in 1989 passed a law that life sustaining treatment must not be withheld from or withdrawn from a pregnant patient so lawyers are also discussing whether the law applies not just to those in a coma or vegetative state, but also to those who, like Munoz are brain- dead. 31 states restrict the ability of doctors to end life support for pregnant women regardless of the wishes of the patient or the family.

A York university student taking an online sociology course was told that part of the requirement was to meet with a group of fellow students to do an assignment.He was concerned though because according to him, his religion does not allow him to meet in public with a group of women. He told his professor, Paul Grayson of his hesitation and the prof refused to make an accommodation since he felt the request was sexist. However he did refer the matter to the dean of arts who agreed with the student and said to accommodate the request would not affect others' rights. The student eventually did meet with the group but the issue became the talk of university campuses keen to have fair policy. Justice Minister Peter MacKay said that coeducation is vital to Canadian culture and men and women attending school together is what soldiers fought for. York University Provost Rhonda Lentonis concerned that if one accommodation is made, others may follow for other reasons and she says 'Accommodation is not limitless'. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said the university's stand is sexist in allowing the student to not have to go to the group but lawyer Raj Ananad of Toronto says universities have a duty to accommodate the special requests of a student unless doing so would cause the school or students 'undue hardship'.

In New York two approaches to the issue of care of children stand in stark contrast as politicians jockey for votes.Many politicians feel that the public wants more programs for the very young, or 'pre-kindergarten' and proposals to this effect have been on the books since 1997. Mayor Bill de Blasio in his bid for mayor promised such classes in NYC but to do so he said he'd need to raise taxes, and he would do that particularly for wealthy New Yorkers. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo however is seeking re-election this fall and he is promising to reduce taxes so the two views seem at logger heads.Cuomo tried to reach a compromise saying he could give $1.5 billion a year over five years for a statewide prekindergarten program without having to raise taxes but de Blasio says that is not good enough. The Mayor said he won with 73% of the vote and his reading of the public will is that putting taxes up for this purpose is acceptable. Cuomo says the current programs are inadequate and "little more than babysitting." (ED NOTE: This is a tempest in a teapot in some ways because both are actually arguing for the same thing- more time away from parents for the very young, and their only difference is who pays.I would favour a funding for children, not for an institutional setting and then parents could choose how to raise the child.Any funding only for time away from the parent is not about kids really at all but about subsidizing paid work. I also find the expression' pre-kindergarten' deceptive. Kindergarten itself is in theory a play garden for children, socializing and fun but not intended to be instructional formally. Pre kindergarten 'classes' is an oxymoron. Little kids do not need 'classes' and what is this concept - play before you get to play?)

Though giving the public 'tax cuts' is widely believed to be of great public appeal, Eugene Lang of York University has urged Canadians to re-examine the concept. Lang is a long-time observer of Liberal and Conservative government tax cuts which he says have been wide-ranging. He says the trend to cut taxes is now a mania or 'jihad', a paradigm shift from earlier governments of PM Mulroney or PM Trudeau. He has told the CBC that the public should be more concerned with what is done with their taxes, what programs are put in place. He points out that cutting taxes may sound good but it often leads to reduction in crucial things like pensions. He pointed out that Canada used to generate 18% of its revenue through taxes but has cut that to 14% while the US still generates 19% of its revenue through tax.

The birth rate in Iran was 3.6 children per couple in about 1980. Officials even feared the country could not sustain the high birthrate and set in place policies to make birth control available very cheaply. Condoms were often free and vasectomies were easy to obtain and cheap. By 1992 the birth rate had dropped to 1.8 children per couple and experts have now re-examined their policy, fearing now that there will not be enough children to maintain the tax base. The Iranian parliament has just approved a bill to increase maternity benefits to 9 months from 6 months, and to give fathers a two week paternity leave. Government officials have targeted a population of 150 million or more, although it is now only 77 million. Dr. Mohammad Jalal Abbasi of Tehran University says that the economy is in turmoil.There is a 36% inflation rate and he is not sure that couples will have more children right now, when it is hard to afford a house or meet expenses.

In the UK a discussion was hosted by The Observer about childcare . Justine Roberts of Mumsnet and Gransnet, and Marie Peacock of Mothers at Home Matter balanced the discussion where academics and daycare proponents weighed in on public policy about the funding of care of children. Some of the points raised included:
-women at home tending their own or others' children along with their own could also be referred to as childminders. However government has removed subsidies from that care style.
-in many countries cited as exemplary for childcare, such as Scandinavia, there are not direct parallels to the UK situation since in those other countries family and community networks are often closer and more active.
-Citing numbers of mothers in paid work does not indicate those whose preference is paid work. Many are forced out of the home for financial reasons.
-they noted the irony that families of considerable wealth, with incomes up to 300,000 pounds a year are able to still access tax-free childcare outside the home while households struggling on a fraction of that get no help with costs of raising their children if those children are at home.
-they pointed out that arguments for more flexible childcare schedules and locations should also include flexibility in style- and should include care at home.
-they pointed out the common ground of all caregivers that there is a "chronic undervaluing of care in general."

December, 2013

The UK government has taken strong action recently on youth crime.Some say however that it has gone too far. The Antisocial Behaviour, Crime, and Policing Bill being proposed in Parliament sets up a new series of injunctions to prevent not just crimes but 'nuisance and annoyance'. Police officers, councils and even housing providers could impose injunctions on youth as young as age 10. If a child threatens others, or in any way causes others "annoyance", not just harassment, alarm or distress the child can be excluded, even from his own home. Penelope Gibbs of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice said these laws go too far. She says the state should be working to stabilize situations and prevent a child's bad behaviour from getting worse, not just sending them out of the home.

US journalist Ann Jones has recently written an article examining the inconsistent stance of the United States about child soldiers. She says that though the US says it is against children being forced to be soldiers, it also grants partial 'waivers' to some of its key partners to whom it still wants to give aid. She notes that the US State Department listed 10 countries that use child soldiers, and then the White House granted waivers to five of them - Chad, South Sudan, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
-She also pointed out an irony in US military policy since it also recruits youth to be soldiers.She says that the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps or JROTC recruits hundreds of youth from public and private high schools around the country every day. The 14 and 15 year olds parade in military uniforms carrying rifles at many public events and their drill teams compete against each other. The US Army Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps was started in 1916 but when the first world war ended, the ROTC was only active in six high schools in the country. A compulsory senior version on state college and university campuses was made optional by 1961 in the wake of anti war sentiments and it disappeared from most campuses thereafter. However it is back, with the lure of grants for some institutions.The JROTC was set in motion again and caps on its size once set, have ended.The Pentagon claims the JROTC is not a recruiting program but former Defense Secretary William Cohen was quoted in 2000 calling it "one of the best recruiting devices we could have". By 2013 1731 high school across the US have such programs, run by 4000 retired military officers.Added to the air force, navy and marine units there are 3402 high schools taking part in the JROTC, totalling 557,129 students. The Department of Defense spent $365 million just for uniforms for these teens and the texts, equipment and salaries of the instructors also get Pentagon approval. Most instructors being retired get full retirement pay from the military and then also salaries. Jones claims that public schools end up having to pay out of pocket for these programs and that the cost is more than a regular phys ed program would be. Jones is concerned that the texts and programs tend to endorse bringing guns to school, inspire 'fear of enemies', and inculcate obedience to the state. The students watch movies of soldiers on parade and are taught to aspire to a life of military service. One boy she talked to even looked forward to joining the military as a way to escape city street violence. She found that many of the high schools that take part in the JROTC program are from the south (65%) and many focus on engagement of students of colour. Some civic groups have objected to the JROTC saying it encourages discrimination against gays, immigrants and Muslims but advocates say it adds structure to the lives of troubled kids and keeps them in school.

The dilemma of medicating children pits their need for life-saving drugs against the risk they may if allowed to self-administer them, misuse them. In Straffordville Ontario a 12 year old boy, Ryan Gibbons was known to have asthma and had at the school a life-saving Ventolin inhaler. However school policy was to confiscate medications and lock them in the office for emergency supervised use. In October 2012 Ryan suffered a severe asthma attack at school and died. In another case a 13 year old girl Sabrina Shannon had an anaphylactic reaction at her school in 2003 and died, prompting passage in 2006 of a law called Sabrina's Law to ensure all schools have mandatory plans about anaphylaxis. Conservative MPP Jeff Yurke has introduced a private member's bill in the Ontario legislature to force all school boards to have a standardized asthma management plan too, in honour of Ryan. The issue has not yet been resolved.

Though the emphasis of most medical care is to save lives, a recent focus is how to provide compassionate care when it is not possible to save the life. Hospices for adults are becoming common but to admit that sometimes children die has been harder to accept among the public. However pediatric hospices are starting to surface as homey stand-alone buildings in BC, Alberta, Quebec and Ontario. The Toronto one is called Emily's House. A hospice for children often brings a unique approach to the topic, not just for reducing pain but also for enjoying life. Emily's House has a sensory therapy room, a room for family members to sleep in, and family and staff can bring in cakes for occasions, can light candles and mark milestones. There is help for parents who are providing long term support for children with life-limiting conditions, who are not at imminent risk of dying but whose parents are exhausted. Pediatric hospices started in Britain in the 1980s and now there are 40 there but the US still only has two. The first one in Canada was Canuck House in Vancouver. At Canuck House there is an in-house school and there are even outings in the community, even to a local ski hill or beach. Joanne Gallevo, nurse, says that the child hospice environment is not nearly as sad as one might predict. She says families seem less stressed and children happier in hospice than in a hospital setting. Despite these endorsements, a study by the Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto surveyed parents and oncologists and found that the preferred location for a dying child was the home, that second was the hospital and that hospices actually ranked last. Dr. Alisha Kassam suggests that when funding is lacking, more research is needed to see if money flowing to hospices is the best use of it.

British Columbia's child poverty rate went up in 2011 to 18.6%, making it the province with the highest child poverty rate in the nation. The national average is 13.3%. About half of the poor in BC live in metro Vancouver. Though the rate for children in lone parent female-led households was higher still, at 2l.5% in 2010, it has now gone up to 50% in 2011. The solution of more jobs has not worked. 32% of the poor children in the study do have at least one adult in full time paid work. Incomes of the parents may be an issue. Even with two parents, many low income families had incomes $14,000 below the poverty level and single parents were earning $9,000 less than the poverty line. British Columbia Advocacy group First Call has looked at these high rates of child poverty and has made recommendations of how to address it:
-raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour
-ensure that all workers even sometimes exempted agricultural workers and those who work in pubs, qualify for the minimum wage
-raise welfare rates to the after-tax poverty line and index them to the cost of living
-let those getting child support payments while on welfare retain up to $300 of that money. This option has been cancelled and should be restored
-increase the child tax benefit to $5,500 per child without regard to earnings in the household
-remove financial barriers for low income students who wish to attend post secondary and who qualify by grades, including tuition fee reductions and more grants instead of loans
-give universal public prescription drug, dental and eye care coverage to those without it through their paid work.

In prisons two rights may conflict - the obligation to enforce court decisions to deprive prisoners of some freedoms, and the right of mothers and newborn babies to bond. In BC two former inmates have raised the concern. Inmate Patricia Block gave birth in 2009 and two days later a social worker took the daughter away. She was serving a sentence for dealing drugs. The Alouette Correctional Centre for Women used to in fact let incarcerated mothers keep their babies but ended that program in 2008. Block took the issue to court which has now ruled that cancelling the program was unconstitutional because mothers and babies need to bond. The prison officials had argued that prisons are not safe places for babies and that prison officials do not have childcare in their job description.Justice Carol Ross ruled however that under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms the mother and baby have a right to be together. She says to deprive mothers of that right because they are in prison violates their right to security of the person. Grace Pastine of the BC Civil Liberties Association has praised the move also saying that it is a 'tremendous victory' for Canadian women and their infants.

Occasionally good things come despite odd motives. In the new movie Philomena, Judi Dench plays a woman searching for the son she was forced to give up for adoption 50 years earlier. She is aware that Irish convent nuns raised him for a time but then sold him to an American couple and she enlists the help of a former BBC announcer whose checkered journalistic past as a spin doctor makes him keen to revive his career with a story. The movie has been reviewed by Jay Stone of Post Media News as an expose of the 'shockingly sadistic treatment' of unwed mothers in the 1950s. It is based on a true story that Martin Sixsmith documented in 2009.

Many parents work outside the home and send the child to daycare or school for 7-12 hours.This often requires that the parent pack a lunch and one snack, sometimes more. In earlier times what was in that snack was the parent's own business though country schools might try to also have a soup or something to add to it for the little kids who were still hungry. Lately though, daycares and schools differ widely on policy about the lunches and snacks. Some schools provide the meal, for a fee and there has been huge controversy about what foods then to offer, which are healthy and which should be discouraged. This move has led to schools also caring about what students bring from home and many schools and daycares in the interest of healthy eating have set up policies of taboos - no peanuts in case someone in the room has allergies - and then policies about what they just feel is healthy. Some centres have an absolute ban on candy or even cupcakes, chocolate bars or potato chips in the pack brought from home. In Rossburn, Manitoba a small childcare centre for about 20 children also felt that it should have rules about the food kids brought from home. Kristen Bartkiw has served on the parent committee setting up the rules and the province has also set in place guidelines of what is acceptable. Recently Bartkiw served her kids a roast beef dinner with potatoes and carrots and the next day for lunch gave them some of the leftovers from this meal. The lunch they took to school had in it roast beef, potatoes, carrots, an orange for dessert and milk to drink. When the kids came home that night she found however in the box a note from school administration, that not only had this lunch not been deemed appropriate but that she would be fined $5 per child for providing a substandard meal. She was incensed and even more shocked that the daycare also said that to ensure the kids had a 'grain' the school had subsidized the potatoes, which apparently were not called a grain, with Ritz crackers. Sylvain Charlebois of the University of Guelph says that the broader move to 'big brother lunches' is now of concern. She says that the guidelines may have started with a concern for allergy exposure but have gone 'beyond the scope of mitigating risk'. Bartkiw is not as unhappy with the daycare as she is with the province for making centres follow the Canada Food Guide. She says this guide is being interpreted to require that all meals have the five food groups and she says the guide is flawed. It says a juice is a fruit and she says that itself is a mistake. Dr. Yoni Fredhoff of the University of Ottawa is also critical of the Canada Food Guide. He thinks lobbyists influence it too much and that it leans too much towards processed foods. He says it is ironic that a school can supplement lunches with crackers and calls that 'basically serving garbage' to kids and he is offended that schools are suggesting they do things better than parents do.

A government usually wants to ensure that its citizens thrive and tries to pass laws to enable that. The proof however that it looks at, such as paid employment levels or income levels may be only one factor and another may be the mental health and happiness of citizens. Use of anti-depressants among adults may be a key indicator of whether the laws are actually creating a good environment for the nation. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has released a study of use of anti-depressants around the world. The use seems linked with economic meltdown and financial struggles, and with unemployment, but other factors also seem at play. Iceland ranks highest, followed by Australia, then Canada. Next are Denmark, and Sweden, two countries that have not had significant economic meltdown but that do not give families a lot of career-family balance options. Next are Portugal, Britain, Finland, Belgium and then Spain. The researchers noticed that when governments try to stimulate a national economy by creating jobs, and when money is taken from social programs to push people to other roles, making cuts to public spending for welfare and social protection seem linked to rising unhappiness. In many countries that the OECD studied, cuts to health care were closely linked to increased use of anti-depressants.

Alberta Views magazine has recently examined the concept of guaranteed income, looking back at the 1971 experiment in Dauphin Manitoba that provided "Mincome" top-ups to wages for the working poor. The program lasted 5 years and was a testing ground for a guaranteed income nationally. Governments issued cheques to ensure that all households had enough money for basic needs, and the cheques were based on family size and current income. However the two leaders who collaborated to try the move, Premier Schreyer and Prime Minister Trudeau lost power and the program never did get fully analyzed, was not extended in Manitoba and was not implemented more widely. Dr. Evelyn Forget of the University of Manitoba is now accessing nearly 2000 sealed boxes of data from the Winnipeg National Archives to get that feedback. She says she already knows that during Mincome years hospitalizations decreased and fewer people dropped out of school. Hugh and Doreen Henderson recall the program fondly themselves. Thirty-five years ago they got the top-up. He was a school janitor and she was at home tending the two children and the farm. She says that the money helped them raise their kids and believes the principle is wonderful to make sure people have enough money to raise families. She says the money was not welfare or a handout and parents still worked very hard and scrimped. In the end the NDP government assisted 1000 families with the money though it had forecast that the help would only be needed for 300-500 families.

One in seven Canadians right now is 65 or older. That number is expected to be one in four by 2033. Facing the high number of seniors and the fact of seniors living longer, many companies have rearranged their pension plans to offer less money, with defined contributions but not defined benefits. Governments are encouraging seniors to save for their own retirement in addition to depending on pensions and are encouraging them to keep in the paid labor force longer. Some companies that used to offer discounts to seniors are now considering dropping them. BC Ferries used to offer free fares for seniors and 1.5 million per year used that option but this year the company has dropped the free fare option. Oakille Ontario is gradually scaling back the reductions it lets seniors have at recreation centres and plans to eliminate the perk completely. The Toronto-Dominion Bank used to offer some accounts with no fees for seniors aged 60 and over but it eliminated that option last year and now offers only a 25% seniors' rebate. The Canadian Association for Retired Persons, CARP, is not happy about the changes. April Lewis of CARP says many seniors are struggling already.A 2012 survey of 4700 CARP members found that 85% of them like the idea of discounts for their demographic. Murray Etherington, 67, says many seniors shop specifically at places that offer discounts and that anyone who thinks seniors are 'living princely lifestyles' needs to 'give their head a shake'.

There are moves to enforce more and to enforce less, around the world. In Canada the recent spate of teen angst and suicides from online bullying has spurred the government to pen a bill against cyber-bullying. It will be illegal to distribute intimate images without the consent of the person in the images and minors under age 18 cannot have their intimate images distributed even if they give consent. Those distributing the images could even face charges of transmitting child pornography and even seemingly innocent postings between two friends assumed to be private, if passed on could now be open to prosecution.

In the US some have expressed concerns about the funding and practice of compulsory public schooling.Senator Aaron Osmond of Utah is concerned that parents are not held accountable enough for the attendance of the student or the student's behaviour. Low levels of performance once noticed, often do not improve.He says that public education costs taxpayers billions of dollars and he wants it treated with more respect, not as an entitlement but as an opportunity. To that end he has proposed a few major changes that are turning out to be very controversial:
-a bill that will require parents to formally tell by affidavit if they will enrol their child in public, private or home schooling.
-those who choose to home school will not have to follow any of the state rules about curriculum standard, testing or classroom time
-those who choose public school however will then automatically sign on to obligations. Parents will have to sign a participation contract with the school, to accept attendance policy, to promise to help the child with homework, attend parent-teacher conferences and support the discipline meted out in the school.
-parents in the public school system would also get a bill of rights that if a child failed a test or grade the child could repeat that test or grade for credit.
-students who did not get good grades would have to take remedial courses and the cost of those courses would be borne at least in part by the parent.
-students in all schools would not have to attend for 180 days as currently but for the length of time only that a district established.
-some observers feared the bills would end the right to an education itself or to school attendance requirements. A KSL Political insiders survey found that 71% of Republican insiders and 100% of Democrat insiders did not want such a school attendance change. However Osmond says that he is not ending public school, only making the time more flexible. Tami Pyfer of the State School Board says that homeschoolers already have more flexible requirements than does the public school and that asking parents to pay when the child gets low marks is excessive. State School board member David Thomas also expressed concerns that charging parents of parents of low income is not fair since they often cannot afford the costs. Osmond countered that local school boards could look at what was a reasonable fee and could adjust fees based on ability to pay.

Tamara Lovett is a 44 year old Calgary mother whose son Ryan got sick last winter. The 7 year old showed signs of congestion and was bedridden for several days and police claim friends recommended he be taken to a doctor but she decided to treat him with homeopathic herbal remedies instead. In March the boy became very ill and she called for help. Paramedics found he had suffered a seizure and doctors diagnosed that he had a bacterial strep infection that had advanced seriously. The boy died. Police have arrested the mother and charged her with criminal negligence causing death and with failing to provide the necessities of life. Strep infection is a serious infection that often can be successfully treated by doctors with antibiotics. Family and friends of the mother have however rushed to her defense saying her love of the child was very deep.

The Government of Alberta has recently announced a series of initiatives to address family violence. It looked at the 2009 General Social Survey on Victimization, recent stats and self-reported data, finding that:
-the younger the child the more likely the child is to suffer violence by an adult. 81% of kids under 3 years who were victims became victims under age 3 years
-among dating partners who suffered violence, 1% were aged 12-14 years, 10% were aged 15-24 years, 25% were aged 25-34 years.
-70% of those suffering spousal violence had turned to family, friends, neighbours, doctors or spiritual advisors for help. Only 3 of 10 victims sought formal counselling
-women with disabilities are at a higher risk than are women without disabilities of suffering assault.
-per 100,000 population, 73 seniors were victims of abuse by friends, 61 were victims of abuse by family, and 51 were victims of abuse by strangers.
-in Alberta 6.5% of men and 7.6% of women said they had been a victim of physical or sexual assault by a partner or spouse in the preceding five years
-parents are much more likely to call the police about spousal abuse if a child has witnessed the event
-Alberta spends $70 million on women's shelters, assault services, treatment programs and counselling. The total cost to government is about $120 million a year.
-The Alberta government is proposing more money be spent on shelters and counselling, hoping that getting people employed, and having extended family and community and school attachments will help stabilize them.

In Switzerland there is a strong move to give every citizen a guaranteed income. Activists were recently able to collect the required 100,000 signatures necessary to force a referendum on the issue. The proposal would give every adult citizen there $2800 per month.To promote this move to reduce poverty and social upheaval, activists on October 4 threw down 8 million five cent coins, one for every Swiss citizen resident in the country, onto a huge pile outside the Swiss Parliament buildings.

November, 2013

Though many parents believe that kids deserve free play and some freedom during it, there is then a risk of minor injury. Some schools have recently intervened in ways that have been criticized:
-in 2009 a Connecticut middle school banned all physical touching after one student got kicked and was taken to hospital
-in 2012 an Australian primary school reacted to injuries there by banning all physical contact including high fives

-in 2013 a BC elementary school found that a number of children had been injured during mock light sabre duels and administration reacted. Officials announced they would ban all hands-on play and have a zero tolerance policy for kindergarteners. Parents have however objected. Julie Chen said "Do we expect our kids to be robots?" School spokesman Ken Hoff clarified the position saying kids could still help each other up after a fall or push each other on swings, or even, on occasion, hug.

When the state intervenes and takes over parenting, that is usually to protect children. However government studies often show that children in state care are still 'at risk' and sometimes because of the nature of state care itself. Del Graff, Child and Youth advocate for Alberta has submitted a report finding that 235 children under age 10 lived in institutional state care and that more attention should be paid to getting these children into family-focused settings. He says large institutional care is "not a healthy environment to grow up in." He says when children grow up in a 'staffed residence' they lack a sense of connection and attachment to adults who love them.Human Service Minister Dave Hancock says the government's first priority is to have children live with their own families or failing that to be placed in a family-based setting. There are 8,493 children in care in Alberta, over half of them aboriginal.

When children go missing, adults are usually desperate to find them but aware that the wanderer may not know how to contact them Several devices have been created for such situations, including some for older children and teens.
-a watch from Flip Technologies will track a child's location and has a red panic button a child can push if suddenly lost. The watch will automatically dial several pre-authorized phone numbers of parents.
-Tiny Trax is linked with a smart phone app whereby parents can draw on a smartphone screen the boundaries of safe zones for the child to wander in. If the child leaves that zone, parents are alerted.In places where a satellite signal is lost, for instance in a building, the Trax uses motion and direction sensors to determine where the child is. The device costs $249 and requires a subscription fee but already can be used in 30 countries, While some parents like the devices, others have expressed concerns. Dr. Lisa Jones of the U of New Hampshire says that there really is very little risk of child abduction from strangers and what risks there are generally are from people known to the child. Psychologist Lisa Damous of Ohio says that giving a child a device with a panic button on it might increase the child's sense of anxiety, not reduce it, since it suggests the child is in danger. Professor Lynn Schofield Clark of the U of Denver says that even if parents use apps to keep track of the kids, basic parental instinct is still a key resource. She says kids also have to be taught about safety, and letting others know where they are.

In Canada there is a new push by some advocacy groups to 'put childcare on the agenda' of government. By this they mean 3rd party daycare and the National Union of Public and General Employees on its website claims that 'experts agree' that universal 'high quality early learning and childcare' reduces poverty, boosts the birth rate, and provides economic benefits to households and 'most of all' benefits children. These claims however have been countered by other research.
-Kai Pfaffenbach of Reuters has studied the results of full day kindergarten for three and four year olds, a practice fairly new in Ontario but more common in Quebec. Ontario has a junior kindergarten for 3-4 year olds and a senior kindergarten for 4-5 year olds, and is moving towards making many of those programs full day. In BC, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI full day kindergarten is for five year olds. Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals has said that the results of the earlier entry and longer stay have been "nothing short of incredible". However Pfaffenback found no study to validate those claims. She also found:
-The full day kindergarten experiment in Ontario has cost the province $1.5 billion a year
-for those from low income households, Nobel Laureate James Heckman, economist found that some test scores improved if children had gone to kindergarten. However the results for other children in Ontario were negligible.
-In categories of emotional maturity, communication skills and general knowledge, kindergarten full day seemed linked to poorer child development outcomes than if a child had been at home. There is now concern about the need to not remove children from family care too early
-special needs children in particular seemed to benefit more from half day than full day programs, especially in terms of social competence and emotional maturity
-Philip DeCicca of McMaster University found that even the positive academic score results of all day kindergarten, for those who did see rises, levelled off after three years. By that time there was no difference between those who attended half day or full day kindergarten earlier.
-full day kindergarten by this research did not significantly improve academic performance and ran the risk of "stunting the emotional and social development of many kids."

The phenomenon of online bullying is again in the news, with new aspects of it under consideration. If teens refuse to go to school or are seriously depressed or suicidal due to online taunts, parents often seek help from schools or the police. Authorities are not sure if a criminal charge against 12 year olds is appropriate either and some have questioned parenting styles that gave the free time for kids to take nude photos of themselves or for other teens to circulate them. In Indiana in 2011 when school officials disciplined students for posting photos of themselves at a slumber party, the courts ruled that the school overreacted. Daniel Domeneck of the American Association of School Administrators says that there is a grey area because some claim students have rights to express themselves online as part of free speech. Some school districts are paying a third party, Geo Listening, to look through the social network online activities of students that are publicly accessible. They look for keywords and sentiments according to Chris Frydrych of Geo Listening. Some teachers choose to connect with students directly online and have Facebook sites. However a Missouri principal resigned in 2012 after accusations she snooped on students using a fake Facebook account.

In Canada the discussion of end of life care continues. MP Libby Davies lost her partner Bruce Eriksen to cancer in 1997. She considers it important to have the option of not being in an institutional setting for one's last few weeks. MP Charlie Angus lost a brother-in-law five years ago and liked very much the hospice care offered at that time. The two MPs have worked together to introduce a private member's bill in the House of Commons asking for a national strategy for palliative care. The two NDP MPs have criticized the current Harper government for 'abandoning' the field of health care.

With October declared in many nations Breast Cancer Awareness month, lots of pink ribbons and fundraiser abounded.In Canada some builders even use pink material around building foundations.One new suggestion however to 'raise awareness' has raised eyebrows and sometimes anger.It is the new fad of mamming, putting a woman in a position where her clothed breasts are on a flat surface and are photographed. The intention is to encourage women to get mammograms according to New York ad executives Michele Jaret and Michelle Lamont.A video intended to be humorous tells women how to take the picture and encourages them to send a picture to Instagram. While some in the public are amused, others are not. Xeni Jardin who has had breast cancer says that the 'self-serving shtick is tasteless, disrespectful and ill-informed'. (ED NOTE: Bev Smith writes, "I feel that women have been sold a bill of good when we are told to display our bodies to others, as if that is somehow of benefit to us. Whether we are told it is empowering us to dress scantily, hat we somehow are reclaiming our freedom, or that we are supposedly raising awareness of health issues, the net result is still that women are being talked into displaying their bodies for the amusement of observers.)

The debate about end of life care continues in many nations with distinctions being made between categories:
-active care to try to cure
-palliative care - patients get care to control pain and anxiety and are fed and nurtured but there is no active intervention to heal
-withdrawal of life support - the machines keeping a person alive are turned off
-assisted suicide - enables the patient to secure materials to hasten their own death but the doctor does not perform the procedure. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland. In the US Oregon permits assisted suicide for those over 18 with terminal illness.
-euthanasia - having a doctor give a powerful sedative then injecting a drug to stop the heart is now legal in Belgium since 2002. In 2012 there were 1432 such procedures, up from 235 in 2003. In the Netherlands euthanasia is legal for children over age 12, with parental consent. In Luxembourg euthanasia is also legal. In Belgium there are now proposals to permit euthanasia for those under age 18.
The dilemmas about competency to decide abound, especially if the patient is suffering from dementia. The discussion about suffering and quality of life continues but another concern is the situation for children. The ruling party in Belgium wants to permit euthanasia for children but the Christian Democratic Flemish party opposes it.The opposition point out the irony that children are not considered competent to vote or get married but by such legislation would be considered competent to make a decision to die, an observation also made by Catholic Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard.To address the problem of competence for those with dementia it has been proposed that adults while well, can make a formal declaration requesting euthanasia if their health deteriorates, though some have suggested 5 year limits and renewals of such a declaration.Some have expressed concern about those who would approve of euthanasia one day and then may change their minds, or about those who choose the option when not actually ill.In Belgium in 2013 two 43 year old deaf twins going blind chose euthanasia as did a patient after a botched sex change operation.

Professor Stewart Friedman of the University of Pennsylvania has released results of a study of two generations of graduates from the Wharton business school, noticing shifts in career and family priorities. He reported in his book "Baby Bust: New Choice for Men and Women in Work and Family" that:
-in 1992 full time paid work was 52 hours a week. In 2012 it is about 72 hours a week
-the 2013 job market is much more competitive
-in 1992 most male grads anticipated they could have a fulfilling career and raise a family but in 2012 grads anticipate there will not always be enough time for family
-in 1992 female grads said that being a mother was part of how they planned to positively impact the world.90% wanted children. In 2012 only 41% said they want children and many plan to have social impact through their careers.

Divorce is now legal in many parts of the world but for Orthodox Jews it has two stages.The first is the legal divorce under government rules. However under Jewish law there is a second stage called a 'get'. Under traditional rules, only the husband can issue such a divorce, and until he does that his wife though divorced in the law, is still married in the religion and cannot remarry. She is called an 'agunah' or chained woman.Realizing the dilemma it has been common for the Orthodox community to counsel men to grant this 'get'. But some men have refused. Gital Dodelson of New York wanted to divorced Avrohom Meir Weiss and a civil divorce did take place. However Weiss refused to issue her the get. In October four men were arrested by the FBI, two of them rabbis, for allegedly being part of an operation to physically assault men who refused to grant gets. Some observers suggest that a real solution is a prenuptial agreement for orthodox Jewish marriages to ensure that a get is available if there is a divorce. Yoni Goldstein has told the Globe and Mail that even such a prenup is not technically binding in all jurisdictions. Goldstein suggests that the new female rabbis, the first ever in the Orthodox clergy, may be able to help change the rules. They are Ruth Balinsky Friedman, Rachel Kohl Finegold and Abby Brown Scheier.

The United Nations has a Human Rights Council of 47 nations and periodically elects new members for their term. This year the General Assembly has chosen 14 new members. Britain, France, Macedonia, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia and South African were elected for 3 year terms. However the choice of some of the others has been criticized by several observers. China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Cuba and Algeria were also named though all of them but Cuba have refused to let the UN even investigate alleged abuses in their own countries. Hillel Neuer of UN Watch says some of these nations 'systematically violate the human rights of their own citizens'.

The BBC has done a series looking at a tradition in China but a new phenomenon in the west, the boarding kindergarten or overnight nursery. A BBC reporter visited several in China, some of which welcome children from infant age up, for a regular Monday to Friday sleepover interval away from the parents. Such experiments of longer separation have been tried in other countries from the kibbutz of Israel to the boarding schools for older children in the UK and US. However the move to have long time absences from parents for the very young is fairly new to North America. Advocates argue that the boarding kindergarten helps parents commit to long hours at work and helps rise in their careers. They say it is good for the economy and that it also leads to good socialization of children. However research by Jonas Himmelstrand of Sweden and by the BBC has found other effects. Psychologist Man Mei Ling of China has treated teens and adults who attended such boarding kindergartens when very young, and found many felt abandoned and irrelevant. Rates of anxiety and low self-confidence among kids have been noted, and hyper competitiveness. The experiment is often very costly to governments and has shown by their research rarely any long term benefit academically.

A massive typhoon, Haiyan, has hit the 7000 islands that are the Philippines, destroying the homes of 700,000 people and killing at least 10,000. While the local government struggles to help with limited resources, international aide has started to pour in, delayed however by airport shutdowns and logistic problems. In the meantime Save the Children has sent in helpers as have the Red Cross and the UN. Save the Children has expressed particular concern for children affected by the tragedy, many of whom are orphans. Krista Armstrong of Save the Children says that after the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean orphaned children were kidnapped from Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Some were adopted by infertile couples but some were abducted by gangs and sent into child trafficking. After the2010 earthquake in Haiti a similar fate awaited many children there. The birth rate in the Philippines is very high, at 3.8 per family in the rural areas, and during the one week following the typhoon at least 12,000 women were due to give birth there.Edwin Horcas of Save the Children says his organization has seen children begging, huddled over salvaged possessions, staring blankly, traumatized. His organization is trying to set up child-friendly spaces. *Some observers are warning about the value of sending in international trauma counsellors however. CBC radio reports that in an earlier international crisis western counsellors came and were so ineffective that local people wanted them sent home. On CBC Radio, "The Current" reported that locals had wanted joy and music, a day of community support and sunlight to help them rise up again from tragedy but western counsellors tended to take people one at a time into dingy back rooms to have them talk about the worst moments of their lives.*

The Chinese Community party has just announced it will soon end its one child policy. This policy was set in place in the 1970s to curb huge population explosion. Demographer Wang Guangzhou of the Chinese Academy of Social Science in Beijing says that though the policy is just in the planning stages, it will likely involve letting couples have two children if a husband or wife themselves is an only child. Wang Feng of the U of Shanghai estimates that the policy could increase the 15 million per year birth rate to 17 million. Currently the population of 1.34 billion is aging rapidly and there has been public ire about forced abortions, the declining tax base, the need for people to earn longer and the costs of eldercare.


October, 2013

Dr. Anne Fernald of Stanford University has released results of children's speech development. She found that children from low income families have a smaller vocabulary identifying pictures at age 18 months and speak fewer words at age 2, than do children of the rich. She suspects that parents with higher education speak more to their children and that by age 3 the child of the rich hears 30 million more words than do children of low income parents. Kris Perry of First Five Years Fund says that more formal early education of low income children is the answer. The National Governors Association also says that lawmakers should increase access to 'high quality childcare' for children from birth to age 5. (ED NOTE: To assume the poor are not up to the task by virtue of their poverty itself is highly problematic. The best learning especially with very young kids, is one on one. Kids are so variable and unique that one size fits all treatment to tell them how to read or even to sit still or play, just does not work for long. What they need is individual attention, one on one listening to their stories, letting them choose among several activities and respecting their attention span. The larger a grouping of young kids, the less the ability to treat children individually, so early education is actually least likely to work for children. If government is to take any lessons from such studies it should fund parenting more generously, help the poor with costs so they can be there to raise their kids.)

It is legal to hire someone to take care of your child but the Live-In Caregiver program to hire foreign nannies in Canada does require stringent conditions about minimum pay and maximum working hours. In Vancouver Franco Orr wanted a nanny for his family of 3 children and he approached Leticia Sarmiento of Hong Kong. He promised her many good things about the job should she come to Canada, which she then did. However he did not go through official channels and ultimately the situation ended up in court. Supreme Court Justice Richard Goepel has now ruled that the father who has no criminal record, was guilty of human trafficking, employing a foreign national and misrepresenting facts to immigration officials. He will spend 18 months in jail. Sarmiento discovered when she arrived that she would be socially isolated, paid only $400 a month. Added to the time she would spend there she would be unable to see her own Philippino family, including her own three children for years. Sarmiento eventually phoned 9-1-1 and alerted police. She has also filed a claim for unpaid wages,overtime, and vacation pay.

Education theorist Aflie Kohn feels that it is not effective to get kids to act based on a promise of reward and says it may even be counterproductive. However many parents do use rewards for good behaviour and even schools offer rewards -marks, privileges, and even in the case of high achievement, awards, certificates, trophies, stars. Recently students of St. Basil Elementary and Junior High school in Calgary learned that their school will no longer offer academic prizes to its 250 students grade 7-9. Principal Craig Kittleson says the school still has goals but the praise for report card marks will come more directly from teachers and not via awards. He encourages parents to celebrate children's achievement. Meanwhile some parents are aghast. Andreas Winn, a grade 9 student tries hard to be on the honour roll and is sad that won't even be possible this year.

In every nation there are occasionally reports of children gone missing and though some reappear many do not. Concerns are raised about if these children have become victims of foul play, been abducted and forced to enter a life of prostitution or other illegal acts. Police are concerned that some children may be used by kidnapping families to illegally claim family benefit payments. Authorities also are concerned if children are being sold on the black market. Recently in Dublin Ireland, authorities became concerned when the blond blue-eyed daughter of some residents did not seem to be genetically similar to the parents who claimed they were the natural parents. The adult couple told authorities that the 7 year old girl in question was born in the city in 2006. They produced what they claimed were birth certificates and passports as proof of the girl's ID but no official certificates were found. DNA tests were ordered. Meanwhile in Greece another blond girl about aged five was found to be living with a family whose story of her origin also was questioned after DNA tests. The girl in the Greek case, named Maria, did not match any missing children lists. Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimpoulou claimed they had informally adopted her from her biological mother shortly after birth. The couple has now been charged with child abduction and the girl is in the foster care of the Smile of the Child Charity. A top Greek prosecutor has now ordered an emergency nationwide investigation into all birth certificates in that country for the past six years.

The Government of Canada continues to do research about many aspects of the economy and through its General Social Survey since 1985 has looked at social policy issues. The results are used to inform government as it creates laws and programs. There are independent annual surveys addressing specific topics in depth but lately many of them have looked at caregiving, families and time use. Though each survey collects information about age, sex, education, religion and ethnicity it does not use this material identified for individuals but only to note patterns. Until 1998 the sample size was about 10,000 people. In 1999 it was increased to 25,000 and the sampling process used has been random digit dialing of private household phone numbers in the 10 provinces. Lately some of the material is collected via computer assisted telephone interviewing, to keep down staffing costs. Creators of the survey admit that right now it does tend to exclude households without a landline, and those without telephones due to low income. Interviews last about 40 minutes and are conducted over a 6-12 month period. Survey designers note that response cooperation is declining for this voluntary participation survey so the program was redesigned in 2010. There will now be an Internet questionnaire instead of the random digit dialing to phone lines, though there will still be some telephone interviews. Recent focus includes:
-a study of caregiving claiming, "The importance of caregiving in Canada has been increasingly recognized".Data was first collected on this topic in 1996 and then in 2002,2007 and 2012. Researchers ask about the arrangements for care, nature of the family and friend caregivers, impact on the caregiver's life, paid work, income level, health, emotions, friendships.
-a study of families was done first in 1990 and then every five years, most recently in 2011.
-time use has been studied including nonmarket production, unpaid work, well being and paid work- life balance, health, culture, sports, gender equality. The first time use survey was done in 1986 and they have continued at 5-7 year intervals most recently in 2010. Respondents track and report their own 24 hour time diary. In 2010 the GSS survey noted that some unpaid work tasks are done simultaneously such as tending children while cooking dinner.
(ED NOTE: I am very pleased that government does such surveys first of all because to do them at all suggests that government is aware of unpaid work and some of its role in the economy.The technical administration of the surveys does sound difficult and potentially flawed, missing out on those who do not own computers, on those without landline telephones and of course risking the problem all voluntary surveys risk of data being skewed because so many did not take part when invited.One cannot assume they are exactly like the ones who did take part. There are other hurdles such as language that may prevent some from participating, and possibly even hurdles of education level. Any participant- driven survey also depends on the person being honest and though one might hope that is the case, there is also potential for unintentional error or even intentional such as under or over representing how much time you volunteer, spend with the kids or do housework. Bev Smith writes, "I am a little concerned that the focus on gender was for a time prominent instead of a focus on if the unpaid roles were valued at all, whoever did them. It seemed for a time also that the data collection became an end in itself and that no government policies or tax improvements were realized when this material clearly showed that unpaid roles bolster the economy. In fact the questions still seem to often be worded so that 'work' is defined to exclude unpaid work and when people are asked about their work hours or situation the survey itself is discounting unpaid work as qualifying. That is a problem."

QMI Agency has recently completed polling 2022 Canadians for the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, looking in 2013 at child rearing preferences. The poll found that:
-a majority of those asked felt that the best care for a child under age 6 is with a parent at home
-parental preference was somewhat related to education level of parent with those with advanced university education slightly less likely to choose the at-home option by preference. 78% of high school grads, 80% of those with some university, 68% of university grads and 62% of those with post grad degrees, but all still a majority of those asked, said being at home with a parent is the ideal
-a majority of those asked said the second best option was care by a relative or neighbour
-a minority said that 3rd party daycare was the best option - 16% of high school grads, and 33% of university grads. (National daycare funding at the expense of a universal family allowance is thus twice as likely to be the preference of the elite in Canada.)
Andrea Mrozek of IMFC says that governments should notice these poll results and rethink any focus on preferential funding of third party daycare.

Gary Woolsey was born in Brantford Ontario in 1940. He attended Huron College graduating in Theology and became an Anglican priest- pilot based out of Kenora Ontario. For twenty five remote native villages in Ontario and Manitoba he was the priest and then bishop of Athabasca. In later years he was rector in Calgary. In 1982 he got his first touring motorcycle and loved it. He spent the next many years enjoying this hobby while being a priest and at one point set up Biker's Sunday at his church and Blessing of the Wheels service at another. In December 2012 he was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. Surgery left him paralyzed on the left side and in February 2013 he was moved to a hospice. It was not a time to despair however. He had always thought it would be good to write some prayer mediations about the juxtaposition of motorcycling to a life of faith and with the help of the use of only one hand, he was able to pen those meditations from his bed. The collection is called "Motorcycle Meditations: On a wing and a prayer." Woolsey has passed away October 18, 2013.

Gene Mueller is a blogger in Milwaukee whose recent blog has captured public attention.Mueller 's mother Irene died in 1996 and the blog recently was about her. Mueller recalls the home cooked meals, the firm fair discipline and the family fun of childhood and misses Irene, even 16 years later. The blog says that' home' is where your mother is. Mueller says Irene's advice is still something he follows and the only consolation is now that she lives in his heart.

Alice Laidlaw was born in 1931 to Eric Laidlaw and Anne Clark Laidlaw. She loved to write and at age 19, had a story published. Though she enrolled at university at age 20 she quit in 1950 to marry James Munro and she had a daughter Sheila in 1953. Her next child, Catherine born in 1955 died at age one day but she went on to have a third child, Jenny in 1957. In 1963 she and her husband opened Munro's Books, when she was 32 years old. She had a fourth child, Andrea in 1966 and in 1968 at age 37 had her first book published. Divorced in 1972 she married George Fremlin in 1976 and went on to win numerous writing awards, her short stories in particular resonating with readers.  Alice Munro has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013. She has recently been widowed and has had her own health challenges but has accepted the award with grace, saying the recognition is also good for the short story format itself. (Munro for much of this time was a mother at home, with several small children, while writing.)

Charlie Delorme, aged about 64, spent some of his childhood in residential schools. He, along with many others, has recently received a federal apology of the admitted mistake government made in taking native children from their families to educate them in white culture. He also got a cash settlement. He decided to spend it a unique way. Delorme has lived on the streets of Yellowknife for nearly 40 years and has become known as "Downtown Charlie". He is a common fixture of the town, collecting bottles, shovelling snow, tending lawns to earn enough money to just get through each day.His generosity to others was evident in his sharing what little he had when he had it. When he got the $100,000 cash settlement he decided to share it also. He has given $5,000 to the Salvation Army, $10,000 to the Stanton Territorial Hospital Foundation, $2,000 to the Sidedoor Youth Centre and plans to give $5,000 to the Catholic church to help the one priest in town.This winter he will have roof over his head and enough food in the fridge.

Brandon Stanton studied history at the University of Georgia and got a job as a bond trader on the Chicago Board of Trade. After 3 years though he left that position with an idea to take portraits of people in New York City.His original goal was to take thousands of pictures to capture ordinary lives but as he approached people, sometimes being refused permission, he also found many willing to chat. His photos gradually became interviews, snippets of life,highlights of the happiest, saddest, most memorable moments of ordinary lives. (One person told him the happiest moment was getting hit by a car for that resulted in a several thousand dollar cash settlement.) An 80 year old widow explained her happiness by a conversation she'd had with her dying husband. She asked how she could possibly manage without him and he had told her "Take the love you have for me and spread it around".Stanton has put many of his photos and some interviews up on his blog with the title Humans of New York. He now has about a million followers on Facebook and Tumblr.

Amid concerns that kids and teens may accidentally get sick eating laundry detergent pellets or household paint chips, are concerns that they may also on purpose ingest things they know to be dangerous, for the thrill. Stories of overdosing on common products even spices and resulting illness abound, and parents and legislators scramble to make sure the law keeps kids away from what may hurt them. Laws existing to keep the young from cigarettes and alcohol are not fully able to control those who get the products anyway, through friends. Other products surface to entice the younger market, with flavoured cigarettes, and 'hard' lemonade. Amidst such concerns is a revelation that some cough syrups containing codeine can be mixed with soft drinks to produce a very dangerous substance, often nicknamed 'purple drank'. The drink was first noticed in the 1960s and 70s in the rap music scene in Texas but spread . In 2004 a University of Texas survey found that 8l.3% of secondary school students had taken the mix to get high. Since the risk is of respiratory depression, cardiac arrest or death, authorities are very concerned. DJ Screw, Big Moe, Pimp C and other famous musicians have died after reports of use of the drink. The ingredients of the mix include codeine which is a narcotic, plus an antihistamine which can lead to sedation, somnolence, weakness and slow breathing.Some over the counter cough syrups also contain the mix.

In the western world, home births area growing fad, with highly trained doulas and quick access to hospital in case of crisis an easy option. In the third world however, home births are often associated with infant mortality. Why are women there not using hospitals? A recent study in Kilifi County, Kenya, under Dr. David Mang'ong'o found that there are several factors at play. One may be nearness to the hospital or cost of care there but another is pressure from family members. 9% of those asked admitted that their husbands required a certain location for delivery. Only 75% said they got a free choice while 11% said extended family coerced them to deliver at home. A third factor is however the education level of the woman. In areas where there were a lot of home births, women also tended to have low education. Dr. Mang'ong'o says that educating girls would have great effect in helping them have safer childbirths.

Amidst reports of long haul drivers forced to pull over to not become sleepy and of long paid work hours and shifts among many professionals even doctors, attention has been paid to the value of sleep itself. Some research has shown that sleep gives time to relax but the mechanism has not always been clear. Dr. Maiken Nedergaardof the U of Rochester has released a study finding that during sleep the lymphatic system in the brain is ten times more active than during awake times. During sleep some cells in the brain, probably gial cells actually shrink, increasing spaces or gaps between brain tissue. This space allows fluid to be pumped in and wash toxins away, so what is happening is a kind of flushing out of the brain during sleep. Dr. Nedergaard says that this flushing out system is vital to life but does not seem to happen when one is awake. Dr. Raphaelle Winsky-Sommerer of Surrey University said of the research that it shows that sleep restores brain cell function and may have protective effects. 

Matt Walsh is a Lexington Kentucky radio show host on WLAP radio. He also has a blog .Recently on the blog he expressed his concern about questions strangers were asking him about his family, his kids and his wife, especially asking him when she was going 'back to work'. Walsh was irate at the perceived insult since his wife has chosen to be at home raising the children. His blog is a long defense of her and he says she 'never stops working'. "Get your freaking head on straight, society!," he says, adding that women at home deserve admiration for the complicated, challenging work they do that civilization depends on. He says that being a mother at home is more than a job because at any paid job you are expendable but mothers are not. He takes issue with the 'just a housewife' expression, saying that in fact women at home just bring life, just mold lives, just maintain a household, just care for children who rely on them, just teach kids in all things form morals to manners to ABCs.

Rita Merrick has a blog called "Merrick family" in which she talks about her life. She is a mother at home who does paid work once a week at a long term care facility where she used to be employed. She has been surprised by the comments of colleagues about her return to the paid job. She is a mother of four, expecting her fifth child, and is surprised at the impolite comments of others to suggest she should stop having children. She says that with 3rd, 4th and 5th pregnancies the "reactions have become gradually less joyful and more of shock and ominous warnings". She is concerned about the low image people have of parents at home. She notes too that products for parental ease sometimes remove all the cool factor from the role - a mini van, very wide cumbersome strollers. She says that being a parent is complex but she loves it and that *"raising children is sacred work."* 

Nancy Fraser has written in the Guardian in the UK about an insight she has recently had about women's rights. She says that the feminist goals of the 60s, the second wave, were right to critique some of the problems of capitalism.The push to relegate women to the home was rightly fought and she says a new egalitarianism was certainly in order. However she now fears that the feminist struggle has shifted and has become engulfed in the very thing it was questioning. She says that second wave feminism has become a handmaiden of a new type of capitalism. Fraser is concerned that women are now being urged more than ever to buy into the paid work role and careerism. She says the original movement wanted everybody respected but now it only celebrates women with high paid jobs. She says the goal of women not having to depend on men was a good goal but that the new answer, of women now forced to do paid labor is not a good answer, particularly since this has simply put many women in low waged jobs. She says the assumption men were the head was a good assumption to fight but the two earner family is not necessarily the best answer. She notes that the current situation has produced depressed wages, decreased job security, a has increased hours of paid work including double and triple work shifts and has increased poverty.She says that efforts to provide microcredit so women could start their own small business, sound good on paper but the result has often been that governments simply cut back on programs they had to help the poor and now make women do it all themselves. She says that the new feminism is just a way to "legitimize marketization". What she suggests is that we value unwaged activities and take our focus off everything being about waged work. She wants care work noticed. She wants economic justice for all women and not just women taking on formerly male roles.

The status of homemakers and women who are caregivers has received a lot of international attention this past few weeks. In India it is common at this time of year to celebrate and worship the Goddess Durga, a symbol of women as empowered warriors and as powerful forces in birth and in nature. However many women have become concerned at the irony that though the goddess is worshipped, in real life women are often neglected, beaten up and suffer atrocities due to lack of respect. In 2010 in Balasore several women had an idea of name concrete role models of women to celebrate at this time and in 2013 this focus continues. Mamata Mohapatratold the press that nine women will be celebrated this year including several writers, a publisher, two homemakers, a dancer, an educator, and a Vedic priest. Keshu Das, an artist, says "By worshipping these women we are hopeful of inculcating respect for women among everyone, thereby reducing crime and atrocities against women".

The Government of Canada has announced in its 2013 Throne Speech a focus on helping consumers. To this end it will:
-identify compensation for passengers bumped from overbooked flights
-cap roaming fees for cell phone users
-force cable companies to offer more options than bundles of required TV cable channels
-enhance high speed broadband networks rurally
-require that customers who want a paper copy of a bill not just an ebill don't have to pay extra for that
-crack down on predatory payday lenders who promise to loan applicants money based on upcoming pay cheques but who charge high interest for such loans
The Throne speech announced few new tax policies to benefit or recognize caregiving:
-It will make adoption more affordable
-it will build on the caregiver tax credit employers offer for workers who take time from paid work to tend an ailing senior

The Governments of Quebec in 1997 and British Columbia, slightly later, have set up childcare programs intended to be more comprehensive than in other provinces and nearly 'universal'. More recently the government of the province of Prince Edward Island has also set up a new strategy. Its features have been outlined by Erin Anderssen in the Globe and Mail.
-in 2010 PEI operated kindergartens only within daycare centres. It moved them that year into the school system. Controversy ensued as taxpayers now had to fund this new school level and also as daycares lost clients and income. The province set up staffing for the kindergarten not from certified school teachers as is required in Alberta, but from early childhood license holders as long as they were 'working toward' getting university level qualifications. Daycares still complained now having also lost staff.
-in 2011 PEI daycare operators clamoured for government help, claiming the loss of clients and staff, and that the seasonal nature of their work threatened their livelihood. The province now built a network of 45 licensed early years centres with guaranteed funding for those under kindergarten age. It subsidized the daycares.
-Quebec also massively subsidizes daycares, directing $2.2 billion a year to them. PEI's commitment for its much smaller population was still $7 million per year (for the 6000 kids under age 5 that works out to $1166 per child per year given to each child in daycare and not to kids in other care styles)
-In fact PEI has also moved the funding for daycare from social services budgets to education budgets, claiming the daycare is educational (four other provinces and two territories have made similar moves though this has created a financial crisis for schools)
-PEI will charge parents above the subsidy level. It will charge them according to parental income but even for the wealthy the fee will only at most be $26 a day for toddlers or $33 a day for infants (that cost is about $7920 per year at the highest level and much of it is tax deductible as a child care expense on the tax form.Parents who do not use daycare but still have to buy toys and furniture and care for kids with adults giving up other income do not get this CCED deduction option either)
-PEI is aware that private daycares might not be set up to accommodate infants. It has however not taken the lead from Quebec to then fund more generous maternity benefits so moms could be home. It has instead opted to make it mandatory for all new early learning centres to also accept infants.

In many countries education is compulsory and children who are truant are forced to return to school. Parents can also be fined if they knowingly let a child be truant or kept a child out of school to do labor for extended periods.However, many parents nowadays have chosen to not have their child in regular school, but at home learning and the old trend of homeschooling which was common in very early times is now popular again. Many Canadian jurisdictions not only have approved it but help parents with curriculum material and with affiliations to school boards and social events. However in Sweden the rules are slightly different. In that country, truancy from school is not pursued actively but actual home schooling is punished, according to ROHUS, the Swedish Association for Home Education. ROHUS is a religious and politically unaffiliated organization that supports the right to home education but many of its board members are now living in exile in Finland and the US. Dominic Johansson was taken into custody by authorities three years ago when his parents wanted to home school him. A Swedish family homeschooling case was taken to the Supreme Court which ruled that the family must pay a fine of 15,000 USD. The family fled the country but left behind a business and property and friends have intervened to pay the fine. ROHUS authorities have said the fact that ordinary citizens from all over Sweden helped pay the fine shows that "the Swedish homeschooling policies are considered absurd by many Swedes". The fine is now being appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.


Not everything is about money but sometimes lack of money makes people make life-changing decisions. Sociologist K. K. Mukherjee has just released a study of sex workers in India. Mukherjee found that as women migrate to cities and as incomes rise for some but not others, there is a new crisis. In Bhararput, half of the adult females are illiterate and many find few options except the sex trade. The country now has 3 million sex workers, around a third of whom are under age 18. The 'sex trafficking industry' has been estimated to generate $4 billion a year. The gross domestic product of India has risen 8% per year for the past 10 years but treatment of women has not advanced. Rape is still common, and even family members act as pimps for girls. Mukherjee says the 'unprecedented growth in prostitution ' is due to a convergence of several factors. Many girls are forced to take a job to help the family but caste prejudice and illiteracy keep them from mainstream jobs. Prostitution offers them 1000-2000 rupees a day while the only other jobs available to them pay one-tenth of that amount. In the communities of Bedia, Nat and Kanjar, there are UN reports of trafficking rings that kidnap children to groom them for the sex trade. Some young girls are injected with hormones to speed up their sexual development. India has about 600 million women, and even where laws protect them in theory there is poor police enforcement according to Siddharth Kara of Harvard University.

In Syria recent uprisings of rebels against the government of president Bashar al Assad have led to mass migrations of refugees across the border to Jordan. Two million have fled and refugee camps now are as large as cities. In one of them, Zaatari, in the desert of Jordan 15 km from the Syrian border, there are 130,000 people, over half of them under age 18. The UN has helped set up schools for the children but a troubling development has been noted. Many of the children are dealing with deep problems. Many have been witness to airplane bombings, tank attacks and villages filled with dead bodies. They have dealt with atrocities new to conflict, such as sarin gas attacks and public beheadings and the result has been anger among the children, intense self-preservation and a propensity for violence. Salem Elayyan , school principal in Halim, says that the kids are so destructive of material and so aggressive to each other that many parents keep the child out of school for safety reasons. One Jordanian government official compared the children's behaviour to that of the refugees in Palestine camps in the 1960s and 70s. In that case children embittered by what they had seen tended to join groups like Black September and Abu Nadal. He is concerned that the refugee camps, despite good intentions, are still dangerous places for children. The desert area has no natural shade and though there are 60 makeshift mosques the UN sector giving out food rations still finds it hard to provide for all. Half of the population lives in sweltering tents, unable to access the few caravans and trailers onsite. The highway to a nearby city Mafraq is lined with young children trying to make money either legally selling food or as runners for smugglers. Some children now have been away from school nearly 3 years. A small arcade offers video games to amuse the kids but of the nine computers, the most popular game is Counterstrike where terrorists engage in battle with counter-terrorists. Joyce MacPhail is a Unicef worker who tries to help former child soldiers and other alienated youth. She says that when children experience 'profound stress' and trauma, their brain produces too much adrenalin and there is no sense of rest or security. Under this sense of hyper arousal, MacPhail says kids can't sleep and they barely feel emotion.She wants to help establish some sense of social order in the camp, with not just a school that works but a sports club and a goal of eventual return to Syrian homes. The school portables funded by private donations though Unicef have only 14,000 spots for 30,000 school age kids in Zaatari and they also offer no fans, conditioning, or electricity and only sporadically operating plumbing. Save the Children is trying to put in soccer field and art classes but to date even soccer games have turned violent. Many refugees become determined to return home and fight what they are now calling a 'holy war'.

Along with the grey area of defining a child (ages 12- 18 depending on service sought), comes a grey area about parental rights to impose rules. Once a child is legally adult but living at the parental home, families disagree about who then has a right to make behaviour rules. Dr. Laura Padilla-Walker of Brigham-Young University interviewed 438 undergraduate students, 376 mothers and 303 fathers to study points of view on the topic and found 3 parenting styles:
-shared control - 66%of those asked said this was the style used in their home once the child turned adult. In this style parents have some legitimate authority to set rules in all but the personal domain.
-personal control - 25% said the parents had no legitimate authority any more, and also provided nearly no financial support
-parental control - 11% reported that parents still ran the show in most areas, with high levels of 'helicopter parenting' and behaviour control.
Statistics Canada reports that in 2011 among those aged 25-29, 30% of men and 21% of women were still living the parental home. Among those aged 20-24, 63% of men and 55% of women were still living in the parental home. (Males seem to move out later. This may be because women marry younger, or because men get education that may take longer or it may also be because girls feel the restless desire to be independent sooner.)

Sinead O'Connor was born in 1966 and through a troubled childhood showed an aptitude for music. She was able to record some songs and when quite young rise to international fame from her home in Ireland. Her tumultuous life, with four marriages and media controversy has however led her to sharing her insights. She recently penned an open letter to pop star Miley Cyrus, born in 1992, whose rise to fame has in some ways paralleled her own. O'Connor however has expressed sadness at Miley Cyrus' recent career turn to dancing semi-nude and making overtly sexual gestures. O'Connor's letter warns Cyrus that the music business does not really care about singers and is just trying to 'prostitute' them for profit. The 46 year old tells the 20 year old that she was similarly approached years ago and made a decision to not be exploited. She tells her to mistrust those who advise her that to 'walk around naked' in the world is somehow liberating. "You are more than your body or your sexual appeal," she writes and says she should send a better role model to young girls to value themselves.

Small children learn career descriptions in which teachers teach and doctors heal and firefighters fight fires. However there have been moves in recent years to have many professions take on caregiver roles in a more general way, possibly as parents are often both away from the home. In Calgary, the Police Service has taken on several roles beyond law enforcement , under the belief that they are needed for these functions. Constable Ron Kubicek and Police Chief Rich Hanson recently outlined several initiatives
-building relationships so kids trust the police
-helping kids have a sense of community and belonging to it
-discouraging bullying
-showing kids a place to turn in times of crisis
-getting wayward kids back on track
150 officers, social workers and health care workers man the programs. These include;
-an onsite police officer in each school - they have been assigned there since the 1970s, one in every high school and one in nearly every junior high (although this may end up seriously harming children, when police assume control over children and families)
-the Start Smart, Stay Smart program to read to kids and talk with them from kindergarten to grade 6, for every elementary school that signs on
-Power Play - a free drop in program so new Canadian children can have police officers as hockey coaches and can learn to play the sport while bonding with a mentor
-Police Cadet Program - vulnerable kids are identified and are invited into this program to teach kids respect and social responsibility
(ED NOTE: I know the intent of this is good but I find it lame. First of all, kids need parents to guide them through values and my taxes are to pay the police to protect the public, not read classroom stories. I think government would be wiser to fund and support parenting and good parental time with kids.

When people are in crisis during storms, hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves, they do not immediately turn to official centres governments set up. A recent study by Eric Klinenberg, New York sociologist, found that in crisis people turn to friendlier networks, more casual welcoming places if they can find them.
-during the 1995 Chicago heat wave people escaped their overheated houses and went into the streets, to community centres, parks and libraries. They did not go much to the official 'cooling stations' government had set up
-After Hurricane Sandy, relief hubs sprang up also mostly outside the official response. One beach surf club welcomed people on Facebook saying "If you need anything, come; if you have anything, bring it". The Rockaway Beach Surf club soon saw hundreds then thousands arriving, some bringing solar panels, generators, some there to charge their phones, find a lawyer or plumber. They gravitated to a bright, crowded place
-a community youth centre, Red Hook Initiative, had a similar experience in Brooklyn where people came after the storm that took from people their heat, electricity and running water. They gravitated to the community centre fora hot meal and a common room. Another hub was a real estate office with an art gallery
Dr. Klinenberg observed that what people seek is a cheerful environment, already an organic part of a community and he recommends that libraries would be an ideal place to set up widely for the purpose. He says that budget cuts have even threatened the openness of schools and confirms what novelist Zadie Smith has said that libraries are "the only thing left on the high street that doesn't want either your soul or your wallet."

Dr. Robert Malenka of the Stanford University School of Medicine has released results of a study of the brain and its reward systems. He reports that for people with autism, social interactions can be painful and that for such children there seem to be differences in the gene that helps naturally absorb the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin has been identified already as critical in the formation of strong parent-child relationships and sexual attachments, and in the establishment of trust. In clinical trials oxytocin has been administered to children with autism spectrum disorders. Malenka's work with mice showed how strong the desire to socialize usually is. In mice given a choice of one room where they had been with their litter mates and another room all by themselves, most mice preferred the one with the happier play memories. However the preference changed when oxytocin activity in their brains was blocked. The only thing that would override this was if the mice had been exposed to cocaine in a room and that always made them later prefer that room. Malenka hopes the study will have implications for possible new treatments of oxytocin for several neuropsychiatric conditions.

The health of a mother before pregnancy, during and even after has long been linked the to health of the baby. Warnings abound about mothers not drinking alcohol, not smoking or even not taking some medications. However recent studies have suggested that the father's health and the condition of the sperm also can impact the health of the child. There seem to be two sources of influence - not just the DNA from birth passed along genetically but also some changes that are made to DNA by environmental factors. Epigenetics links lifestyle with genetics to see what is passed along, from moms and dads.
-Dr. Joost Linscooten of Holland found that if the dad smoked in the six months before pregnancy, small mutations occurred on his DNA, mutations dubbed mini-satellites. Heavy smokers had more changes in their DNA sequence and children ran a higher risk of mutations from unstable repetitive DNA sequences
-Exposure to radiation at places like Chernobyl is being studied for the effects it has on adults and their offspring
-McGill University researchers looked at levels of four cytokines in adults and in children and over 30 years examined patterns. They noticed that those aged 26-29 years who had high levels of some cytokines in the blood had often also been flagged in early childhood by teachers as chronically physically aggressive.
-Dr. Tod Fullston of the University of Adelaide found in a study of male mice that those with high fat diets as adults passed on increased insulin resistance to their female offspring, or a tendency to obesity.

Along with the debate about the journal of psychiatric disorders and the listing of new conditions some experts are looking particularly at two types of 'addiction'.
-food addiction - compulsive overeating is believed by some to be an addiction that left untreated can lead to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, sleep apnea and depression.It is characterized by episodes of uncontrolled eating, even past the point of feeling full, and unlike with bulimia, there is no desire to purge the food out after. Overeaters Anonymous has an anecdotal saying about the dilemma saying "When you are addicted to drugs you put the tiger in the cage to recover. When you are addicted to food you put the tiger in the cage but you take it out 3 times a day for a walk"
-Internet addiction - Bradford Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania has just opened a treatment program for this condition. Dr. Kimberly Young who founded the program says that it is an addiction that some observers just laugh off but it is real. The program involves a ten day stay that starts with a 3 day'digital detox'. Professor Ryan Van Cleave told the media that he himself became an Internet addict and played online games up to 80 hours a week. He said it wreaked havoc with his marriage and friendships and he likens the addiction to alcoholism. Dr. Allen Frances of Duke University however hesitates to call extreme use of the Internet an actual addiction. He says that for an addiction a person would have to keep doing the activity even when it was no longer enjoyable. The American Psychiatric Association now does list a 'gaming disorder'. Dr. Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University says that to be Internet addiction the behaviour must have become the most important part of a person's life, must create for him an emotional buzz, must lead to more and more use of the Internet to get that buzz , that stopping abruptly causes personal emotional or physical distress and that even after abstinence the person falls easily back into the behaviour. One retreat centre offers an Internet addiction program costing $22,000. It is a 45 day retreat helping patients 'disconnect and find yourself'.

In the US President Obama has announced that after 40 years of effort, home care workers have been successful in getting labor rights. The Fair Labor Standards Act will be amended to ensure they get at least minimum wage and over time pay. Tracy Dudzniski, ecstatic at the victory said "I've always said our work is expected but not respected. These regulations prove that our voices are starting to be heard". Many groups including the Direct Care Alliance are now thanking Secretary of Labor Perez and President Obama for the breakthrough rules.

The Conservative government in Ottawa has tried to encourage fitness of Canadian youth by establishing a tax credit when parents enrol their kids in sports. The credit has been praised by many parents for how it enables them to slightly better afford hockey or tennis lessons, swim lessons or other paid activities when they present a receipt to the tax department. It has also been criticized by many for activities it excludes (motorized ones, power boats, snowmobiles), or for some unlisted ones (waterskiing, wakeboarding). It has been criticized recently by parents of children with disabilities for ending before age 18 when those children do need extra long coverage. It has been criticized for its amount since it is a nonrefundable tax credit on amounts up to $500 but its net effect is much smaller than $500. Last it has been criticized by some parents who buy a baseball bat or bicycle for their child to exercise more informally but who can't claim that cost. The federal government has responded to some of these concerns by setting up an arts tax credit also for those whose passion is dance or music and it has recently announced that it will extend coverage for those with disabled children up to age 18, and will give them a separate $500 nonrefundable credit to spend at least $100 on such a program. (ED NOTE: My concern is that the overly bureaucratic nature of applying for the credit makes it top heavy with administrative cost. It would be easier and more appropriate to let parents just find the activity they chose and to fund parenting not the receipted expense. Governments have a hangup about being able to show a receipt for paid economy type of sports but most exercise kids do is not in that realm. This credit, like the daycare subsidy for only kids in daycare, really only subsidizes organized, formal organizations. If governments want universal fitness they should fund kids universally and let parents choose how to enable it - even with good shoes and some jogs together.)

The government of Quebec has announced changes to its Charter of Rights and Freedoms aimed at making all state personnel 'identifiable, mainly for security reasons'. It will ban the wearing of hijabs that cover the face.It also aims to reduce risk of discrimination based on religion by not letting government officials reveal their religion to the public they serve. To that end premier Pauline Marois will ban any wearing of kirpas, turbans, burkas, hijabs and large crosses for civil servants, judges, police, prosecutors, public daycare workers, teachers, school employees, hospital workers and municipal personnel. The new plans however have been roundly criticized by many for creating the exact thing they try to prevent-religious discrimination. Marois has said that when a daycare worker wears a hijab that might influence children to join that religion. Concerns of dissenters include:
-the legality of the charter amendment. The federal NDP leader says that he will fight the change because it is 'intolerable' that a person who wears a headscarf at the job could lose the job over it. Multiculturalism minister Jason Kenney has promised to go to court if necessary to protect minority rights in that province
-the employment implications - amidst much talk that Montrealers are now planning to leave the province in droves, some employers are luring them to their cities. Lakeridge Health, operating four hospitals in Ontario has run ads with a woman wearing a hijab and a stethoscope saying "We don't care what's on your head. We care what' s in it". The health group is looking to hire about 230 people
-the optics - Postmedia News columnist Michael Den Tandt suspects that this move is a "clumsy, misguided salvage the fading dream of Quebec independence via a naked appeal to tribalism"

When the police make an arrest they usually take a picture of the one arrested, a mugshot. This photo is for ID purposes and does not mean the person is guilty. Often the person is later found not guilty or if a minor, his arrest is removed from an adult record when he turns 18. However recently several Internet entrepreneurs have been entering the databases of sheriffs' offices and posting these mugshots, permanently online. Those who do this claim not only that it is legal to publish what has already been published but that it is in the public interest to help people find out if their child's coach has ever been arrested. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press says that the First Amendment protects the right of the public to see these mugshots because they are facts. Search engines have found that traffic to such mugshots is high, for the records of the famous but also for any job applicants as part of a hiring process. However many people in such shots are incensed that their photo is out there, violating their privacy and especially if they were found not guilty. There are 80 such sites according to the New York Times and in response to public demand, many now offer the chance to have your photo deleted from the database, for a price. The cost however may be deceptive. Some sites say they will take down the photo free if you can prove you were innocent, and others will only take it down if they think you are no longer a risk to the public, leaving that decision with the mugshot site director not the courts. Some charge high amounts for instance $30 a site or $400 for a service to take the picture from several sites. Lawyer Scott Ciolek of Toledo Ohio says people have the right to control the commercial use of their name and likeness and that the sites violate the state's extortion law. When the New York Times interviewed search engines and banks however to do this story a few positive changes quickly happened:
-Google wrote new algorithms and removed many mugshots
-Noel Hanft of MasterCard contacted banks to drop customers who operate such sites.
-John Pluhowski of Pay Pal discontinued his company's use for mug shot removal transactions
-American Express and Discover are severing relationships with mug shot sites.

In the US President Obama hoped to set up extensions of health coverage to millions of Americans. Currently the very poor can get Medicaid and the very rich can afford private hospitals but the vast middle class has been excluded from both options.In some states anyone who makes over $11 a day does not, for instance, qualify for Medicaid. A recent study by the New York Times revealed however that the Obama plan is not being set into place widely. The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states could opt out of expanding Medicaid and it turns out not only that 26 states have opted out, but that among them are two thirds of blacks and single mothers and more than half of low wage earners without health insurance. The following problems have been examined:
-30 million Americans are uninsured and right now are not eligible for help. Medicaid changes were aimed at helping them
-the states that have declined the expansion are mainly controlled by Republicans.
-most states in the deep south have opted out. 13% of all those living in Mississippi are uninsured and in poverty but Mississippi opted out. Its current income ceiling for Medicaid is $3,000 a year.
-the Kaiser Family Foundation confirmed that states that opted out have very low income ceilings for Medicaid. Most refuse help to anyone who as an individual earns over $5,600 a year, which is half of the federal poverty line of about $12,200. So they are poor by federal standards but still denied extra help by the state
-blacks are disproportionately affected by the states opting out. Only 40% of blacks in the US live in states that are expanding Medicaid
-about half of all Hispanics live in states that are also opting out. The US government has been unable to proceed. A temporary funding bill to enable the health care changes has been stalled, and 800,000 federal workers have been forced off the job. Most non-essential federal government services have been shut down for over a week.

The government of Australia recently was defeated and the new government as of summer 2013 has put in place or changed many programs for caregivers:
-the new Liberal National Coalition promises to "support and expand choices for families, not to make their choices for them". It promises to 'help families with the cost of raising children' and is cutting personal income tax
-former treasurer Peter Costello established a universal birth bonus ten years ago. The new government will continue it but its duration was already being reduced since 2007. It is now paid for 26 weeks and to any adult providing primary care of the child so it is gender neutral. It can also go to the grandparent or guardian, so it is neutral about blood relationship. It is however income tested and not accessible to households earning over $75,000 a year
-there is parental leave but while dads can take two weeks mothers can take much longer. Some dads have already objected to the difference. The parental leave is based on paid work participation and to qualify a mother must have had paid work 10 of the 13 months before giving birth . The benefit is up to $622 a week, up from $606 a week of the former government
-there are family tax benefits that include mothers or fathers at home and they extend to age 19 if the child is in post secondary. The benefit is based on family income so can be $110-$344 a month
-benefits for families go up as the child ages, unlike in some countries where it is assumed older children need less funding
-there are extra benefits for single parents or single earner families though these are based on the age of the youngest child. If the youngest is under five the benefit is $248 a month. If the youngest is 5- 18 it is $204 a month
-there are extra supplements for large families of $313 a year for the third child and for any subsequent child
-there are supplements for multiples if you have triplets or more. For triplets you get $246 more per month and for quadruplets $382 more per month.

September, 2013

Children's needs to maintain relationships with incarcerated parents is back in the news. Piper Kerman served 11 months at a US federal penitentiary in Danbury Connecticut for a nonviolent drug crime. Her time in prison, 9 years ago, gave her insights into what 'women only' federal prisons are like and led her to write a book "Orange is the New Black". She says one in 28 children has a parent in prison today and she is concerned that recent Bureau of Prisons plans to relocate female inmates will disrupt tenuous family links. The Bureau of Prisons says that to ease overcrowding in men's facilities it will move over 1000 women from Danbury to other prisons across the country. Kerman says such relocations will make it nearly impossible for critical visits to take place between mothers and children. 11 US senators have urged the bureau to not make this change and Kerman proposes an alternative. Since costs are a huge concern for the system, she recommends the Justice Home program of the New York City Women's Prison Association as a model. Under that program women who plead guilty to felonies may remain in their homes with their children, if they get case manager visitations several times a week and receive supervision and guidance about education and living. The cost of the Justice Home program is $15,000 per woman, much less than the cost of keeping her in prison and the program enables mothers and children to build a stable loving relationship. Fathers who are incarcerated, on the other hand, are completely ignored, as are children's needs to maintain relationships with incarcerated fathers.

George Prochnik has recently surveyed how much noise affects our daily moods and production. He feels that the noise we are aware of such as cell phones and sirens is added to by the noise we are less aware of like the hum of computers and refrigerators. He says we are constantly being bombarded by sound and argues that this is an intrusion on our life that keeps us from efficient ability to rest or think Prochnik cites Arthur Schopenhauer's statement  that noise is the arch-enemy of serious thought. While some argue that we learn to adapt and just tune out noises, Prochnik cites a study finding that even when we are asleep, the noise of airplanes taking off and landing in the area elevates our blood pressure and pulse and causes release of some stress hormones that may be linked to our basic animal nature to gear for action. Dr Wolfgang Babisch says there is not really any physiological habituation to noise and it is always a stressor even if under our conscious awareness. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter commented that when the US constitution was written the lawmakers made sure the streets outside the Independence Hall where they met were covered with earth so that no outside noises would disrupt their discussions.

The average life expectancy of Canadians is now 78 for men and 83 for women, both figures up about 30 years since the early 1900s. Given this phenomenon, the issue is not just a growing number of older people but a growing demand for some medical care. The Canadian Medical Association has met recently and expressed a concern about how to care for the frail elderly, cost wise and health wise. It costs about $1000 a day for hospital care, $126 a day for long term care facility care, but only $35-$50 a day for assisted living care in one's own home. An Ipsos Reid survey of 1000 Canadians found that 60% of those asked are not confident in the current ability of the health care system to take care of the aging population. Attention to home care is being increasingly emphasized. 93% of those asked support a long term home care strategy.

In the UK the Office for National Statistics has revealed that in 1993 there were 2.91 million at home mothers but now there are only 2.04 million. The number of dads at home has however gone up from 111,000 to 199,000. Shared parental responsibility is now the norm among young parents.

CBC News has examined the growing phenomenon of home care, estimating that there are 1.4 million Canadians getting some form of official professional home care, up 55% from 2010. Donna Davis is a nurse who co chairs a group called Patients for Patient Safety Canada. She advocates for the home care receiver, to make sure that person's wishes are respected. There have been complaints about how official home care operates and Safety at Home found  that 10% of home care patients had an adverse event of some kind, half of which would have been preventable. Some of the problems included patients having a rotating cast of nurses and workers, according to Diane Doran of the U of Toronto. This 'kaleidoscope of different care providers' can lead to greater risk of messages not being passed along well. Falls, medication errors, and infections ensued, and Dr. Sholomo Glouberman of the Patients' Association of Canada says the real problem is that home care is underfunded. He would like to see electronic charts maintained for patients so messages were passed along in writing and so schedules were easily kept. (ED NOTE: I think this efficiency sounds great for strangers but we already have a very efficient sector that knows the patient's wishes, habits, schedules very well and that is family. Home care that only funds paid strangers to come in is not the full answer, neither for money nor for efficiency. The answer is to fund the patient who needs home care and to let that person choose the caregiver from a range of options that also permit family based care.)

Statistics Canada has just published its report on caregivers 2012. It found that 28% of Canadians or 8.1 million people aged 15 and over provide care to a family member or friend with a long term health condition, disability or aging needs.
-54% of caregivers are women, 46% men
-44% of caregivers are aged 45-64
-39% of caregivers looked after their own parents and 9% looked after parents-in-law.8 % looked after spouses and 5% after ailing children
-28% of care is for the frail aged, 11% for those with cancer, 9% for those with cardio-vascular disease and 7% for those with mental illness
-care of the sick or elderly takes about 3 hours a week on average but is 14 hours a week for care of a spouse and 10 hours a week for care of a sick child. Care of parents is the most common type of care of the sick, and takes about 4 hours a week.
-2.2 million of those asked, or 28%, were providing elder care or care of the sick while providing care of children.
-51% of those providing care of sick children and 46% of those providing care of sick spouses reported symptoms of depression, isolation and disturbed sleep. This number was 30% for those providing care of their own parents.
-those caring for a sick child were more likely to consult a doctor about their own responsibilities as caregiver. 34% of those tending a child, 33% of those tending a spouse and 18% off those tending parents made such consultations.
-government gave financial support to only 7% of the caregivers surveyed, but 12% got help from family and friends. Only 19% overall got any financial help.
-28% of those tending a sick child and 20% of those tending a sick spouse admitted having financial difficulties.

Though very few doctors by the year 2000 made house calls any more, there is currently a return to this practice in some areas of the US. It turns out it may save money, reduces health risk, and gets people back on their feet.
-In the US 130 million people a year go to an emergency department and of those about 40% could have been treated by a house call. This means freeing up the waiting room would enable faster service of the urgently sick.
-In 2010 about 4,000 US physicians were making house calls, totalling over 2 million such calls. They attended to stomach aches, minor cuts, fevers.
-many people cannot easily get to a doctor's office due to their sickness, dementia or mobility issues. House calls save them time and inconvenience
-if hospitals send patients home and a problem develops the patients are likely to return to hospital unless there is a home treatment or home visit option. This readmission to hospital is costly to health care plans and the Affordable Care Act now has penalties on hospitals that have high readmission rates for heart failure or pneumonia.
-'virtual house calls' letting people use a webcam to discuss their conditions is also on the rise. The cost is about $85 a call while it would be several hundred in an emergency room.
-some hospitals are trying "Hospital at Home" programs. Johns Hopkins will set up IV antibiotics, oxygen, breathing treatments and in some cases even mobile X rays or EKGs at home. Doctors visit each day and even with this level of help, the cost is lower than having the patient admitted to a full service hospital.
-Studies show that patients treated at home recover faster than those treated in hospital.

The amount it costs to raise a child is often studied by economists and statisticians, comparing cost of living now to that of earlier years. However, like the estimation of the poverty level, the tally itself is open to debate for what it includes and what it does not. Recently Chris Sarlo of the Fraser Institute published a study estimating that it costs about $4,500 a year to raise a child in Canada. He looked at food and clothing but did not look at housing or cars. He did not look at costs of 3rd party childcare which some daycare activists think should be considered essential. He did not look at the cost of the caregiver's time, the cost of income loss the adult could have earned doing some role other than tending the child for free. He looked at the 2009 survey of household expenses from Statistics Canada. Janice Biehn of Parents Canada says that extracurricular activities should have been counted - sports, clubs, music, scout troops. Maureen Colford says that the extra costs of having a disabled child were not factored in and should have been because their medication and equipment cost thousands. She also feels libraries and books were not counted and should have been. Many earlier estimates of the cost of raising a child have been about $10,000 a year with the cost of raising a child to age 18, being at least $180,000.

While the US and Canada are on a push for earlier and earlier formal education for children, for daycares to all be preschools, other nations look at the first years differently. Finland has come to international attention because its students often rank at or near the top in competency tests run by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development around the world. Fins scored very high in reading, math and science, about the same as super achieving students in South Korea and Singapore, despite having a dramatically different view of early education from those nations. Here are some features of Finnish education that have been outlined in recent books and media studies. Pasi Sahlberg has written "Finnish Lessons' about the system.
-teachers are respected and get good pay. To enter teaching you need a master's degree in your specialty subject.
-school choice is not a big issue. Kids go to the nearby school with the confidence that all schools offer good education. In North America there is huge emphasis on which schools are 'better'.
-there is not much emphasis on competition, tests or rankings.
-the goal of the system is not excellence which is apparently just assumed. The goal is equity, that all students get an equal chance and an equally good experience regardless of family income, background or geographic location. In Canada by contrast there is lip service paid to levelling the funding for all schools but schools in higher income areas are vastly different in supplies and programs than are those in poor income districts.
-standardized tests are not valued. Sahlberg found that standardized tests lead to narrowing of a curriculum and to having teachers just prime kids for the test. In Canada there is a push to ban standardized tests as feedback to parents but the rigid adherence to test scores continues.
-emphasis is on creativity and discovery in one's area of interest. Sahlberg outlines the philosophy that every child has gifts and that it is a task of the education system to nurture that gift, be it creative writing or math. School helps children discover their skills.


August, 2013

In the UK amid growing concern at children's access to Internet violence and to Internet pornography in general, Prime Minister David Cameron has decided to act. He has announced that in conjunction with UK and American task forces he will :
-require all Internet search engines, including Google, to draw up a blacklist of search terms
-require the six biggest service providers for wireless Internet in cafes to block even legal pornography where children can view it. This is called 'Family Friendly Wi-Fi' and will begin at the end of August 2013
-require a database for child protection and police agencies to collect child abuse images
-require that anyone who signs on for Internet service is by default going to have a filter banning some sites and will have to untick a box to indicate the person wants to not have that filter and wants to have access to images of violence and pornography
-require the police to shut down accounts of those accessing websites illegally
-require that search engines are ready when asked by government to reveal results from specific searches
Reaction to the proposals has been vehement. Though many applaud attempts to reduce youth exposure to what may trouble them and to crack down on child predators the following objections have been raised:
-Some who teach sexual education fear that the ban may inadvertently prevent them from doing their teaching
-Daniel Foster, founder of one web hosting company, says the government ruling is evidence of a 'nanny state' invasion of privacy. He claims that parenting filters are already available and this government move is not necessary
-Jim Gabble of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre says genuine pedophiles will not be affected by the new restrictions since the main problem is not search engines but emails between pedophiles of images.

Though many commercial products claim to be 'educational' for kids, parents have started to doubt some of the claims and a few have made official complaints. The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood has filed several complaints:
-one was against a video series for infants called Baby Einstein. The Walt Disney Company which owns the Baby Einstein company offered refunds to customers unhappy with the product.
-in 2011 they field a complaint against makers of a video "Your Baby Can Read" advertising it taught 9 month olds to read, and last year the producers, Your Baby Can, agreed to settle amidst charges of false advertising
-the group in 2013 has filed a complaint against the mobile app "Laugh & Learn" claiming it does not teach babies language or counting skills as claimed. This app has been downloaded 2.8 million times.
-the group in 2013 has filed a complaint against apps for babies marketed by Open Solutions. The advocacy group claims the two most recent situations involve companies which have no rigorous scientific evidence to prove they provide the promised benefits of learning language, motor skills, spatial skills or numbers, and argues that the apps really just are entertainment. Susan Linn of the group even says using such apps intensely may detract from actual human interaction time, or hands on creative play.

A study of charities and charitable impulse has been written recently in the New York Times by Peter Buffett, son of Warren Buffett and himself chair of the NoVo Foundation. Peer Buffett outlined a disturbing trend he identifies as 'philanthropic colonialism' whereby donors are keen to give and to be seen as 'saving the day' for a good cause, but that often they are poorly informed about where the money goes. He says that many of the good intentions lead to unintended consequences. Some aid may result in higher prices of needed commodities locally, or may transplant western world solutions to first world countries causing great harm for farming, education, business development or even job training. Peter Buffett is also concerned that the nonprofit sector is itself becoming a 'massive business'. Its growth rate exceeds that of business and government combined and in the US alone about $316 billion was given away just in 2012. The charitable sector employs over 9.4 million people and he calls it 'conscience laundering' in many cases. He says that not only does it only sprinkle around token amounts as an act of charity but it actually 'keeps the existing structure of inequality in place'. He is concerned when he hears people thinking of giving for a cause who want a 'return' on the solution is not an end to capitalism or charity but a strengthening of humanism. He wants a new approach to what others need, one that looks at something beyond the visible acquisition of 3rd world things like Internet access.

Umbilical cord blood can be very useful in medical procedures down the road, for that child. But it also may have another use - in helping identify who the father is. In Mississippi the rate of teen pregnancy is very high, one of the highest in the US. A task force was even convened to see what could be done to cut the rate of teen pregnancy. A new law now seeks to address that. House judiciary B Committee chair Andy Gipson is sponsoring a bill that would require any girl younger than 16 who gives birth and who won't name the father to undergo a collection of umbilical cord blood from her baby and to have DNA tests run to prove paternity. The claim is that these compulsory tests will help prosecute cases of statutory rape. The intent is that rape and teen pregnancy will be discouraged by the new law. However many have raised objections to it.
-the tests are costly to the state at $1000 each
-authorities may learn the DNA of the baby but they may not be able to force any likely father to take a DNA test
-some say the tests are an invasion of privacy. If the underage mother dose not want to name the father but knows that in hospital people may find out who he is, she may not go to hospital and may risk an unsafe delivery at home

Dr. Anna Reid, president of the Canadian Medical Association has released a report linking poverty to poor health outcomes. The report is published after six town hall meetings. The study found that income, housing, education, disability, gender and race account for about half of the outcomes in health care.A quarter of the outcomes are due to the health care system itself such as access and wait times. Only about 15% of health care outcomes are linked to genetic and biology and only 10% are due to air quality or other environmental factors. Given the huge importance then, in healing, of the home situation, Reid suggests that government take action. The study recommends:
-a guaranteed annual income
-a national food security program so all Canadians have nutritious food
-an end to child poverty
The Public Health Agency of Canada says that about 20% of money for health care right now addresses poverty.

In Korea few years ago the booming economy led officials to fear that too high a population might interfere with growth. However the campaign to keep down population was so successful that now a new problem has surfaced. In 2013 government officials are concerned about the low birth rate and low marriage rate. In 2011 the age there at first marriage for men was 31.8, up from 27.9 in 1990 and the age for women was 29.14, up from 24.8. The birthrate was 1.15 children per woman, the lowest rate in the developed countries. To address this issue and maintain the tax base, The Planned Population Federation of Korea has been reversing a trend of earlier administrations that encouraged vasectomies and is now hosting parties to help people meet and marry. The Ministry of Health and Welfare began such parties in 2010 bringing together workers of local corporations. Local governments now get financial rewards for any activity that promotes marriage and childbirth. This new approach has had mixed results. In a nation where traditionally families and matchmakers link up prospective spouses, there is some reluctance to endorse speed dating. Koreans had become willing to trust some dating services that did background checks or the advice of friends who were so valued in the process that the friend often gets significant presents at any wedding. However setting up speed dating without such go-betweens has not yet been as respected.

In the UK a war of words is hitting the media between government and mothers at home. The child benefit for single earner families has been cut if household income is 60,000 pounds per year or more but is still in place and not reduced for dual earner families where the household income is 100,000 pounds. The government has also just announced plans that it will give 1200 pounds per child to dual earner households, even if the household income is 300,000 pounds a year, but not any parallel help to single income families. Chancellor George Osborne says that there is no need to give parallel financial help to mothers at home that is already given to mothers with paid work because the decision to be home is a 'lifestyle choice'. A recent study entitled "Work & Families: Choice and Flexibility": has been published and Maria Miller, Minister for Women and Equality has asked for public response.The response has been overwhelming. Only 12% of mothers said they prefer full-time paid work while the majority did not. 50% of those even in full-time paid work said their preference would be part-time only and more time with the kids.

July, 2013

Louise Bradley of the Mental Health Commission of Canada has released a study about family caregiving of those with mental health problems. The study found that family support networks provide $3.9 billion worth of care per year, (2006 figures) but that those networks are at risk for lack of government support. Bradley found that:
-care of those with mental health issues does not get the attention or funding given to care of those who have physical injuries
-care of those with mental illness affects the ability of the caregiver to have a paid job
-care of those with mental illness affects the stress and mental health ultimately of the caregiver
-of those caregivers studied, over 70% were women and about 60% also had a paid job.
Dr. Clem Martini of the U of Calgary said that first step is for government to better acknowledge care done in the home. "Right now it is invisible" he says. A study by Health Canada in 2002 found that about 2% of Canadians take care of a friend, family member or neighbour who has a mental illness. The study recommends that:
-there be financial support for caregivers in the family
-the medical profession should more formally acknowledge care by family
-training and resources should be available to family caregivers

Many people have chosen to have eggs frozen for later use through in vitro fertilization. Embryos are made by in a lab fertilizing eggs with sperm, microscopic in size and frozen at that stage. Some have the eggs frozen before a major surgery, some if a spouse is dying, some to have on hand in case they want future children. However not all people then use those frozen embryos and there is now a large collection of unused or 'orphaned ' embryos. Dr. Carl Laskin operates a Toronto fertility clinic and admits that he now has on hand 1000 embryos belonging to patients who have lost contact with the clinic. It is estimated that across Canada there are many thousands more such embryos. Options for what to do with them have generated much debate about ethics and law. The Supreme Court in 2010 split jurisdiction on the issue between federal and provincial governments. Options include:
-to use them for research
-to destroy them
-to keep saving them just in case the people come back. Storage fees are about $300 a year.
-to let others adopt them.
Not only is there an issue about what to do with the current orphaned embryos but there is also concern about how to prevent the problem continuing.

In the US after several school shootings, proposals were made to tighten up arms ownership laws, but when those did not all pass, proposals were made to arm teachers. The idea that the best defense against someone with a weapon is your own weapon is strong in the US. It generated new laws in Kansas, South Dakota and Tennessee July 2013 to arm teachers and administrators at schools. However the move is facing new hurdles. There are some insurance companies that feel that giving the teacher a gun makes for a safer school. In Texas 30 districts now arm teachers and many found an insurance company that does not extra bill for providing such insurance. However many insurance companies fear that the risk then just ramps up for a shooting incident so they are raising their rates.The Oregon School Boards Association has to pay $2500 more per year for every staff member carrying a gun. Training and arming staff costs $50,000 a year according to one Oregon estimate. The third option, to let there be guns in the school but to have only qualified law enforcement officers with them, is also being considered.

In the debate about euthanasia the wish of the patient is usually considered paramount, but if this is not known, family is consulted. Recent studies have found that families differ widely, even amongst themselves, about a given family member, and despite medical opinion that a case has little chance of recovery. Some aspects of the decision that seem to cloud the discussion have been discussed in the National Post recently:
-Canadian doctors and nurses have pointed out that in the US there is some pressure to overtreat patients, if private insurance companies can continue to bill clients. Dr. Kevin McDermid of Langley BC says in some parts of the US there is financial incentive to overtreat those with coverage and undertreat those without.
-Margreit Wijnen, a clinical neurophysiology technologist, says that if the patient has a rare medical condition there is sometimes pressure to keep treating in order to conduct medical research
-Dr. McDermid says doctors may fear having a complaint filed against them by the family if they do not continue life support even though there is no hope of recovery
-Nurse Lorri Chmilar said that she has seen many touching scenes of family members accepting the diagnosis and hugging , what she calls a 'death well done". She is sad that some doctors seem trained to see death only as a war to be fought.
-Dr. Paul Mackey of Fort St. John BC said that doctors should be allowed to spend more time with patients. He says the training "Don't just stand there. Do something" is not always appropriate because 'there are times when just sitting there and holding a hand should be all that is done."

It has long been observed that once women on the paid workplace have children they may subtly be sidelined for career advancement, on the assumption they are now too busy. This' mommy track' is not always the preference of womenA recent study by Professor Jennifer Berdahl of the U of Toronto has now looked at if there is a daddy track and how men are treated when they have caregiving responsibilities.Using mail -in surveys she asked unionized and public service workers about their perceptions, not about pay and promotions but about workplace' treatment' or harassment if they become caregivers. She found that:
-if either gender takes time off from the paid job to care for family, they have lower pay
-if either gender takes time off from the paid job to care for family, they get fewer promotions
-men who do not take on much caregiving are treated well
-women who make non traditional caregiving arrangements such as not themselves being the caregiver are treated poorly. Berdahl has suggested that workplace policies to allow flexibility should be more numerous but also more protected.

In France medical records have been studied for 429,000 who were self-employed and who recently retired.The study by Carole Dufouil of INSERM looked at rates of dementia, compared to ages at retirement.
She found that among those who had been retired an average of 12 years, and who were now aged 74, those who retired younger had slightly higher rates of dementia. In total only 3% of those studied developed dementia but those who retired at 65 had a 15% lower risk of having developed dementia than those who retired at age 60. She suggests that paid work tends to keep people more socially connected, physically active and mentally challenged.

When people retire they usually have less income.However recent studies found that costs of their accommodation are often actually higher than for the general population. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has released its seniors' housing survey for 2013 finding that the average rent for a standard space is now $2798 a month, up fro $2691 last year. The industry maintains that the high cost of extra services and amenities is what makes this rent so much higher than average rent in the all purpose rental market. There is a vacancy in retirement spaces, currently at 10.2% nationally despite the high number of seniors in Canada. The survey looked at 10,160 retirement spaces.

When native children were taken from their parental homes and put into residential schools, the action was later admitted by the Government of Canada as abusive. The schools have been studied for instances of physical and even sexual abuse but an overriding basis of what was deemed a rights violation for all there was cultural deprivation. Canada has now formally apologized for the abuses and is in the process of arranging financial restitution. However a more recent event has come under the microscope, the " Sixties Scoop" where even after many residential schools had closed, aboriginal children up for adoption were placed in non -indigenous homes. The period between the 1960s-1980s will now be studied in an Ontario court case. Jeffery Wilson, lawyer acting on behalf of Marcia Brown Martel and Robert Commanda, says loss of culture for those adopted to non-native homes is as 'important as our land claims, fishing rights and hunting rights'. Martel was adopted when she was nine and her aboriginal name was changed. She feels she lost her sense of identity with her birth community and yet did not fit the new one either. She cut ties with her adoptive parents at age 18.The federal government had resisted allowing the case to go trial saying that loss of cultural identity is not specified in law. However the court has now agreed to hear the class action lawsuit.

June, 2013

*Happy Father's Day to all fathers, grandfathers, adopted and foster fathers and single fathers. We should particularly celebrate dads who struggle to have access to or custody their kids, and this is also a special day for bereaved fathers. The heart has a hole in it for the child.*

There have been several new developments for families in crisis, acknowledging difficult circumstance can be not just lack of money but lack of time:
-Made by Momma is a Calgary charity that provides homemade meals, baked goods, house cleaning, gently used children's clothing, breastfeeding support, short-term pet care, toys and books for babies, and childcare help when the parent is in attendance but busy. The service is created for mothers going through post-partum depression, for families where a member is seriously ill or hospitalized, for mothers and children who have left an abusive situation, for new immigrants, families transiting from a homeless shelter, after the birth of multiple babies, for single mothers attending school, teen mothers and parents struggling after the death of a spouse offers online a registry so neighbours and friends can get together and take turns delivering meals to someone after giving birth, surgery or illness. One person after pelvis surgery for instance was thrilled that a network of 26 friends had organized to take turns bringing meals to his home during recovery. The company also offers a meal-train option so friends can link up to take turns meeting other needs of the person such as occasional lawn care, rides, even to stagger visits to not overwhelm the patient.

Two men quite separately have created unique ways to use the Internet to stimulate thoughts about our own family dynamics and childhood.
-Jeremiah McDonald in 2012 put on Youtube a short clip of a 20 year old man watching and conversing with his young self. He was watching a tape made when he was 12 years old. The young Jeremiah has left the tape to be watched 20 years later, to see how things turned out and he asks the older version of himself, now aged 32, about how a beloved dog fared, about favorite toys, and helps him recall earlier dreams and goals. The clip is called "A Conversation with my 12 year old self"
-Matthew Clarke is a father of a two year old and noticed recently how the conversations he has with his 2 year old are fairly normal for that age group but if they happened between two adults would be completely bizarre. He filmed two short clips called "Convos with my 2 Year Old" apparently re-enacting the exact lines the parent and child had, but with the child this time acted by an adult man. The results have proven hilarious for many viewers and the first episode alone has had 3.5 million hits.

The concept of 'good food' has changed over the years, with a strong current of enhancing what nature provides for various reasons- to reduce crop bugs, to preserve the food longer, to make it brighter in colour or enhance its taste.Over time researchers have even figured out how to genetically modify food so that it is more pest resistant, disease resistant, that its crops need less water or energy and they then will produce more product per acre.There are claims that GM foods tolerate cold weather and drought better and are a brilliant way to solve third world hunger. There are claims that GM foods are a less costly source of vital pharmaceuticals. However there is a downside. The move to enhance food for financial profit has recently experienced a backlash. There are concerns that bugs that infest crops have simply become more resistant to pesticide, resulting in more not less spraying. There are concerns that other species are unintentionally now exposed to new conditions and are changing and one type of butterfly caterpillar has been cited as an example. There are concerns that adding odd ingredients to genetics of food may trigger allergies in humans or intestinal or other health problems. This past month 2 million people in 436 cities in 52 countries protested against seed giant Monsanto, and against genetically modified food. The upshot is there is now a move to seek out natural foods again, ones not modified.These not modified foods however have unpredictable crop yields, less predictable taste and end up more costly to the consumer. The Non-GMO project offers certification to companies that only use natural products and there is pressure in the US to force companies to put on their product label if ingredients are from genetically modified sources.

Albion Research has released results of a study of 2022 Canadians online finding a large proportion favor parental care of children over third party daycare, especially for young children. The study found
-76% of those asked feel it is best if a child under age 6 is home with a parent
-67% of parents would like government funds to go directly to parents rather than to daycare or kindergarten
-69% of those asked wanted to be home with a child under age 6 but if that was not possible, the next preferred option was care by a relative. The third highest ranked option was a neighborhood daycare, the 4th, a not for profit daycare and last a for profit daycare

In the UK the group Make Mothers Matter International has released results of a study of 11,887 women in 16 European countries, looking at their preferences regarding mothering. 76% of all European women over age 18 are mothers but Make Mothers Matter felt that the views of women themselves are rarely sought, only views of academics or organizations. This study found that:
-instead of wanting more daycare, a majority of respondents wanted more time with the kids.
-84% felt that spending enough time with the children is key to a good relationship with them
-95% felt that the service mothers provide for children should be recognized as important work
-83% did not feel teenagers can take care of themselves after school
-64% did not feel motherhood is well valued in society, as volunteer work was highest for mothers who were home with the kids.
-75% of retired mothers and 69% of mothers at home do volunteer work. 39% of mothers with one child and 77% of others with 5 children do volunteer work.
-33% of mothers surveyed had full time paid jobs but only 11% wanted full time paid jobs
-26% of mothers wanted to be home full time with the children, 76% wanting to be home for those under age 1 year, 61% for those 1-3 years and 37% wanting to be home when the children are in school.
-where 3rd party care was the topic, respondents wanted it to be available part-time not just full time. They wanted paid job holidays that matched school holidays and paid job hours that matched school hours, all to ensure parents could spend more time with the kids
-19% wanted money for the parent to be home and 12% wanted more recognition of the at-home parent role
In Sweden an opinion poll by the triweekly paper Varlden Ida surveyed parents about preferences and found:
-64% of those asked felt a child should be home with a parent optimally till the child is 4 years old. Only 27% disagreed..

In Sweden government policy massively funds nonparental care instead of parental.80% of toddlers are in institutional daycare.
-The survey found that the members of the ruling Social Democrat party members also felt parental care best. 76% of blue collar union members also said home care is preferable (there seems to be a disconnect between what people want and what governments enable, by most of these surveys).

The 2011 Canada census has produced useful information about caregiving.
-Between 2006-2011 the number of children aged zero to four increased 11%. That is the largest baby boom in 50 years. The biggest increases were in Alberta at 21%, Saskatchewan at 20%, Quebec at 17.5%.
-Canadian fertility rate, being number of children a woman has in a lifetime has gone from a high of 3.8 in 1960 to 1.7 in 2011 but for a time around 1995 was at a low of 1.5
-the percent of eligible fathers taking paternity leave has gone up from 3% in 2000 to a high in 2009 of 35%
-in 1976 39.1% of women with children under age 16 had some paid income but in 2009 72.9% had some paid income
-in 2010 11% of two parent families have a father at home with the children
-of all families 67% are married couples.(72.7% in PEI , 72.3% in Ontario, 72.% in Alberta but 39.2% in Nunavut)
-The incidence of common law couples is highest in Nunavut (32.7%) and Quebec (31.5%) , and lowest in Ontario (10.9%)
-the incidence of lone parent families is highest in Nunavut (28.2%) and lowest in Alberta (14.5%)

In the US adoptions are showing a new trend - older seniors adopting children. Chuck Johnson of the National Council for Adoption says that there are fewer age barriers in place in the law and older adults now often qualify. Adam Pertman of the Donaldson Adoption Institute points out that because research shows that children 'do far better in families than in institutional or temporary care' singles are now allowed to adopt as are gay couples. There are several circumstances where seniors adopt, including grandparents of the children, older blood relatives of the parents who can't take care of the children, couples who never had children but now have time and money to raise them. It is uncommon for older adults to adopt a young child but quite common for their adoptee to be an older child with special needs. Pertman admits that older adults may not have the energy of younger parents but he says they often have 'more wisdom to bring to the table'.

Leaders of the Boy Scouts of America have voted to for the first time allow openly gay boys into their organization, but still will not permit openly gay adults as leaders. The Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Venturers groups in the US total 2.6 million but this number is vastly reduced from the 4 million of earlier times. The move to accept gay boys has sparked controversy, however, with some conservative churches not wanting to make the change and amid threats local donors may stop donating. 70% of US scouting units are chartered by religious institutions.

Dr. Dian Panagiotopoulos of BC Children's Hospital has become concerned at the high rates of prescribing second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs) to two and three year olds. The pills are prescribed for attention deficit/hyperactivity, for conduct disorders, for frustration intolerance and even sometimes just for poor sleep. Dr. Joel Paris of McGill University has also expressed concern because anti-depressants allegedly given to fix chemical imbalances in the brain are addressing situations where no chemical abnormality has ever been found. Research has shown:
-in 2008 there were 58 million prescriptions a year filled out in Canada for psychiatric drugs but that number is now 74 million.
-there are not many psychiatrists inCanada so family doctors are doing much of this prescribing, often with only limited training in their use.
-there are significant side-effects for many of these medications including sudden weight gain, abnormal blood sugar levels and higher risk of heart and stroke complications in later life.
Some observers have questioned whether drug companies are too actively promoting their product to doctors. In the US drug companies have been fined for promoting anti-psychotics for unapproved use. Though the drugs can be life saving for genuine severe aggression, Panagiotopoulos is concerned they are now the default for parents dealing with a difficult child.

News reporters have always faced a moral dilemma - the right of the public to know versus the need to shield some in the public from gory or upsetting information.As they weigh these dilemmas there is the added complexity that bad news and gore may increase circulation and sales.Psychologists have studied the effect news has on various people and Dr. Ian Colman has recently noticed that news of a teen suicide has a particularly strong effect on other teens.The Canadian Medical Association Journal did a survey of 22,000 Canadians aged 12-17, finding that if the student knew someone at the same school who had died by suicide, risk of the student then himself committing suicide increased.Suicide of a known adult did not have the same effect.The risk of copycat action seems to not depend on how close the teen was to the deceased.The study also found
-3.4% of 12 and 13 year olds have seriously considered suicide but if they knew someone who committed suicide in the last year that risk went up to 15.3%
-7.4% of 16 and 17 year olds have seriously considered suicide but if they knew someone who committed suicide in the preceding year, that risk went up to 15%

Dr. David Sbarra of the University of Arizona, Tucson has recently released results of a study of the effects of divorce on adults. He looked at 32 studies, 6.5 million people in 11 different countries, seeing if divorce has a health impact on adults. He looked at 755,000 divorces and found that following marital separation and divorce there is an increased risk of early death, particularly for men, and particularly for younger adults. Older women seem to fare better.

Time to spend taking care of the family may sound universal as a concept but various nations treat it quite differently, for instance in paid job hours or paid vacation time. Spanish mothers have recently expressed concern to Make Mothers Matter International that their the paid work day is very long with a long lunch hour that is a mismatch for the school day of their children. Many are asking for the business day to have shorter hours. In terms of vacation allotments the US Center for Economic and Policy Research has found that nations vary widely in days off. The US guarantees zero days. Many European countries guarantee 25-30 days by contrast. 25% of Americans report they get no paid time off at all.France provides 30, the UK 28, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark 25, Austria and Portugal a staggering 35 if one counts statutory holidays. Canada provides the third lowest number of paid vacations in the study. Employers can vary widely on what they provide in Canada, from a few days to several weeks. Statutory holidays in Canada also vary from 5 in Nova Scotia to 10 in BC.

Income splitting is not the norm in Canada.It has long been proposed however, to match tax options in France, the US and dozens of other nations. Economists Matt Krzepkowski and Jack Mintz have recently published a paper recommending it in Canada.Their publication at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary also clarifies some aspects of current practice:
-taxation is based on individual income.However benefits are often only returned based on household income.The GST rebate, Canada Tax Benefit and National Child Benefit Supplement are reduced based on the entire household income not just income of one person. TheUniversal Child Care Benefit and the Child Care Expense Deduction are also based on family income since their amount depends on the income of the lower of two earners in a two parent home.
-two equally earning households are taxed differently based on who earned the money.If household income is $70,000, the single earner household pays 30% more tax or $2075.The single earner household earning $70,000 pays as high a tax as a dual earner householdmaking $84,000.
-Even when benefits are accounted for, the single income household making $70,00still pays $2,190 more tax, in fact increasing the gap between the two earning styles, and likely because the single earner household cannot claim some of the deductions.
-the Conservative government has proposed not full sharing of income as a tax option but a shifting of some income from the higher to the lower earner for a group of Canadians. In some situations this would move the higher earner into a lower tax bracket and would not move the lower earner into a higher bracket so the family could pay less tax.
Eg. Current tax brackets are
15% tax if you earn up to $42,707
22% tax if you earn $42,707 to $85,414
26% tax if you earn $85,414 to $132,406
29% tax if you earn above $132,406
The Conservative plan would allow transfer of up to $50,000 for households where there is a child under age 18.(/many households then would not be able to claim it and one criticism of the plan is that it does not apply to everyone
Eg. A earns $60,000 and B earns $20,000.A pays tax at 22% but B at 15%. If full income splitting were allowed, they'd each have $40,000 income and be taxed at 15%.By the transfer plan, if A gives B $30,000, A now earns $50,000 and is still taxed at 22%. B now earns $50,000 and pays more tax, now at 22% also.Optimally A transfers $20,000 to B. So a person has to be very careful about how much they transfer with this plan. (ED NOTE: However, it is a start. The rationale for income splitting to admit people share money is logical.)

Campaign 2000 has submitted a paper to the Standing Committee on Finance looking at Bill M-315 on income inequality.They recommend continuing individual taxation only, and they want the current universal benefit for children reformatted. They recommend that benefits not be universal but targeted only, and that the group to receive most help will be those who use 3rd party childcare. Though they also suggest a help to low income families of up to $5,400 per child, targeted to household income, they make the case for 1% of the GDP to be spent annually for daycare children only (enrolled in early childhood education and services). This daycare bill would be $173 BILLION dollars a year. (ED NOTE: The amount asked for is huge, and preferential to one care style only. I would much prefer universal funding per child and to let parents choose the care style. The amount of the daycare budget they suggest is so big it would be the size of the entire federal deficit).

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has announced that he wants to encourage ordinary people to give to charities. To spur this along he will give a special tax credit on cash donations of up to $1,000 per year for any person who has not (and their spouse has not) claimed the Charitable Donations Tax Credit since 2007.
When governments plan to create or change laws about care of children they often seek public input. However the fan-out to ask for submissions or to attend meetings, have private consultations or make presentations is not made to the general public, only to designated 'stakeholders'. Who gets asked, or even informed of the consultation then becomes a matter of some concern. In the UK government has announced plans about care of children in its "More Great Childcare" report. It sought input before making the plan and ended up suggesting larger groups of children per adult.Opposition member Sharon Hodgson has become concerned that childcare minister Elizabeth Truss has not consulted widely enough, even among childcare/daycare services.In response to a parliamentary question the Department of Education revealed who met with the minister and Hodgson feels the consultation has been lopsided.Some major groups like Pre-school Learning Alliance, National Day Nurseries Association and Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years 'barely get a look in' according to Hodgson while some much smaller groups got several consultations. KidsUnlimited met with the minister 7 times, Bright Horizons and Busy Bees Benefits 4 times. Neil Leitch of Pre-school Learning Alliance told the press that his group is against relaxing ratios. (ED NOTE: In Canada a few years ago there was a plan for a national strategy for children, and the consultation though in theory for all the public was actually only announced by invitation to daycare groups, and was 'closed door only' if ordinary parents wished to attend. It seems that governments may innocently just not know how to contact parents, but what is more likely is they tend to seek out groups likely to agree with a strategy they already have in mind. Shortly after the Canadian ' consultation', the government in power at the time claimed the public roundly endorsed daycare so it was going to massively fund daycare. This is where the democratic process is not being followed fairly.)

In Canada it is illegal to pay women to have a baby for you but in India and some parts of the US it is legalArguments against paying women abound - saying the practice commercializes humans, that it deprives women of the bond with the child, that in some cases merchants have even warehoused women in India for 9 months just to get the babies. However proponents have argued that childless couples are grateful, that there are genuine costs to having a pregnancy and that altruism is not less just because someone is paid. The two opposing views however have found common ground recently, as both make the case that surrogacy needs for regulation. In the US, the National Organization for Women has found that nearly half the surrogates are military wives, partly because advertising for surrogates is common in military periodicals. In many states there are some rules including that the mother must already be a mother, be willing to stay in the same city for the 9 months of pregnancy and must surrender rights to the child on birth.

When people are trying to quit smoking or decrease use of tobacco they may turn to the nicotine patch or pills to reduce cravings. However a new product has appeared that offers another compromise solution- electronic cigarettes. Nicotine-infused propylene glycol is put into an inhalable vapour in a process known as 'vaping' and customers can select up to 60 flavours of nicotine liquid to inhale this way. The products will be licensed in Britain by 2016 and regulated as medicines to ensure their safety and quality. The US Food and Drug Administration however has tried to block their sale saying they are combinations of unapproved devices and drugs. Sales of e-cigarettes are increasing rapidly, to about $2 billion globally in 2011 according to Euromonitor International. They still account for less than 1% of the tobacco market but some expect that proportion to rise. Ruyan, a Chinese company invented a way to heat the nicotine solution into a vapour and sometimes an LED light is added to mimic the glow of burning ash. Now major cigarette manufacturers are also getting in on the action including Marlboro, Reynolds American, Japan Tobacco International and British American Tobacco. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US estimate that 20% of adult smokers have tried the e-cigarettes in 2011.Some observers have raised concerns however. Anti-smoking advocates fear this is another way to entice children to start smoking. The FDA says the inhalant used, propylene glycol, is harmless but some observers claim its safety has not been tested for chain smokers. A recent survey of Paris school children ages 12-17 found that 8% had tried the e-cigarettes.

Though the merits of organ transplant are well known and often have high success rate, there is a long wait list for those who need such transplants. The backlog is often because people do not think of volunteering their organs. The social media site Facebook has recently created links to sites where its members can volunteer as organ donors and then Facebook also will let donors tell all their friends that they have volunteered. Johns Hopkins researchers noticed that because of Facebook, the number of people who registered themselves to donate organs increased 21 fold in only one day, in May 2012. Over two weeks the number of new organ donors fell but was still twice the normal rate. Researchers point out that those on the wait list have increased 10 fold over the past 2 years. In the US alone there are 118,000 people waiting for kidneys, livers or other organs. Each year 5,000-10,000 die while waiting.

The National HouseholdSurvey has found that careers for Canadians are shifting:
-there are about 18 million in the paid labor force.
-nearly 2 million of those work in retail, making it the largest sector.
-the second most common occupation for men is transport truck driver. The second most common occupation for women is administrative assistant.
-there are 1.8 million workers in health care and social assistance.
-there are 1.5 million workers in manufacturing.
-nearly 67% of Canadian adults have post secondary education.
-of those with university degrees, over half are women.
-of those with a master's degree, 58% are women aged 25-34.
-men are more likely than women to have degrees in science, technology, engineering, math or computer science.
-nearly half the degrees in science, technology, engineering, math or computer science are held by immigrants.
-15 million Canadians commute to their paid job; 3 million do their paid work from home or a remote location.

BMO and Pollara have released results of a study of wedding plans in Canada finding that many couples are delaying the formal wedding for various reasons. 34% say that housing costs stand in the way, 24% say employment status is in doubt, 23% say overall debt is a problem.Many are still planning a wedding but there are two currents. One is the small do-it-yourself wedding. 65% are cutting back the size of the planned wedding, 59% are planning to make some of their own decorations or invitations, 35% are planning an off season and less costly wedding day. However Weddingbells has polled Canadian brides saying that those who plan a big wedding now need a lot of money. That poll says the average predicted cost of a wedding is $14,281. Weddingbells surveyed 2200 Canadians who were engaged to marry. It is estimated that there will be around 165,000 weddings in Canada this year. The average number of guests at a wedding is 124.

If your parent dies, you get a chance to look at their financial situation and someone has to administer the estate. If you find out the parent died in debt, this can create a dilemma. Murray Morrison, a Vancouver lawyer, has says that there may be an avenue to not also bankrupt the kids who try to pay off the parents' debt. He says that if there is a debt, the estate has to pay it as much as it can but the estate can be permitted to go bankrupt.Margaret Johnson of Solutions Credit Counselling Service points out that death does not transfer debts to the offspring unless they have signed to that effect. If the parent who died had a joint credit card with a spouse, the surviving spouse is still responsible for the credit card debt however. A TD Bank study found that seniors have rising debt lately, up 15% in 2013 over that of 2012. However seniors still have the smallest debts of any age group. Average debt of seniors is $46,549. Inheritances are part of an estate so beneficiaries who claim their inheritance can be sued if they take the money before all creditors are paid. However if there is nothing to inherit, there is also no way to pay the debt.

The cost of homelessness can be looked at two ways. One is the cost to the person who must find shelter, often outdoors. This cost of comfort and stability can also be a cost to health. Most studies however look at the cost of homelessness to the general public. Tim Richter of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness has released a study finding that:
-about 200,000 Canadians each year are affected by homelessness
-on any given night at least 30,000 people are in homeless or domestic shelters, sleeping outside, in temporary accommodation like prisons or hospitals. About 50,000 more are the 'hidden homeless' who stay temporarily with friends because they lack permanent residence
Richter says that we need to build and subsidize more affordable housing, and we must provide the homeless services to help address other issues but first priority must be housing. ( I think it misleading if there is a claim that anyone in a hospital, prison or staying over at a friend's is included in the tally for that unfairly inflates it. Hopefully that is not the way the numbers are tallied. However admittedly there is a huge need for housing the homeless can afford.- editor)

If someone is terminally ill, and there is no chance of recovery, is in dire pain and wants to die, euthanasia has sometimes been suggested.In the Netherlands and Belgium it is already allowed under some circumstances. However to date the person affected must be an adult, over age 18, and able to make that choice. Recent discussion however has focused on whether children should also have that option. Belgium is considering letting those under 18 also make the decision to have doctor- assisted death. The Royal Dutch Medical Association is discussing policies letting parents of severely ill babies with congenital defects ask for doctor-assisted death to reduce the suffering when the machines are turned off and the ill child lingers. The move has been roundly criticized by Dr. Margaret Somerville of McGill University. She feels this is a slippery slope which may lead to people also deciding for their aging parents. Dr. Eduard Verhagen of the Netherlands however says that since 2005 letting terminally ill newborns die via euthanasia has not increased the number of deaths of newborns.

The government of Quebec is considering a first for Canada - permitting medically assisted death. In 2009 MPP Veronique Hivon of the Parti Quebecois began the discussion in that province and now Bill 52 proposes that end of life care options for those in excruciating pain will include medically assisted death. There are several considerations she has raised:
-This euthanasia would be for Quebec residents only. The process would be considered part of health treatment and under provincial jurisdiction
-Euthanasia is having a doctor help you die.
-Assisted suicide is not clearly permitted in the Criminal Code. Assisted suicide is giving a prescription for a lethal dose of medicine to be administered by the patient himself or by another party but not by a doctor. Assisted suicide is legal in Oregon but not in Quebec.
Under the proposal a patient must clearly state his wishes in writing, and two doctors must confirm that medical help to die is the only way to end the suffering of the patient. Lawyer Jean Pierre Menard reviewed the report of a committee that consulted with the public on the issue. He says that patients should have the right to decide between many options including the right to refuse, interrupt or decline care, the right to palliative care including sedation with drugs, deprivation of food and water or to palliative care that includes obligating medical institutions to provide medical assistance to die.

The Parliament in Scotland has recently introduced the Children and Young People Bill, which aims to make Scotland 'the best place in the world for children to live'. However some of its provisions have raised concerns of observers, namely the zealous monitoring government aims to have of ordinary citizens.
-the bill obliges government to appoint a 'named person' for every child from birth to age 18, and this named person must be a health worker or social worker, not the parent. That person would 'promote, support or safeguard the well-being of the child'
-the named person will ensure that the family is 'kept informed, where appropriate'
-parents will be assessed by government officials for their parenting abilities, attitudes and beliefs. Midwives will help with this assessment, even before there is a birth
-school children as young as nursery school will be asked to tell authorities about their parents and to rate their parents on a scale of one to ten
-Susan Martinuk of the Calgary Herald feels that the proposal raises red flags, saying it would require a huge and costly bureaucracy that is likely to be impersonal, overworked and to make errors. She is concerned also that parents are being evaluated by strangers, officials and even their own children. (ED NOTE: This is contrary to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which stipulates that the parent is the person best able to assess and know the best interests of the child. I am very concerned about governments (trying to prevent abuse) are undermining the role of parents.)

The government of Alberta is rewriting its children's acts, and has sought public input. On May 7 2013 a Children First Act was introduced and there are proposals to develop a children's charter, and to embark on a huge plan to 'share information' about a child's health and personal data between child and youth 'data labs', and other officials. There are proposals for 'placing team-based decision making with the people who work most closely with the child and family'. Stakeholders consulted include school boards, child and youth support services, police, family violence interveners. (ED NOTE: This sadly sounds as if it excludes the parents as deciders.)
-Revision of the Alberta Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act of 2000 is also proposed by government. That act says that a child is defined as needing government 'intervention' in several circumstances including neglect by guardian, or when there is 'substantial risk' of physical injury, if the child has been emotionally injured by the guardian or if the guardian is unable or unwilling to protect the child from emotional injury. The act defines neglect when the guardian is 'unable or unwilling to provide the child with adequate care or supervision'. It defines a child as emotionally injured if there is impairment in the child's mental or emotional functioning or development, or if neglect or rejection or deprivation of affection or cognitive stimulation give reasonable and probable grounds to have caused emotional injury. Criticism, threats, humiliation, accusations or overly high expectations toward the child also are deemed evidence of risk of emotional injury.

Health care is paid for by taxpayers under a universal health care plan and it is administered in each province. However government does not itself have all the buildings and staff to offer care of the elderly so it contracts out. In the past in Alberta the contracts for eldercare when to 72 different agencies. However recently that number has been reduced to only 12, many of which are large and for profit. For eldercare recently CBI Health of Ontario has been given a contract worth $235 million and Bayshore Healthcare of Ontario has been given a contract of $136 million. The shift to giving these huge companies contracts has been resisted by those who prefer care by smaller providers and co-ops. Bayshore has 8000 employees and 50 home care offices across the country. CBI Health has 4700 employees and operates in Ontario and Alberta. Chris Mazurkewich of Alberta Health Services says he likes the big companies for their increased accountability. Critics however say that large companies reduce services in order to make bigger profit.


May, 2013

Though it is commonly believed that suicide rates are highest for teens, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that rates are rising for the middle aged. Julie Phillips of Rutgers University adds that reported rates of suicide though high, likely do not even capture the full picture because many suicides go unreported. The recent study found that
-in 2010 in the US there were more suicides (38,364) than deaths from motor vehicle accidents (33,687)
-In 1999 the suicide rate of those aged 35-64 was 13.7 per 100,000 but by 2010 was 17.6 per 100,000
-middle aged men are three times as likely as middle aged women to take their own lives
-suicide rates tend to go up in times of economic setback and financial stress
-most suicides are committed in the US by firearms but poisoning deaths were up 24% also. Researchers note the wider availability of some drugs like OxyContin and oxycodone which people can intentionally use for overdose
-marital upheaval and social isolation also are linked to increases in suicide.

The National Household Survey of 2011 has now been released. The voluntary survey is admitted by Statistics Canada to lack some accuracy since it was not mandatory and since it was not able to survey certain areas of the country. However the results have suggested noteworthy trends:
-birth rate is high in the aboriginal community. Across the country of non-aboriginals 16.5% are children. Among aboriginals 28% are children.
-there are 200 ethnic groups in Canada. 13 of them have over one million people each
-19.1% of Canadians are part of a visible minority. 65% of those were born outside Canada.
-among the visible minorities, the most dominant at 61.3% are South Asian, Chinese or people of color. The next most numerous are Filipino, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian, West Asian , Korean and Japanese.
-Two thirds of Canadians identify themselves as Christian. Over half of those, at 12.7 million, are Roman Catholic. 23.9% of Canadians who responded said they had no religion. 3.2% of the others were Muslim, 1.5% were Hindu, 1.4% were Sikh, , 1.1% were Buddhist and Jewish people were 1%.
In 2006 21% of aboriginals said they could converse in their native language but by 2011 that number was down to 17.2%
-Canada has 6.7 million immigrants, making them over 1/5 of the total population. This is the highest proportion in the G8 countries.

Dr. Gail Melson of Purdue University has studied the role animals play in the lives of children nowadays noticing that children report seeing animals in inkblots of a Rorschach test twice as often as adults too. Dr. David Foulkes found that children aged 3-5 years dream 61% of the time about animals but by the time they are 16 their dreams have animals in them only 9% of the time. Dr. Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University says that humans are inherently attuned to other life forms and that children pay attention to animals naturally. One child psychologist found that in a random sample of 100 children's books, 89 had animals in the plot, though often those animals are depicted not naturally but as if they had human problems. Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity has looked at the irony that at the moment we are trying to teach children to be human, we surround them with nonhumans. Dr. Stephen Kellert at Yale University in 1983 felt that little children he interviewed were egocentric, domineering and self-serving if under age 6, and felt they were much like animals. He said that young children have very black-white views about killing all poisonous animals or killing animals for fur coats. Jon Mooallem has written Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story about Looking at People Looking at Animals in America". Mooallem argues not just that kids are nature deprived nowadays of contact with real animals but that society is the one that needs taming, so we may be romanticizing wild children the same way we romanticize wild animals.
(ED NOTE: I do not find small kids wild at all or untamed, domineering or selfish. I think they imitate those around them and if they see a caring adult, they will be caring to their toys and dolls and pets. If they see sharing they will share without much prodding at all . But I do find little kids have a fascination with pets and are very observant of what their pets like, what they are afraid of.)

Lisa Kadane and others have summarized types of parenting styles recently since labels have become common. Rebecca O'Brien resists having a label as she parents her two children but is aware of the way terms are easily thrown around. Some include
-the corporate parent - as argued by Kathy Buckworth in "I Am So The Boss of You" - the parent looks at parenting akin to office managing
-the intentional parent - the parent who looks at what the family needs and plans how to parent with outcomes in mind that help everyone in the family
-helicopter parent- the parent who hovers and does everything for the nearly adult child even when no longer needed as intensely
-attachment parent- who spends a lot of time bonding with the child and values time to form strong self-esteem
-minimalist parent- the laid back parent who does not make much fuss
-the snow plough parent - the parent who bribes adults in the child's world to favour her offspring by snowploughing the way for him
-the French parent-uses an arms length casualness style of parenting as in a recent book Bringing up Bebe"
-the Tiger parent is very demanding, expects perfection and won't let up
-the oversharer- the parent who on Facebook or other social media sites reveals more personal information about her children than many readers would like to hear
-most parents interviewed by Kadane said they did not match any of these labels.

Though research has often focused on the mental health of small children, recent focus is being directed at helping their parents. Professor Kere Hughes-Belding of Iowa State University researches a home visitation program where families are contacted when they are dealing with issues of poverty, unemployment, chronic depression, or substance abuse. Hughes-Belding says parents are motivated to do what is best for their children and she is working on creating home visitation programs that show parents ways to do that if they lack the skills. She says childhood is not carefree and that the emotional development of small children has lifelong implications, particularly when there is chronic unpredictable stress and 'nobody there to support them'.She wants to promote resiliency.

Curtin University in Australia has recently done research about smoking and how to deter youth from taking up or continuing the habit. A Toronto based company used software to let students see pictures of themselves and how they would look after smoking-related typical facial changes as they age. Researchers found that one in seven students on seeing the photo enhancements decided to quit smoking.

Dr. Vatsal Thakkar of the NYU School of Medicine reported recently that what is sometimes diagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may in fact just be chronic sleep deficit. He found that when some children go without sleep they become hyperactive and unfocused.Since children in particular need delta sleep, the deep slow-wave kind, in order to grow and develop, the fact youngsters sleep one hour less than they did a hundred years ago may be key to explaining why so many kids now seem hyperactive.He has observed that many kids diagnosed with ADHD have sleep disordered breathing like snoring, restless leg syndrome or apnea which also are signs delta sleep is being interrupted. A 2006 study found that 28% of children awaiting tonsillectomies to help them sleep better also had been diagnosed as ADHD. In 2012 a British study of 11,000 children found that mothers whose babies had sleep disordered breathing at age 6 months later were very likely to report that at age 4-7 years the children were anxious, hyperactive, depressed and inattentive.

The definition of an adult has come under scrutiny in recent legal changes in the US. Previously a girl had to be 17 or older to buy the emergency contraception known as Plan B OneStep, over the counter, without a prescription and without having to inform her parents. However the US government has moved to allow the morning-after pill to girls from age 15 up.The decision has sparked heated debate
-Those in favour of 15 year olds using this pill include Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Cecile Richards of the group says any age barriers should be eliminated. Judge Edward R. Korman said that blocking the sale to 15 year olds despite scientific data about its safety was overly political.
-However many groups do not want the age lowered and among those is the Department of Justice saying the judge did not have the right to direct the Food and Drug Administration to act.
-Kathleen Parker, winner of a Pulitzer prize has written in the Washington Post that young girls actually should not be sexually active at all.She notes however that the girls are getting quite a different message from our culture.She is concerned about rights of parents to protect their children since 15 year old girls are legally not even allowed to get a painkiller without parents being informed so it is ironic they can get a birth control pill without informing parents. She argues that public policy should aim at involving parents more, not marginalizing them.

The concept of a child being 'at risk' is often discussed in Canada but the definitions are not agreed on. In Alberta children in families at risk include those in homes where illicit drugs are used, children in violent homes, children who have been sexually exploited, but also children in unstable homes due to poverty. Human Services Minister Dave Hancock has announced plans to introduce a Children First Act that will be an umbrella protection for all families and children at risk.Under his new act he says the director of Children's Services 'is essentially father' to the children on welfare. He wants welfare workers to have authority to make decisions. He wants more disclosure among agencies so treatment can be efficient and says privacy laws have stood in the way of some such disclosure. He wants adults to be held more accountable if they put children at risk, even if they were not intending to put children at risk. (ED NOTE: I am concerned when any 'support' to children or families is not money but advice or even whisking kids away. I am concerned when the state at any point feels it is a replacement for the parent and though the intention may be kind to ensure the child is well, the other message is troubling - that parents are incompetent which is debatable or that the state is the more competent caregiver - which is very unlikely. I understand that sometimes in rare situations children have been hurt in or exploited and surely government must intervene in any case where there is a known problem. Any act to put children first should however prioritize helping not replacing parents.)

Surveys about what makes women happier, paid careers or tending children at home, have usually found mixed results.Some women report feeling more fulfilled one way, some another but a key difference exists in the financial means of the options.A 2012 Gallup survey asked views of women in the paid labor force without children, those in paid labor with children and women at home with children. The three groups were compared for how they rated their happiness. The study found
-63% of employed mothers said they were thriving while 50% of moms at home said they were thriving
-Women in paid work with no children at home reported the lowest levels of worry, sadness or stress of the 3 groups
-Between mothers at home and mothers in the paid labor force, 41% of mothers at home said they worried while only 34% of moms at the office said they worried.

In New York State two laws have come into conflict. On the one hand people with low IQs are funded by the state for housing and care, because they are deemed incapable of self-care and of adult responsibilities such as marriage.On the other hand, the rights of people to marry do not require an IQ test so if two low IQ adults wish to marry there are rarely legal barriers. Paul Forzianois 30, has an IQ of 50-58, limited reading and writing skills and is deemed unable to handle money.He lives in a group home. Hava Samuels is 36, has an IQ of 44-50, language disability and also lives in the group home. The two are in love and recently married after 3 years of courtship. However they discovered the group home would not permit them to live together as man and wife. Law professor Jonathan Turley says one right of marriage is to be able to live together however so this creates a dilemma. The couple has filed a lawsuit, with the help of their parents, asking the group home to let them live together. The director of Independent Group Home Living says however that its homes are not staffed to house and supervised married couples in the 'dynamics of their relationships, sexual or otherwise'. At issue is whether the mentally challenged have or do not have the right to engage in sex, if they can consent to sex, and if they can marry with full understanding of the commitment.

The government of Canada will permit immigrants into the country if they meet certain qualifications of skills, financial means to support themselves and if they are likely to fill a niche here which local residents cannot.Government has in the past permitted immigrants later to sponsor their own family members to later come and join them here permanently, as long as the immigrant already here promises to provide money to support them for several years. The promises include
-the sponsor earns enough to support the family members
-the immigrant will support them for 10 years
-the sponsor can support adult siblings who are still in school
Many immigrants eventually have sponsored their elderly parents and their own children to form a new network here.However Immigration minister Jason Kenney has now changed the rules. He says that bringing in elderly people costs the public health care system too much, that it risks also costing welfare money and subsidizing housing money if the sponsor no longer funds the bill. He has therefore change the rules:
-sponsors have to provide proof of income for 3 years not just one year to get the permission to sponsor
-sponsors will have to earn 30% more than they do now to sponsor
-sponsors will have to promise to support the loved one for 20 years
-sponsors can no longer support adult siblings
(ED NOTE: I think the Kenney plan risks being unkind..Immigrants often come from closely knit families that are a strength to our community for they provide their own network of mental and physical help to each other. They provide their own childcare and elder care and help in times of crisis and their own mental ballast in a difficult time. Making it harder for immigrants to bring over family deprives them of a stability they need.It seems to me that the policy may have a racist effect, by keeping out larger groups of newcomers and I feel Canada is strengthened by newcomers who should not automatically be seen as burdens. One solution though might be an international health care and pension plan that travels with the person so the elderly do bring with them some financial support from their previous country.)

April, 2013

A new study from the University of British Columbia (Okanagan) by Jennifer Hill is garnering much attention. Hill documents in her Ph.D. dissertation how the children’s “culture industry,” meaning the mass production of popular culture by corporations, has systematically targeted children to persuade them to desire commodities while promising an increase in happiness. Media in all forms have become the conduit through which corporations have access to children and the means by which they influence, mould and profoundly impact children's lives. Indeed, consumer culture plays a dominant role for individuals living in such cultures, arguably more than any other institution including government. In the 1990s, the most intense commercial campaign in the history of childhood had commenced. Despite the pervasiveness of consumerism, there has been a notable gap in the literature to ascertain from young people, in their own words, what are the experiences of and meanings attributed to consumerism throughout their childhoods. Using a paradigm of qualitative research, Hill's research provides a detailed description of how young people, aged 18 or 19, perceive the presence of consumer culture in their lives, both presently and in the past, during their childhood. Her data demonstrate how children and youth feel considerable pressure to conform to the standards of consumerism, including the adoption of brand culture, fads and a ‘buy-and-consume’ modality. Furthermore, the very identities of young people are inextricably linked to the process of consumption including the desiring, acquiring and discarding of consumable objects. Nonetheless, the interviewed youth were adamant that their individuality had not been altered by mass culture, and that they were free to make choices as citizens. Overall, Hill felt that the youths’ responses demonstrated a distinct lack of insight about the motives of corporations, the power of advertising/media and their far-reaching influence on thoughts and behaviours. However, hopeful signs of understanding and resistance arose among some of the youth, who strongly expressed their desire to not conform.


Another new study from the University of British Columbia has found that parents who put their kids' needs first are happier; findings suggest that "child-centrism" brings meaning to life. Konstadin Kushlev, a Vanier Scholar at UBC, found that parents who put their children's happiness and needs before their own experience more positive emotions, fewer negative emotions, and more meaning when they spend time with their children. "The more child-centric you are, the more happiness you'll experience," said Kushlev, "evolutionarily, it makes sense that parents would be programmed to feel good when they dedicate resources to their children." Kushlev cited three characteristics that distinguish child-centrism: selfless concern for your children, prioritizing their happiness above your own, and self-sacrifice for the benefit of your children. In other words, a "tiger mom" (or dad) is unlikely to experience the benefits found in the study, as her obsession with her child's achievement is typically driven by a selfish desire to be seen as a success.

Studies in the U.S. suggest ADHD drugs are increasingly used on campuses for non-medicinal purposes, with as many as 35 per cent of students in some highly competitive colleges admitting to using the drugs for “cognitive enhancement.” Much less is known about usage on Canadian campuses, but a December 2012 study suggests as many as 11 per cent of students are using the drugs “off-label” to gain an edge.

Wisconsin Public radio news reports that parents are spending more time with girl children in teaching activities. For some years now, teachers and parents have noted that starting in elementary school, young girls on average score better on reading and math tests than young boys do. The differences are uneven on different tests and do not describe the experience of every child, but empirical studies do document a difference. U of Toronto’s Michael Baker and UBC’s Kevin Milligan recently analyzed survey data of parents in three countries — the United States, Canada and Britain. They were especially interested to see how parents say they spend time with their children — and they turned up an intriguing gender difference in what they called “teaching activities.”  Surprisingly, they found, parents spend more time in teaching activities with their daughters than their sons. empirical studies do document a difference. When asked, 'How often do you read with your child?,' systematically parents spent more time doing these activities with girls. Young girls are more likely to be taken to libraries than are boys, are more likely to own books than are boys, and are more likely to be read to for longer periods of time than boys. Recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the finding that Canadian parents spend significantly more time with girls on cognitive activities even held among fraternal twins, and among parents familiar with research showing that elementary school boys trail girls in tests of vocabulary and math. No clear reason is given for this trend. One theory holds that girls might have a greater inclination toward such activities but theories suggesting innate differences between boys are hotly contested. Another theory is that parents may be following cultural scripts and unconscious biases that suggest they should read with their daughters. It is also possible, Baker says, that the costs of investing in cognitive activities is different when it comes to boys and girls, as it is more costly to provide a unit of reading to a boy than to a girl.

The B.C. Liberal Party, which receives “major” political donations from pharmaceutical companies, suddenly halted drug-safety research that could have meant big financial losses for drug companies, alleges a new lawsuit filed Monday against the provincial government. The allegations are contained in a lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court in Victoria by William Warburton – the fifth person to sue the Ministry of Health over a scandal in its pharmaceutical services division. The lawsuit alleges: “The Liberal Party was receiving significant contributions from these drug companies, and the Province was eliminating drug safety programs that could cause restrictions on sales of the products of these drug companies … and these actions includ[ed] ending drug analysis programs such as that of Dr. Warburton and of the Therapeutics Initiative at the University of British Columbia.”

The role of siblings in our lives can be powerful according to Jefffrey Kluger who has written "The Sibling Effect". In a widely watched Youtube video he explains his study of siblings and his observations about several common concepts:
-some parents classify kids and call one the 'smart' one or another the 'athletic' one and siblings have to work to break out of that preconceived mold. He calls that process 'de-identification'.
-some parents praise only certain types of achievement that they in particular want to foster.
-most parents seem to have a favourite child. Often it is the first born though for a father it is often the first born daughter and for a mother the first born son. Some parents like the child who has their personal temperament but is of the opposite gender to them.
-first-borns tend to get more parental attention and end up healthier, more reliably vaccinated, with a higher IQ and in careers with high status. Last borns tend to be risk takers, funnier and more charming as if to get attention that way. Middle born children have had to fight for attention, often have self-esteem issues and have more trouble finding a career path.
-sibling rivalry is very common even from age 2. Some take it to a significant level. Key triggers of sibling rivalry are property, fairness and rights.
-each sibling has a unique way of getting along with each other and with each parent. So there is a lot of complexity to relationships and even in a two parent, 2 children family there are 6 relationships going on (eg, dad and first born, dad and second born etc). In a family with 9 kids there are 55 relationships.
-how we get along with siblings teaches us a lot about loyalty, honesty, sharing, caring, competition and keeping of secrets.It is a training ground for conflict resolution.

A controversial policy in the correctional system has come to public attention after Kinew James, 35, died of an apparent heart attack while alone in a Saskatchewan prison cell earlier this year. James had apparently repeatedly pressed emergency call buttons for help and fellow inmates had also called when James' calls were ignored. Under current policy corrections officers are to put their own safety first when there is an emergency call.However this priority may be changed under a new policy by Corrections Canada which no longer says 'staff safety is paramount".Jason Godin of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers says the change is not likely due to James' death but he does not like the change anyway.He says it is paramount to make sure staff is safe.The Office of the Correctional Investigator in 2007 found that in 2/3 of cases of medical emergencies of prisoners, there were problems with staff response.

Iceland is a nation with 320,000 residents only but their roots often go back as far as the ninth century and the Vikings. The nation has been isolated enough that it is a great place for genealogy study and has become a key areas of such research. Kari Stefansson of Decode Genetics has recently run a contest about genealogy and one of the entrants raised eyebrows. Arnar Freyr Adalsteinsson and two others created an app to help Icelanders access church records, census data and other information of the Book of Icelanders data based from 1997. It has a feature that permits anyone buying the app to identify himself and then to find out where he/she ranks in this data base. It also allows two people who each have the app to bump each other's cell phones and instantly know if they are blood relations. The media has noticed the potential of this app to help potential daters avoid 'kissing cousins' and the app has become famous. It has been downloaded 4,000 times in its first few weeks.


Bill C-44 has passed in the House of Commons, changing the rules about tax recognition of those who provide care of a critically ill or dying family member. Under the Helping Families in Need Act, the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act are to be changed so that:
-if a child of an employee is critically ill, dies or disappears likely as result of a crime, the parent has the right to take unpaid leave from paid work. The parent's job will be protected.
-benefits will be paid to parents who are providing care of a critically ill child
-those parents in paid work who are already on parental leave and who themselves then become ill, will also be able to access benefits. This will benefit about 600 Canadians a year.
The government also has pointed out its other benefits for caregivers as of September 2012 which included
-foster parents can access parental benefits
-self-employed persons can access maternity,parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits if they have paid into the scheme both as employer and employee
-military families can take their 35 weeks parental benefits within a window for 104 weeks, allowing for timing based on return from duty
-non-family members will be able to access compassionate care benefits if they are considered family by the person who is gravely ill
Criticisms of the new rules have however emerged:
-sickness benefits are to a 15 week maximum. Some question the time frame for its rigidity.
-the support of paid income support for parents with critically ill or injured children last for up to 35 weeks and only if the child is under 18. Some have questioned if the child has to actually be mortally ill to qualify since some illnesses and injuries are serious but not fatal.
-to get any EI benefits the parent in question or caregiver has to have done paid work in the previous year 600 hours or more. Many have questioned if that rule is fair given that paid work in years previous is not counted, unpaid work is not counted, and caregiving demands are not counted.
-the caregiver benefit for care of critically ill or dying children lasts up to 35 weeks. Some question the rigidity of the time frame.
-parents of murdered or missing children under age 18 also can access $350 a week for up to 35 weeks to deal with the stress of their situation. Those parents also are only permitted this grief or stress help based on their paid work last year. Some have questioned the fairness of the paid work requirement.

The 2012 Canadian tax forms are soon to be mailed in and some aspects of caregiving bear attention:
-if you cared for a dependant child or grandchild of your own or of your partner and that person is 18 or older, lived with you and had a net income under $19,435, you can claim up to $4402 for the year
-eligible adoption expenses can be claimed up to $11,440. (The state ironically does not provide that amount of funding to give birth to a child or to take care of a child.)
-there is a children's sports deduction allowed but the deduction of up to $500 must be for fees paid in a prescribed program, one that lasts five days if a camp, or minimum 8 weeks if ongoing. The program must be supervised and involve cardio and muscular exercise and does not qualify if it involves the child mostly being in a motorized vehicle.
-there is a children's arts deduction of up to $500 that also must meet strict criteria to develop creative skills of arts or culture, that focuses on natural environment, that has structured interaction with children and that may involve tutoring in academic subjects. Hhere again we are not trusting parents to provide crayons, art materials or their own tutoring of the child but only trusting 3rd parties and purchase of non family services. It is odd to think that somehow the government now can decide what activities are good for the arts and what are not worthy enough.)

The federal government has passed its latest budget 2013. For the caregiving sector some highlights include:
-tariff reduction for some baby clothes (but not on children's clothes overall)
-tariff reduction on purchase of some sports equipment such as hockey sticks or golf clubs
-more funds for administration of certain organized sports such as to pave arena parking lots or put on new roofs
-new restrictions for hiring foreign workers including service industry, agricultural and live-in caregivers so that local workers are to be preferred and a longer search must be undertaken to find local candidates not foreign ones.
-more allowance for adoptive parents to cover some costs of adoption
However in the budget there are clearly government priorities in the business sector and to create paid jobs:
-funds for businesses to train or retrain staff and to create more paid jobs
-individuals will again pay 4 times the tax businesses pay. The projected revenue from personal tax will be $131.5 billion while from business is $34.6 billion
-to cover the tax plan, there will again be a deficit, the sixth straight deficit for this government. This year's deficit is $25.9 billion.The national debt is also increasing.
-encouragement of buying locally, and increasing duties for imported goods including from 70 nations including China, Russia, Brazil and India
-change in the operation of the Canadian International Development Agency so that it will now be part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Its last year aid to 100 nations of $3.9 billion for schools, food programs and medical care will now be less visible and, some fear, less well funded.
-elimination of a long standing tax benefit for credit unions.
-Mark Milke of the Fraser Institute is concerned that the budget gives so much funding to business. He cites $1 billion to the aerospace sector over five years, $37 million for businesses to help commercialize their products, $325 to green technologies, and huge investment in machinery and equipment in the manufacturing sector - $7 billion invested since 2012.  

In the US the abortion debate continues on several fronts:
-in the case where the fetus has a genetic abnormality most states permit abortion but Arkansas is considering not doing so
-in case of sex selection, some states ban abortion, including Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Arizona
-many states permit abortion in the case of rape or incest
-most states permit abortion to save the life of the mother or for severe medical emergencies
-the timing of abortion is also controversial. Arkansas is now banning abortion at 12 weeks and North Dakota may ban them after 6 weeks. The Supreme Court has ruled that a woman can have an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, at about 24 weeks pregnancy. Some suggest that it be illegal to have an abortion if the fetus has a 'detectable heartbeat'. This can happen at 10-12 weeks using abdominal ultrasound but even earlier, at 6 weeks using an intrusive trans-vaginal ultrasound. Proponents and opponents disagree about when there is a 'detectable heartbeat'.

In the US the debate also continues about the funding of public schools. On the one hand are those who want the funds to remain strong to the schools so that high quality public education can be provided. On the other hand, there are those who say that if a school is failing, a better mechanism is not to fund the school but to fund the student and let the student take his or her money to another school that will serve him or her better. Alabama has now legislated so that parents can enrol their kids in private schools if the public school is failing them. Arizona gives scholarships to students in both systems and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is proposing a $2 million aid package to low income children if they prefer to go to private school. Right now 17 US states permit a kind of voucher system so that taxpayer money for education can go to public or private schools. In 2002 the Supreme Court said that school vouchers are legal and do not violate separation of church and state. However some states do not like private schools because some have a religious focus and question if it is fair to subsidize some religions with public money. Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers objects to the voucher system saying it provides no accountability. Private schools often filter out special needs students and there are some who say that the public system is now simply subsidizing education for the wealthy.

Dr. Janina Galler of Harvard Medical School has released results of a study of 77 adults who at age 7 months had been admitted to hospital for malnutrition. From that admission to age 12 they had been part of a government program of home visits and food assistance. The study of these adults found that despite later getting adequate nutrition, those who had early malnutrition had higher levels of anxiety, were more vulnerable to stress, had higher anger, depression, hostility and mistrust of others levels than did those who had always had adequate nutrition. Dr. Adrian Raine of the U of Pennsylvania conducted a similar study on the island of Mauritius finding that malnutrition in early childhood had links to delinquent and aggressive behaviour at ages 8, 11 and 17. Researchers speculate that either malnutrition alters brain growth to change personality or that early food deprivation may itself increase a child's stress level and wariness.

When a parent gets cancer, the family is in crisis, faced not just with threat of loss of that parent, but also with loss of the work they do, the income they provide and the love from them. Those long term fears are added to by the immediate practicalities of absence of this person for treatments and surgeries. To help with at least the short term problem, Audrey Guth, a breast cancer survivor herself, has set up a nanny service for families of parents with cancer. The Angel Nanny Network is a charity that provides free child care to parents with cancer so they can have their treatments. 60 volunteers, many of them retired nurses, teachers or child care workers, have volunteered to undergo a background check and then to turn up for a few hours or days on the doorstep of such families in crisis. They come with toys and activities, 'kind of like Mary Poppins,' says Guth. The organization fundraises about $100,00 a year to cover costs of the service. It has outlets in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.

Most people rarely have to go to court. Outside of a few parking tickets or minor misunderstandings with law enforcers, most do not enter criminal court at all. Most do not have to go to civil court much either, except for minor property disputes or landlord-tenant matters. The exception though is for people in disputes about marriage and family. Court cases for divorce and separation abound and are often contentious. Even lawyers and judges have noticed the negative effect on parents and children involved in divorce and child custody proceedings and there is a move now to simplify the process and reduce its tension. Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell has submitted a report to Chief Justice Beverly McLaughlin recommending sweeping changes to family law. Some of these include:
-litigants who behave badly or impede settlements will now be heavily fined
-there should be better funding for legal aid. Even middle income families typically can't afford legal costs for long trial
-there should be one stop shopping for family court so provincial and federal courts don't have to both be navigated in such disputes
-there should be judges who specialize in family law disputes
-estranged spouses should have to go to mediation before they can have a trial
-the press must be discouraged from looking at court drama for families as trial by combat.

In BC, legislators have become concerned at the tension in court when unmarried couples who have been cohabiting split up. Often the law does not provide much protection for any joint property rights or clear protection for any of their offspring about income support or access. There is often disagreement about who now owes debt that of the parties brought to the relationship and who gets gifts, inheritances or court awards if the couple splits up. Previously the one who had official title to the property got it on split up and in most cases this was the male. Women's rights groups were concerned. However to ensure that both partners did have rights, changes to the law have been suggested that are not consistent across the provinces
-in Quebec cohabiting spouses do not get marital property rights. The courts have ruled that if you chose not to marry, the court will respect that choice and its implication that you also freely opted out of property protection. In Quebec 51% of couples under age 35 live common law and 38% of couples of all ages live common law.Those who are officially married however have to share property and any prenuptial arrangement will be void if it does not say there is such a sharing.
-in Ontario common law couples do have to sometimes provide spousal support on split up but do not have to share property. Professor Brenda Cossman says that many Ontario residents mistakenly believe that common law couples also must share property on split up.
-in BC, 16.4% of cohabiting couples are not married to each other.However Justice Minister Shirley Bond believes there should be mandatory sharing of debt and property between them so she has passed a new law to that effect for any couple that has cohabited two years or longer. In BC under the new rules all common law couples automatically have the financial obligations of marriage. The only way to avoid those is to sign an opt out contract, having paid lawyers to create this document.The new law in BC has been controversial even though in Saskatchewan and Manitoba there are already similar rules. If one person owned a condo, when two now live there the second one has a right to half the share of the increase of its value.If one arrives in the relationship with student debt, the other has to pay half the debt. The new act will even fine a person up to $5,000 for denying to the other time and access to children or may force the parent denying time to reimburse the other for travel expenses or lost wages.

In the UK a storm of controversy has raged after a recent move by government to tax more heavily those families with a parent at home. Deputy PM Nick Clegg has announced a policy that involves higher tax for the single income family over the dual income household and many women and men are expressing their outrage:
-the Coalition that is now in charge taxes the single income household more heavily than did its predecessor at a rate of 27.9% of wages, up from 16.2%.
-if income in a household totals 60,000 pounds, those who earn it as a couple each earning 30,000 pay significantly less tax than the house where one earner makes 60,000 even though the two households have the exact same total income (this phenomenon also happens in Canada and by some economists has been estimated to be up to 40% higher tax just for lifestyle)
-a single parent in the UK has had his or her tax rate drop from 15% to 8.4%
-the dual earner household has seen their tax rate drop
PM David Cameron promised to help traditional families with one parent at home by letting them transfer a tax allowance between spouses. However he has no yet passed laws to do this.
-the government earlier announced changes to child benefit based not on the age or number of children but on the individual income of the parent, not on household income. If either of the parents earns over 50,000 pounds the benefit is reduced and if either parent earns over 60,000 the benefit is eliminated. However if the couple together earns each under 50,000 with a combined total of over 95,000 they still can get the full benefit.

The United Nations office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs has reported that in North Korea there are about 2.8 million people who need regular food assistance. They say that chronic food insecurity and malnutrition are now at troubling levels under the third generation of Kim family rule. Water and heating systems need repair, school and college infrastructure is deteriorating and there is not enough medicine. There are chronic shortages of fuel and equipment to harvest the land and there is little arable land to feed the 24 million people. The UN visited all 9 agricultural provinces during harvest time and estimated that 507,000 extra metric tons of cereals were needed to meet basic food needs.The study says that more than a quarter of all North Korean children are now stunted from lack of food.


March, 2013


The Roman Catholic Church has selected its new pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. He will be known as Pope Francis. The new pope is 76 years old, and speaks Spanish, Italian and German. He is the first Jesuit pope and the first from Latin America. His biographer Sergio Rubin has noted his humility and self-effacing personality, and his overriding concern for the poor and downtrodden.

In the UK youth, particularly young offenders, are still routinely searched for weapons, and also when there are suspicions of possession of contraband. However overuse of the search, and use of the strip search in particular, have been criticized recently. The UK Youth Justice Board announced in 2009 that strip searches would stop because they led to lingering feelings of anger, humiliation and anxiety. However The Guardian newspaper recently accessed documents under Freedom of Information legislation, finding that in 25 young offender institutions and centres in 2012, 43,960 strip searches were done. Of those searched 48% were of visible minority youth, raising concerns about racial stereotyping. Carolyne Willow of the Children's Rights Alliance says that such strip searches are a form of child abuse. In addition they may be impractical. Of all the searches only 275 recovered any illicit items and the most common find was simply of tobacco.

There is concern among some observers about legal and other implications of a new trend in weddings--the ability to get married without both people being physically present. In earlier times such marriages were permitted by proxy including when Marie Antoinette first married Louis XVI in Austria. Historically weddings at a distance have occasionally been permitted if a soldier currently deployed wants to marry urgently, concerned about being killed or leaving family without benefits.However the practice of proxy marriage is increasing especially in immigrant communities who may want to marry someone from back home without having to embark on a matchmaking trip first.Some such newlyweds are people from mixed religions who are not permitted their union in the country of residence of one of them. The concerns raised are that such proxy marriages, done sometimes just over a computer camera connection, may trap women into trafficking, or may facilitate marriage fraud to just get rights to immigrate. Legality of such proxy marriages varies.George Andrews of Proxy Marriage Now charges money for his worldwide arrangements and arranges about 400-500 a year. Professor Adam Candeub of Michigan State University says that requiring the two parties to be at a ceremony in person also has the historical advantage that it is easier to tell if the parties are freely choosing to wed.

The UN Population Fund has ranked countries according to age of marriage, finding that in 42 nations over one third of women marry before age 18. In Niger, West Africa 75% of all marriages are of girls under 18, in Bangladesh over 60% and in Chad 58%. The culture of child brides continues in India where 47% of marriages are in that category. In South Sudan some brides are 12 years old and among girls aged 15-19, half are married. The consequence of such early marriage is often school dropout and high birth rate but also high mortality rate among young mothers. UNICEF recently reported that in the Congo 15% of children are not in school, and Human Rights Watch says that girls who do attend school number only 30-39% of the students there.Catherine Gotani Hara, Health Minister in Malawi has found that 30% of maternal deaths in her country are of teen mothers. To address these issues human rights advocates are pushing for legislation to end early marriages and forced marriages. However there are hurdles to these moves. In South Sudan some legislators feel that early marriage is a good thing for women, keeping them from out of wedlock pregnancy and the shame that would bring on the family and also protecting the girls from sexual violence.

Women who want to have babies occasionally have fertility challenges as do some men.Many efforts to address these have been put in place from adoption and surrogate parenting to in vitro fertilization. In September 2012 two Swedish women embarked on a unique solution- a transplanted uterus, the donors being their own mothers. One day these women may even conceive and give birth. In Turkey however that process has already been set in motion. Derya Sert was born without a uterus and in 2011 got one from a woman who died in a car crash. She is now getting an embryo transfer using her own frozen eggs and her husband's sperm. This procedure is taking place only 18 months after her uterus transplant. Hernew uterus has been functioning well, and she is menstruating but some observers say the experiment to have her actually give birth poses severe health risks to mother and fetus. It also poses some legal dilemmas according to bioethicist Arthur Caplan of the NY University Langone Medical Center. In situations where the womb and the embryo were from two women now inserted into a third woman who is the mother? Even with a woman's own eggs, who is the legal mother? Who will have access and parental rights? Some feel the human experiment is being rushed, such as Dr. Roger Pierson, an expert in Canadian reproductive biology says that scientists do not yet fully understand the implications of such procedures for the future well-being of children and families.

Students in the western world are facing a perfect storm as they get their postsecondary education. Costs of tuition are up while in the economy is sagging, as students are struggling to find jobs during or after they obtain their degree. In the US, CNN Money found that the average tuition for community college is up 40% this year and for university is up 68%. Meanwhile the September Census report found that mediumUS household incomes fell 7% between 2001 and 2011. The result is that more students are entering debt, taking on bigger debt and having more trouble repaying it. The Center for College Affordability and Productivity found that though US college grads can find jobs, about 49% of them are in jobs that did not require the college education. Student loans in 2004 were $400 billion but this year are nearly a trillion dollars.

When people have to pay drug costs, there are several policy options. One is free medication for all, funded by taxpayers. One is user pay so the state pays nothing. A third option is for the person needing medication to pay for part of the cost and the state part. The patient part might be out of pocket or through an insurance plan and that is where it gets controversial. If, when we ask people to pay, we don't make them all pay the same amount. These are some of the issues that have recently surfaced:
-are we making people who are sick poorer just because they are sick?
-are the rich able to pay less because they have better insurance plans?
-are the rich paying proportionately less because they can afford the bill more? _ cost is adjusted to ability to pay
The Alberta government has introduced a new pharmacare program adjusted to family income. The current 18 programs to help the poor, elderly and disabled with prescriptions will end. Right now seniors pay 30% of costs, up to a maximum of $25 per prescription. Under the new pharmacare plan, families earning over $50,000 may have to pay more. Their deductible will be 20% of the household income before the state will help them with medication costs and then the state will only pay 75% of the cost. The government estimates that it will also save money by reducing the cost of generic drugs. Right now they cost 35% of the cost of brand-name drugs but they will next year only cost 18%. However pharmacists are not happy with this change since they too will get less income. The Alberta Pharmacists' Association says generic manufacturers will lose money and dispensing fees based on drug prices will go down.

Two housing principles seem to be at odds in a condominium dispute in Medicine Hat, Alberta. On the one hand the frail elderly sometimes need care and have a right to choose their care style in order to survive. If they choose to have home care, even a live-in caregiver, that is their right. On the other hand, a condominium is a housing style which often puts severe restrictions on who can live in the complex, and may not permit third parties or renters - i.e. live in caregivers.Allen Davis is an elderly blind senior and his wife has dementia. In 2009 they hired a live in caregiver, Pacienta Surado through the Government of Canada Foreign Worker Program.She helped with the care of Mrs. Davis until that lady passed away and she was paid a salary from which $336 a month was deducted for room and board. However the bylaws of the condo complex where the couple lives say that to preserve property values, peace, comfort and community, a residence must only be occupied by a single family alone, with no roomers or boarders. The couple was served notice that their caregiver must leave. The Davis family made legal appeal. Justice R. G. Stevens ruled that the couple has a right to pick a caregiver, but that a condo does not have to live up to this since a condo contract is a private agreement. Condominium units often discriminate on the basis of age and this is permitted despite the Alberta Human Rights Act that outlaws discrimination based on age. A legal outcry has ensued as others weigh in. (In one earlier dispute an 87 year old condo resident with disabilities was not allowed a parking stall because she does not have a driver's license. However a court ruled that the condo must let her caregiver driver use the parking stall so she can get to medical appointments. Otherwise the condo was violating the lady's right to freedom from discrimination based on disability.)

The state of Utah has extended to parents rights not held in several other states. Parents have the right to home school, to be the ones to instruct their children about sex education, to decide medical treatment of their children and to be at least notified if their child wants an abortion. They are also now moving to get a new right about the child's classroom. Rep. Carol Spackman Moss proposed a bill under which parents can find out if there is a gun present in their child's classroom and if so, can request their child be placed in another class if they do not approve. While some parents are adamant against guns being anywhere near their young, others feel that if the teacher is trained in carrying a licensed firearm that may serve as a great protection for their offspring. After the Sandy Hook shooting the Utah Shooting Sports Council hosted a free class for teachers about the use of concealed weapons and 150 attended.


February, 2013


It was widely believed in the 1960s that when small children watched TV they remained passive, stared at the 'idiot box' and would become obese and suffer eye damage. However TV producers had an idea of creating educational TV programs and we saw learning videos for kids, repetitive shows to teach some phonics skills, documentaries, shows to sing rhymes and teach colours, and even shows to teach values.When cartoon characters like Arthur or Curious George or the Reading Rainbow were introduced parents were optimistic that watching TV could be a good thing for kids. However,  Professor Douglas Gentile of Iowa State University has found that children who watch TV, even educational TV, between ages 2 and 5, tend to not understand the values lessons shown there. Though a show may depict characters acting badly with negative consequences and may try to show the value of good behaviour instead, many little watchers are just imitating the bad behaviour. His research found that kids who watch TV increase their aggression towards other children. Professor Jamie Ostrov of the U of Buffalo in New York noticed that the children in the study were not more physically aggressive but tended to mirror whatever verbal behaviour they had watched on TV. Gentile suggests that if parents do let their young kids watch TV, that they watch with them and explain the situations.
-ED NOTE: I feel that kids learn most by experience at that age and that just watching anything does not register as well as hands-on engagement. The original criticisms people had of TV and now of computer use are still valid. It is not good for the eyes, it is too sedentary and it is not really a way to teach. It can mildly amuse but it does not, for young kids, instil interpersonal relationship values and how could it? It is not a human being.

In 2002 Alberta became the only Canadian province to give infants special vaccines against 7 strains of bacteria that caused 80% of childhood illness. About 45,000 infants are immunized each year in the province. Rates of streptococcus infection have decreased, with corresponding drops in pneumonia and meningitis. However another problem has increased - 19A, a serotype that is resistant to many antibiotics. Dr. Otto Vanderkool of the Alberta Children's hospital has said of the new diseases "When you remove the big boys from the playground there's a possibility that a new bully may emerge". When a second vaccine was developed to also target 19A, that helped in 2010 but now cases of serotype 8 are increasing among some chronically ill adults. The result has been that the number of illnesses across the board is about the same as ever.

Countries fund postsecondary education differently. Some Nordic countries make it nearly free, with the hope that students once educated will earn a lot and pay tax so the country will get back the investment. Other countries like the US charge very high tuition fees to students. Canada has federal funding help to colleges and universities but students are still charged some fees, lately ones that have been increasing. Across the nation though, fees differ. The province of Quebec has regularly subsidized its post-secondary students much more than other provinces do, though lately the government there has said this subsidy is not sustainable and wants to raise tuition. Student riots ensued this past summer and proposals have gone to extremes - to either have tuitions at higher rates matching all other provinces, or to have them free. Former premier Jacques Parizeau proposed free tuition saying that it would be easily funded by higher taxes on corporations and banks. Quebec minister for higher education Pierre Duchesne says however that it would be unrealistic to have free tuition. Editorial writers at the Montreal Gazette weighed in on the discussion
-Sylvie Beauchamp of the U of Quebec says that in Finland where tuition is free, there is not enough room for all who want to attend so grade requirements are very tight. Of 180,000 who apply, only 90,000 pass the entrance exams and only 30,000 are admitted.
-Economist Pierre Fortin says that when there is free tuition, classes get huge and ratio of professor to student is very high. The result would be that Quebec would have each professor teaching more students and teaching longer hours with fewer sabbaticals.

William Whatcott of Saskatchewan is a licensed practical nurse who has taken strong stands against abortion and homosexuality. His distribution of graphic images in flyers, his protests at gay pride parades and abortion clinics have led to several confrontations with police, but legal discussions have surrounded him since much of what he does is protected under the right to free speech. He has run for political office in Toronto, Regina and Edmonton, never winning but always generating debate. However what he has written in pamphlets is deemed by some to have crossed a line and to have become hate literature. In 2010 the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal found him guilty of discrimination against homosexuals but the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal overturned the judgment saying that the issues must be open to public debate that might sometimes be impolite. The Human Rights Commission appealed however to the Supreme Court of Canada which after a year of deliberation has reached its verdict in 2013. The Supreme Court ruled that the pamphlets did cross the line. With wording like "Sodomites in our Public Schools" and claims that "gays and lesbians want to share their filth and propaganda," the court said that hate speech must be more clearly defined in legislation, but if there are public statements made targeting a vulnerable group, which expose a person or class of persons not just to dislike but to 'detestation and vilification' on a prohibited grounds of discrimination, it is hate speech. Currently most provinces have human rights codes but hate speech is not clearly defined. Many groups had intervened in the court case. Those arguing for Whatcott included the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Christian Legal Fellowship, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Catholic Civil Rights League. Intervening against Whatcott were the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Attorney General of Alberta, Egale Canada Inc., the Canadian Jewish Congress, Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, the Canadian Bar Association, the United Church of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations and the African Canadian Legal Clinic.

Alex McKay of the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada has revealed that teen pregnancy rates are no longer going down. The rates nationally are 28.2 per 1000 teens( up from 27.9) but in some provinces they are much higher. They have gone up 15-40 % in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Newfoundland. Two causes are often cited - one being birth control and the other girls' education. McKay says that teenage girls are more likely to choose pregnancy if they have few educational or career options. Stats Canada has found that use of contraception is not the key issue since Canadian youth do use contraception. McKay also says that sex education in schools is not the problem since it is common also. So the key factor researchers now focus on is the economic one - why girls are choosing parenting over education and career.

The Broadbent Institute has recently published (Oct 2012) a study about economic and social inequality in Canada, entitled "Towards a more equal Canada". The study seeks public reaction as it observes the income gap and suggests options.Among the statistics cited are:
-between 1984 and 2004 families in the bottom 60% of income tables had no increase in income and the income of the middle class rose only 2%. However the income of the wealthiest 20% rose 7-11%
-the top 1% of income earners get 14% of all income earned in the country (during the Depression this number was 18%)
-in 1998 CEOs earned 105 times more than average Canadians but by 2010 that number was now 189 times more than the average Canadian.
-the top 10% of earners used to have 3.8 times as much income as the bottom 10%. Now they have 4.2 times as much.
-the 2011 poverty rate in Canada is 11.4% according to the OECD (those who earn 2/3 or less of average earners)

As benefits become a new norm for some caregiving, they seem to appear mostly tied to paid work . Maternity benefits are tied to how much a woman earned the past year. Caregiver roles are not funded in the Canada Pension plan but there is a formula to not count those unpaid years against you and to still base your pension on your paid work.Childcare benefits and daycare subsidies are also tied to paid work.As the public struggles to see if they qualify as caregivers, due to this other criterion, another wrinkle has presented itself: the amount of the benefit.A parent who has a new baby can get maternity or paternity benefits based on their paid work the preceding year. Each time the parent has a child, this benefit may apply, based again on paid work. In Ottawa Paula Critchley and her spouse Christian Martin had twins. She got 35 weeks of parental leave for the two children, the same as if she had had only one. Her husband applied to also get 35 weeks since they were twins, saying parents should get 70 weeks for twins. He had argued that he and his wife should each qualify and the board of referees for the Employment Insurance program agreed that both parents had suffered sleep deprivation and household obligations but an EI umpire overturned that ruling. The Federal Court of Appeal was then appealed to and that court has now just ruled that parents of twins do not get double benefits. The court ruled there is no historical disadvantage that perpetuates any negative stereotyping. Martin plans to now appeal to the Supreme Court.
-ED NOTE: I think the EI program is not a good vehicle for addressing maternity and parental benefits anyway. They should not be based on paid work. They should be based on the existence of a child. Two children should get two sets of benefits but obviously if the children are born at the same time, the double money benefit would run concurrently. I think the benefit should be money not time. How parents handle their earning is up to them.

Under human rights law it is unfair to discriminate against citizens based on several prohibited grounds including age, race, religion, disability and gender. Other grounds have been entered into charters of some provinces and among them 'family status' has surfaced. When an employer treats differently someone who is a mother than he treats someone who is not, the issue is nuanced because sometimes what is wanted is an accommodation - to allow nursing rooms, nursing breaks, paid or unpaid leave to care for a sick child, as well, obviously as maternity and parental benefits.These requests ask for a discrimination, to accommodate the needs of the worker based on family status and in the past it may have been argued that these are not voluntary or arbitrary obligations but 'needs' of the parent. They are not choices. Generally areas that are choices are considered outside the bounds of human rights law because you could have not embarked on them.A few changes have been made however in laws recently that add new dimensions to the discussion.
a. Fiona Johnstone of Ottawa along with her husband worked at the Canada Border Services Agency , full time, doing irregular shifts. When she had a baby she asked the employer to give her more predictable shifts to accommodate her childcare needs. The agency said this was not possible but suggested that she could get static hours if she reduced her commitment to now only do part time paid work. She still wanted the full time hours however and complained to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2010. The tribunal agreed with her.However the employer appealed to the federal court. This past week Justice Leonard Mandamin has also supported Johnstone.The ruling says that employers must consider family obligations when they deal with employee requests. This ruling suggests that even though having a baby is a choice, employers must respect and accommodate that choice. However the ruling is not universal for all workers. It to date applies only to Ms. Johnstone's unique circumstance. It may later apply to all shift workers or to those who must provide care of elderly relatives however as observers speculate about implications. Stuart Rudner, employment lawyer says that family related issues will now gain prominence in the courts. The decision however also requires that the worker must have made reasonable efforts to accommodate family obligations before asking for employer help and the request must also not cause the employer undue hardship.
b. discrimination based on age is not permitted in general but is enforced most broadly for employment situations between ages 18-65.A recent Supreme Court ruling has however raised an issue about seniors and respect once a person is 65. Indalex Ltd. went into bankruptcy protection in 2009 and as the company was selling off assets a list was made up of who would get the proceeds. It is common practice to set up alist of priority debts to pay off and common also to prorate paying off the debts so everybody gets a portion at least of what was owed. Retirees who had been promised pensions from Indalex wanted to be on that list and to make sure their pension commitments were respected but they faced prospects of having their pensions cut in half.The issue then was how high a priority the pension commitment should be when a company goes bankrupt.The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the pensions must take some priority because the company had breached its duty by failing to keep the plans fully funded and by not giving proper notice to retirees that it was going into bankruptcy.  However other debtors appealed to the Supreme Court and this past week the Supreme Court has ruled against the pensioners. The Supreme Court says that the US parent company is entitled to the largest share of the assets. Lenders are seen as more entitled to first collection of money than are retirees.
-ED NOTE: I do not like this ruling. Pensioners are vulnerable and can't just go out and get more money from somewhere. Here this view to me seems to prioritize business over people. I am also wondering if it is not in some ways also discriminatory based on age since it negatively affects seniors in particular.

1.2 million Quebecers are not formally married but live common law. Their legal status has been a blend of two principles legally. One is that they have set up a relationship by choice and want to be respected for it and not discriminated against. If children are part of their relationship, courts have recognized that the children become joint legal and financial responsibilities of both adults. However, the other current is to notice that the couple chose not to formally marry and in so doing has made a choice to not enter some of the legal obligations or privilege that come with formal marriage. Some may feel they do not have to for instance provide financial support to each other, particularly if the relationship ends. A former Brazilian model entered a common law relationship with a Quebec billionaire and they had three children together over 7 years. When their relationship ended, the law did require child support but did not require alimony or spousal support to the woman. She complained to the Supreme Court. The Court looked at several issues since the case was presented as a discrimination case, treating common law spouses differently from married spouses regarding alimony. The court looked at if equality was breached, and if so, if it was reasonable to breach it. The court has ruled in a split decision, 5-4, that common law spouses do not get alimony. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said that the two principles balanced were protecting the spouse from financial vulnerability (and give alimony) or respect the choice the couple had made to not marry (and not get alimony).

Dr. Harry Reis of the U of Rochester and Bobbi Carothers, a doctoral student there, have released research studying gender differences. They surveyed 13,301 people and examined 122 characteristics, to see if men and women act and think differently. The authors also looked at 13 earlier studies, examining extroversion, openness, emotional stability and conscientiousness. They found that despite myths that men and women are psychologically different, they turn out to be as widely varied within their groups as between each other. They found that men and women both share empathy, criteria for mate selection, and concerns about being successful.


January, 2013


In China, life expectancy has increased from 41 to 73 years in the past fifty years. The one child policy has however created an imbalance of seniors and not many young to help them. Retirement care homes are few and those that exist are costly, forcing some adult offspring to make choices government finds problematic. Recently in Jiangsu province officials discovered a 90 year old grandmother who had been forced to live in a pigpen. Other news stories of neglect of parents have spurred the national legislature to pass a law in 2013 to require that adult children visit their aged parents 'often' or risk being sued by the parents. (ED NOTE: This is an extremely sad commentary given the tradition of filial piety in Chinese societies - and a powerful testament to the fact that misguided social policies can have profoundly negative effects on the well being of children and families.)

There are fine lines about what to call inferior care and what a person can legally do to object to it. In Toronto Jackie Storrison regularly visits her father at the Sunnybrook Veterans Centre. She is 61 and has joined several others who are concerned about care their relatives are getting. Recently she noticed during a staff shift change that one resident was pushing a food table down a hallway alone. She felt the resident was at risk of falling but saw that no staff helped her. She also has expressed concerns about live bed bugs in the linen closet of another resident. The facility's slow reaction to her concerns also became part of her complaint. Manager Jane Morland said that she is not prepared to discuss well-being of other residents with Storrison but said that Storrison had gone on a verbal rampage against staff. Moreland, in saying that Storrison had become verbally abusive called police recently and had Storrison escorted out of the building, warning her not to return on pain of arrest. Storrison went to the media saying she felt like a common criminal and felt humiliated.

Occasionally the caregiver who claims to be helping gets a lot of money off this help, personally. In the US halfway houses have been set up to enable people to live in the community in a gentle way, reintegrating from other institutions including jails. Governments generally fund these half way houses as not for profit enterprises and through government contracts. Originally the facilities were small, neighbourhood operations. In one US jurisdiction recently, however, only two nonprofit groups get 85% of the funding. Research reported in the New York Times found that these two groups in New Jersey may have operated in questionable ways.
a.The Kintock Group operates five halfway houses. The director is a former probation officer and parole officer and his annual salary was as high as $805,000 per year. He hired his brother in law who lives in Northern California to do site surveys and paid him $130,000. His daughter, chief administration officer, is paid $180,000 and her husband was paid $93,500 to duplicate DVDs and other media.
b. Education and Health Centers of America operates several halfway houses also. John J. Clancy, chief executive gets contracts and then pays Community Education to run the halfway houses. The political ties of this group have been called into question when it was found that in the 1990s the group had $3 million in state contracts but now it has $35 million in contracts. There has also been concern raised by tax specialists such as Professor Frances Hill of the U of Miami about nonprofit groups with tax exempt status who direct money later to profit-making companies. Recent reports in the New York Times have outlined claims of gang activity, drug use, violence and escapes at some of the halfway houses in the state.

Aboriginals in many nations have worked hard to get equality rights with settlers over time. In some nations the desire was to escape segregation and to have full integration with all community members. In South Africa and in the US the movements focused on access to all jobs, housing and schools with equal rights. In Canada however, the native rights movement has experienced a resurgence and its goal is for the most part special status and to resist integration. Though aboriginal groups do not all speak with one voice, several divisions of them have recently lobbied and demonstrated for better treatment.
a- Defenders of the Land - founded in 2008 in Winnipeg seeks recognition of the land rights of natives, so they can have input into any decisions about the use of the lands they were given in historic treaties and in resistance to use of their land for water or oil and gas needs without their consultation.
b. Idle No More founded in Nov 2011,- spokespeople from some but not all indigenous, First Nations, Metis and Inuit people have been blockading roads and bridges, setting up demonstrations and hosting a hunger strike to insist on consultations with government on many issues including the well-being of their women , housing and water quality on their reserves. Some are particularly concerned at proposed changes to the Indian Act that may take away tribal rules and by giving personal property land rights to individuals may risk sell off of the reserve land to private enterprise. The Prime Minister met with some of the activists in January 2013 and has set up studies to address their concerns.

There is a new trend across several provinces to engage in massive data collection about young children. The data bases and 'mapping' of trends are being promoted by governments and research groups as ways to provide 'support' to families and to help governments prepare appropriate policy. Some of the families are assessed as needing 'intervention' and some are provided with home visits, options to meet professionals, or chances to network with other parents, crisis intervention, and in some cases to attend wellness programs and shelters and treatment centres.
-The Early Child Development (ECD) program of Alberta aims to gauge readiness to learn of 5 year olds, and collects information about socio-economic factors that influence children's development. It takes an inventory of local 'service, programs and facilities' for young children and assess children's social competence, emotional maturity, cognitive development, communication skills and general knowledge.
-The BC Atlas of Child Development looks at education, health, childcare and welfare of children with information garnered from many sources including the census, kindergarten teachers' assessments of students, and the number of child care spaces available.
-The Canadian Infant Longitudinal Development Study (CHILD) studies 5,000 children over time, some of whom are enrolled 'pre birth'. It looks at the effects of environment on pregnancy and on health of the children.
-The Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) in B.C. assesses children's development, and then makes policy recommendations to government. (ED NOTE: I am concerned about such massive data collections. One issue is whether there are any real parental consultations, so that parents can know what researchers know and say about them, and so that they can in turn give feedback about daycares, kindergarten,and government policy. I am concerned at the agenda too, because it seems unfair to assume that parents 'need' help or that the funding for parenting should go to the middlemen who give advice and not to parents. I think data collection is useful only if in the end it is directly based on the perspective of parents as the primary caregivers of their children parents, and not if it imposes a researcher's dream as a gauge of 'success' of parenting.)

In Uganda, measles and malaria kill children in astounding numbers. Dr. Jenn Brenner found that seven million children under age five die each year around the world, and most of those deaths are caused by diarrhea, malaria, and pneumonia, all illnesses that could be cured were health care available. She set out to bridge that gap, and established Healthy Child Uganda, along with help from Mbarara University, the Canadian Pediatric Society and the University of Calgary where she works.The organization trains volunteers locally in how to handle the illnesses, and is able to operate at low cost since it has little overhead. It even helps pregnant mothers with a 'mama kit' for birth preparation, including clean supplies, gloves, a plastic sheet and instruments to help with the delivery. Brenner feels privileged, saying "I often wake up realizing I've won the birth lottery being born in Canada". She aims to help thousands of others feel similar luck.

In the US birth rate figures remained high for the past few years, largely due not to local white women but to the continued high rates of pregnancy among Hispanics. However that trend is shifting. In 1957 the national birth rate in the US was 122.7 per 1000 women of child-bearing age. That rate in 2011 fell to 63 births, or half.The Pew Research Center found that in 2010 the birth rate of Hispanic women also fell,to its lowest level in twenty years. Reasons for the drop for all women have included education, financial concerns, birth control access, career aspirations of women. However among Latinas these reasons seem magnified. Latinos had huge declines in household wealth from 2005 to 2009 and their rates of poverty and unemployment were higher than those of white, black or Asian households. The trend may not last, according to William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution. He said that prolonged recessions have historically often produced drops in birth rate. D'vera Cohn of the Pew Research Centre says that in the past when the economy improves, birth rate tends to go back up.

Controversy continues about the use of strong antipsychotics for young children. Two issues have been raised- whether the drug has been adequately tested on young children and whether it has been adequately tested on children of average intelligence. To date most of the research has actually only been done on older children and those with lower IQ. Pills however are being prescribed for preschoolers, ones for which there is no research to show benefit. There is even research suggesting that some of the pills can cause rapid weight gain, increase blood pressure, and have neurological side effects interfering with mobility. Aripiprazole, the only antipsychotic officially approved for those under 18 in Canada, is officially only approved for treatment of schizophrenia and for teens 15 and up. Risperidone is the antipsychotic more often prescribed for children and teens, and quetiapine is next most common. Studies with these drugs did find some decrease in aggressive behaviour but only a weak effect, according to Dr. Tamara Pringsheim, neurologist. She says overuse of these drugs in children indicates a wider societal problem. (ED NOTE: I have found that aggressive kids usually are just lonely, scared, insecureand seeking attention. Often they are really creative, bored and feeling angry at the world. The answer is not to medicate them. I prefer that we make sure those who love them can spend time with them at home and that those near them such as teachers can spend more time with them one on one. They are usually just needing time, attention and love, and not to be drugged. My feeling about the huge rise in diagnosis of attention deficit disorder is that the deficit is not just the child's problem paying attention to our words but our deficit as a society in paying attention to the child.)

With rising rates of dementia and Alzheimer's, concern is now being raised that there is a growing discrimination against those affected.Since the disease may take years to develop fully, those who have only recently been diagnosed often feel confident and competent to still do some activities but are saying that society often suddenly bans them. Mary Schulz of the Alzheimer Society of Canada says those recently diagnosed have reported being shunned by their social circle, talked to as if they have lost their memory, questioned about if they are competent to still do their job or drive a car, forced to leave activities they enjoyed like singing in a choir, getting fewer and fewer visitors once they are in a care facility. To defeat the stigma Schulz says we have to work hard to remove the stigma and shame, as was done with other illnesses like cancer.

It is common to get no contact orders between ex-spouses or access restrictions to keep a noncustodial parent from a child, but it is rarer to have an adult seek restraints against parents. In Cincinnati, Aubrey Ireland, aged 21, has sought such an order against her parents. A judge has ruled that Julie and David Ireland, the parents, must stay at least 150 metres from their daughter and if they contact her before Sept 23, 2013 they could face criminal charges. Aubrey Ireland sought the court order claiming that her parents visited too often as she stayed at the U of Cincinnati, that they harassed university officials, accusing their only child of problems with drugs, promiscuity and mental illness. The court also learned the parents had been so concerned about their daughter that they had installed tracking devices on her cell phone and laptop without her knowledge. The parents claimed they just wanted to ensure their daughter got the help she needed and did not ruin her chances at success. When the daughter cut off contact with them, they stopped paying her tuition and asked for her to return the $66,000 they had already spent. The college however gave her a full scholarship.

Euthanasia has long been a contentious issue around the world, both active mercy killing by injection or passive, by withdrawal of life-sustaining care.In Brussels Belgium euthanasia is permitted for those in extreme physical pain or terminally ill , as long as those wishing to end their lives are able to make their wishes known clearly and a doctor confirms their pain is unbearable. However this past month identical male twins aged 45, from Antwerp, sought mercy killing together. They were born deaf and have spent their entire lives as cobblers, working together. They have recently learned they will both go blind and they wanted to choose death instead of enduring that next stage.The law permitted this decision after serious consideration and Dr. David Dufour who presided over the euthanasia said the two died happily.In Quebec, Canada, legal experts are also considering changes to laws about euthanasia. The Canadian Criminal Code makes assisted suicide illegal but a legal panel will look at whether doctors in that province could provide this service under some circumstances.Jean Paul Menard, head of the legal panel, says that every person should be able to make their own choice according to their values and experience.A BC Supreme Court ruled last June 2012 that assisted suicide may be permitted and the federal government is already appealing that ruling.

The women's movement has again diverged in its treatment of women having full time paid careers when their children are young. On the one hand, women who do this are widely celebrated in media. However when such women opt to be home with a child, advocates for parenting celebrate. Though there may seem to be only two options, a dual earner home or a single earner home (male earning) it is becoming apparent that there are several other options. The phenomenon of the single earner home (female earning) is growing. The phenomenon of the dual earner home with the women outearning the man is also growing. Recent commentaries have included the following:
a. Hanna Rosin wrote' The End of Men and the Rise of Women', saying that women have pulled ahead of men in many areas.
b. Prof. Gillian Ranson of U of Calgary says that 29% of Canadian women outearn their male partners but that this happens usually when the total household income is low.
c. Dr. Linda Duxbury of Carleton University says that the real problem is not who tends the kids but the decline in population when neither partner has time for them.
d. Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote "Why Women Still Can't Have it All," saying that top level high paying jobs are still made for men and required a commitment most women can't make. She and her stay-at-home husband were raising two young sons while she was director of policy planning for the state department. However she opted to step down from her job to be home more with the kids and said there is an 'innate and indomitable instinct to prioritize' her children's well being over her ambitions. She wanted to be with the kids even though she knew her husband provided good care.
d. Dr. Andrea Doucet of Brock University wrote 'The Bread and Roses Project," noting that people are talking about caregiving not just paid work, and that both men and women are engaged in the discussion.
e. Marissa Mayer was hired as head of Yahoo even though she was pregnant.This was heralded as a victory against earlier policies of corporations that let go any woman who was pregnant. She now says the office workload is too heavy, regardless of if you are male or female.
f. Duzanne Doyle-Morris wrote "Female Breadwinners: How they make relationships work and why they are the future of the modern workforce'.
g. Lisa Belkin in 2003 noted that women were graduating more from university but then 'stopping at the gate' in paid careers, and opting out of them to be home with kids.
h. Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly wrote in Working Mother magazine that the main issue was to get rid of guilt of being away from the kids. However surveys in the US have shown that the majority of mothers prefer to work part time. According to a National Post editorial only 21% of mothers in the paid labor force believe full time paid work is ideal.

Walter Dorn, of the Canadian Forces College has told the media he is concerned that Canada recently has focused more on trade missions than on peace missions. He says our foreign policy has become money-oriented and that our country is no longer seen as an 'impartial voice for peace'. Whether there is a new focus on business and money has been studied in a Postmedia article recently. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says that a key goal for him is to help Canadians find jobs, and that the best solution to end poverty and encourage peace is economic prosperity. The earlier days when Canada signed anti-landmine treaties or helped create the International Criminal Court have changed, according to Dorn, who regrets the shift in emphasis.

The United States Senate passed in the early hours of January 2013 a bill to avoid what some had called the 'fiscal cliff' of large tax increases and huge domestic and military spending cuts. The legislation includes several compromise decisions
-raise taxes on affluent Americans only - tax rates go to 39.6% from 35% for individuals earning over $400,000 and couples earning over $450,000.
-tax deductions and credits phase in for those earning $250,000 or more
-an increase in the estate tax. Estates valued at over $5 million would incur at 40% tax, up from 35%. (Democrats had wanted a 45% rate for inheritances over $3.5 million)
-a year extension on unemployment insurance coverage
-delay in cuts of $110 billion to military and domestic programs, for two months
-cancelling a pending Congressional pay raise
These increases in tax rates for the wealthy may be put in international context. Here is a look at three facets of international tax in 2013:
1. Maximum individual tax:
-lows - 0% Andorra, United Arab Emirates, British Virgin Islands
-40-45%-Slovenia, South Africa, Angola, Australia, China, Croatia
-46-50% -Iceland, Israel, Japan, Austria, Norway, United Kingdom
-51-55% - Netherlands, Portugal, Canada (29% federal, 24% provincial)
-57% - Sweden
-75% - France
2. Tax on corporations:
-lows - 15% or under - Lithuania, Latvia, Macedonia, Qatar, US
-15-20% - Canada, Taiwan, Netherlands, United Kingdom
-21-30% - New Zealand, Philippines, Germany, Senegal, Ukraine
-31-40% - Cameroon, Colombia, France, Jamaica, Zambia
3. Sales tax, GST, VAT:
-low - 5% or under - Afghanistan, US, Canada
-6-10% - Thailand, Maldives, Australia
-11-20% - Brazil, Mexico, Germany, Ukraine, UK
-21-30% - Belgium, Italy, Netherlands,Romania, Poland, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Hungary


December, 2012


Neuroscientist David Rock has summarized the top five "discoveries" about parenting that emerged in 2012, which provide a lot of food for thought. Here they are:
1: As freedom wanes in children, so does creativity.
We live in a world obsessed with information. Applying this trend to education may be having some unintended consequences, creating an obsession with following the rules, with getting the answers right, and with reducing children’s capacity to think freely. Researchers are wondering if this trend may be partly to blame for the steady decline in creativity among schoolchildren over the last few decades.
According to Kyung Hee Kim, a professor at the College of William and Mary, all aspects of creativity are in decline for kids, the biggest being in the measure called Creative Elaboration – which assesses the ability to expand on ideas in novel ways. Kim analyzed test scores from kindergarten through twelfth grade over several decades in the US, using the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT). The scores on these tests began to decline somewhere between 1984 and 1990 and have continued to decline since, regardless of grade level.
This decline in creativity should raise concern. Creativity is an important asset because it is one of the biggest driving forces for innovation and problem solving. There are also very strong links between creative scores and success in life, with the TTCT being a greater predictor of adult achievement than IQ and peer reports and many other metrics.
Rock asks, are we really leaving "no child left behind," or are we leaving no child free to be creative?
2: Overly coddled children grow into incompetent adults.
Research shows it is important to communicate, encourage, and cuddle with our kids a lot if we’re interested in raising moral and empathetic children. But we need to be careful not to go from cuddling to coddling. When kids are praised for everything they do and told they are 'special,' it does two things: it reduces their desire to put in effort and reduces their ability to self-regulate because they do not challenge themselves. Self-regulation is a central player in whether people succeed or not. Researcher Carol Dweck has shown that a 'change' mindset versus a 'fixed' mindset is central to learning. Trying to instill high self-esteem in kids without ever challenging them is likely to leave these future adults in a 'set' mindset, less able to develop themselves and most importantly, less willing to change negative circumstances that come their way. Coddling children results in developing adults who expect a lot from life but are not willing to give much in order to get what they want.
3: We foster delinquency in our young by being too controlling.
There are three common styles of parenting: authoritarian, authoritative, or permissive — each of which have their own characteristics. Recent studies show one of the styles results in a higher likelihood of fostering delinquent children.
Authoritative parents are both demanding and controlling, but they are also warm and receptive. They want their children to work independently, but hold high expectations for them as well. Permissive parents (also sometimes known as indulgent parents), are warm and receptive to their children's needs, while making relatively few demands upon their children. Authoritarian parents have a harsh approach to child-rearing — "it's my way or the highway," in other words. These types of parents are more concerned with raising obedient, and disciplined children — which might sound okay at face value, but this style is more likely to raise disrespectful, delinquent children who do not see them as legitimate authority, according to new research from the University of New Hampshire by Rick Trinkner. So we don’t want to coddle children too much, but we also don’t want to be too authoritarian. Authoritative printing seems to work best.
4: Parents tend to misread their children’s emotional cues.
A team led by Kristin Lagattuta has uncovered evidence suggesting that not only do parents underestimate their children’s worry levels, but they overestimate their optimism levels as well. Their study commenced with asking 228 psychologically healthy children aged 4 to 11 about their worry levels. These children were asked questions about general anxiety, panic, social phobia and separation anxiety. The study found that the answers provided by the children did not correlate with the answers that their parents provided about their children's experience of worry. The results show that parents tend to underestimate how much anxiety their kids really experience.
In a following study on children’s optimism levels, 90 more children aged 5 to 10 answered questions about their optimism, while their parents also answered questions about their own and their children's optimism. The results again all failed to correlate, this time with the parents overestimating their children's experience of optimism. (A revealing detail in this study was that the parents' own optimism levels were related to how they interpreted their children's levels.)
5: We must not be afraid to joke around and have fun with our kids.
The last big surprise in parent research comes from researcher Elena Hoicka, who concludes that parents who joke and pretend with their toddlers are helping their children develop life skills: “Parents shouldn’t underestimate the importance of interacting with young children through jokes and pretending,” Hoicka says. Hoicka's study examined whether parents use different cues (such as tone or pitch of voice) that helps their toddlers differentiate between joking and pretending. The findings weren’t much of a surprise; the study revealed that parents use different language styles and non-verbal cues when interacting with their children without even knowing.
When pretending, parents tend to talk slowly, loudly and repeat their actions. When joking, parents tend to use a more heightened, and exaggerated tone. Not only does this practice teach children how to differentiate between what reality is and what is make-believe, but by spending more time with our children, the confidence levels of both the parent and child boost as well.
So there you have it. Lots of insights about how we can be better parents, all of which come down to building just the right circuitry in the developing child’s brain. Children need freedom to think, but not to be told that they are just ‘special’. They need to be stretched, but also supported. They experience stronger emotions than parents can tell, and above all they appreciate fun. And finally, as I advocate in this blog:  we need to spend more time with our children, despite the many constraints and pressures which take us away from our kids.

A lone gunman with an assault rifle entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut, killing 20 young children and six adults before turning the gun on himself. It was discovered that he had also killed his mother back at his own home before the rampage. The discussion about the cause of the incident, the mental health problems of the gunman, the ease of purchasing weapons in the US, the effects of violence on television and video games, the state of security of schools, the role of principals and teachers and individual acts of heroism, have filled the media. While most say they never expected this awful event to happen, death by way of mass murder in North America, as disturbing as it is, should come as no surprise, since it has been happening for quite some time. Just weeks before the shooting, Mother Jones magazine published an article entitled, "A Guide to mass Shootings in America," which revealed that there have been at least 62 mass murders (4 or more victims) in the last 30 years (1982-2002). All but one of these 62 mass killings were committed by boys or men. The Newtown killer, twenty year old Adam Lanza, is reported to have gone downhill when divorce separated him from his father.  Overlooked in the dominant narrative about the Newtown shooting is the fact that children of divorce (and boys in particular) with no father contact are prone to have poor social skills, to struggle with depression, drugs, drinking, discipline, and delinquency, be suicidal, aggressive, non-empathic. Given that we live in a culture of violence with easy access to automatic weapons that can take many lives in an instant, and given continuing high rates of family breakdown and parental disengagement from children's lives, such tragedies are bound to continue. However, the National Rifle Association has argued via its spokesman, Wayne LaPierre, that the best way to fight a bad man with a gun is with a good man with a gun. It is asking for armed police officers and security guards to be placed in every school. Rep. Chris Murphy of Connecticut has not endorsed this stance, however, calling it "the most revolting, tone-deaf statement" he's ever heard. In response to the murders, many parents across the US are buying armoured backpacks for their kids to keep them safe and gun sales are at record levels.  My heart and prayers go out to the families and their community.

With the high profile of negative effects of bullying on teenagers, some governments are being asked to intervene. The town of Hanna Alberta has taken a step some feel has gone too far. Mayor Mark Nikota says that for his town of 2700 people it is useful for the RCMP to have a way to tackle some incidents before they escalate. His town set up a definition of bullying as harassment of others by real or threatened violence, racial, ethnic, gender-based, or emotional name calling and put -downs whether they are electronic or written. It then outlawed such bullying and set in place a $250 fine for first offenders and $1000 for further offenses. Hal Joffee of the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association says the laws have good intent but 'they're doing something with a sledgehammer". Though advocates for the law say it won't be enforced unless there is a real complaint, Noa Mendelsohnof the Canadian Civil Liberties Association says trusting police will exercise discretion dose not ensure the fairness. She says the bylaws are a severe restriction on freedom of expression.

Mary Ellen Turpel LaFond of the Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates has been urging government to set up a national children's commissioner to promote children's rights. However a vote to do just that was defeated in the House of Commons by a margin of only several dozen votes. Marta Mauras of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child after touring Canada recently said that our country must do more for its children. She urged that we:
-eliminate user fees in public schools
-control medication of youth
-do not force disabled children into segregated schooling
-help troubled parents take care of their own children instead of sending them to foster care
-alleviate child poverty
-never try in court anyone under age 18 as an adult
-separate boys from girls in jail
-develop alternatives to detention of young offenders
-determine why so many aboriginal and black children and youth are in the criminal justice system. Canada, which ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, is still not abiding by its provisions.

Dr. Linda Duxbury of Carleton University and Dr. Christopher Higgins of the University of Western Ontario have released their 3rd study on the career-family balance, an update to a study they did in 2001 and 2011.They heard from 235,021 Canadians how people are able to balance their career roles and their family roles. The study was titled "Revisiting Work-Life Issues in Canada: The 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada" The study had these features
-eldercare was a responsibility of 72% of those asked
-15% had a compressed work week option and 14% had a flex time option
-fewer than 1% were able to work from home for pay as part of the job
-43% of those asked had been with the same employer 11 years or more (/unlike most Canadians)/
-the average paid work week was 50.2 hours
-54% of workers take work home evenings and weekends
-28% of those asked wished they could work for fewer hours a week and would even be willing to take a drop in pay to do so
-there are physical challenges to providing care of others. 29% reported physical strain from eldercare and 21% reported feeling overwhelmed
-25% said the role conflicts have led to more absenteeism from work, 22% reduced their work productivity, 21% made more use of company benefits and 19% reduced their paid work hours.
The writers of the study suggest companies and employers change the culture and permit more family time. Only 40% of those asked said they are even allowed to change arrival and departure times from their paid jobs. 33% said it was even hard to deal with a family matter during the paid work day.
-stress levels increased from 44% in 1991 to 54% in 2001 and now 57% in the 2011 research.

Statistics Canada has reported that the birth rate in Canada in 2011 was 1.9 per family, a drop from 2.7 in 1961.The reasons for the low birth rate have been theorized, from later marriage dates, more educated women delaying childbirth until they are set up in careers and have paid off student debt, to the high cost of third party daycare. High family debt is also cited. Families with children owe 25% more than do other types of households, $144,600 compared to $114,400. Some have also looked at the high mandatory cost or child-rearing, from the cost of car seats to the cost of cell phones. Housing on average takes 49.4% of the income of the family while economists recommend it should not exceed 32% of the budget. Statistics Canada now estimates that it costs $243,660 to raise a child to age 18, or $12,825 a year.

TD Bank has released a report Dec 2012 looking at household income in Canada. Economist Craig Alexander found that while the poor are getting slightly richer, the richer are experiencing bigger leaps and the gap is increasing between them.
-those in the bottom 20% of income earned $15,200, up from $12,700 in 1998
-those in the top 20% of income earned $171,900, up 18% since 1998.
-middle income earners have seen few increases in pay and a decline in jobs. There has been a loss of manufacturing jobs though some increase in education and health care jobs which all tend to be middle income.

For several decades women went missing around Vancouver BC and investigations into their disappearance did not always produce results. Sex-trade workers in particular had gone missing and reports to police in 1997 that someone was trying to kill such workers were not pursued by police.Years later a suspect was arrested, evidence was found on a pig farm and Robert Pickton was charged and convicted in the murder of six women, and he now claims to have killed 49. Former judge Wally Oppal, former attorney general of BC was appointed to head an inquiry into what went wrong in the investigation delays and he has in Dec 2012 produced his 1500 page report entitled "Forsaken". In 1997 a woman went to police with a story of being picked up by a Robert Pickton, taken to his farm and assaulted. She had escaped but she warned police that something bad was going on at that farm. She was not able to convince police however and the discrediting of her testimony has become a key element of the inquiry about the police. Pickton remained outside jail for five years after that during which time over two dozen women went missing. Oppal calls that witness a hero. Oppal says that the women who went missing and were murdered were forsaken twice, once by society and then by the police. Some of the issues being examined in the inquiry include:
-biases in society against native women
-biases in society against sex trade workers
-biases in society against women who are drug addicts
-disappearance of so many women hitchhiking along a lonely stretch of Highway 16 that it has been dubbed "Highway of Tears"
-difficulty in charging anyone with murder when no bodies had been found
It has been admitted that police erred in not pursuing tips more closely, in not checking with family and friends when someone was reported missing. Oppal has made 65 recommendations:
-more regional policing
-24 hour emergency services for women in the sex trade
-an enhanced public transit system along Highway 16
-an aboriginal elder advisor to government
-a compensation fund for the children of missing and murdered women
-a healing fund for families of the victims
-a provincial missing person website

A father known only to the court as DJW had asked two rabbis and four physicians to perform a circumcision on his 4 year old son but none would consent to it without general anesthetic being used. In 2007 the man gave his son some homemade honey wine and then attempted to perform the operation himself on the kitchen floor using a blood coagulant meant for horses. The boy was wounded in the attempt and had to be taken to hospital for corrective surgery. DJW was tried and found guilty in 2009 of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.The BC Court of Appeal however upped the charge to aggravated assault and assault with a weapon. The Supreme Court of Canada is now hearing the case. DJW's lawyers argue that his actions showed no intent to harm the son and that the father showed reasonable care. The Crown argues that the issue is child abuse not freedom of religion or right to circumcision.

The issue of a man's rights when a woman decides whether to abort have taken a new twist, examining her right to give birth but not let him know or have contact with his child. In Ontario a woman 7 months pregnant went to California in the US where she gave birth. The father, Patrick Dovigi, thought she was only going on a holiday and when the mother Mojdeh Razi, gave birth in the US he started legal proceedings in Ontario Superior court. Justice Frances Kiteley said that what the mother had done was 'analogous to abduction'. However the mother appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal which reversed the finding. (ED NOTE: The two levels of court have diametrically opposed views of what constitutes "the best interests of the child," a discretionary and indeterminate standard that reflects judges' prejudices and idiosyncratic biases. A new standard is needed that honours children's needs (absent child abuse) for both parents in their lives.  This standard reflects "the best interests of the child from the perspective of the child.")

The issue of prostitution and whether it is good or bad for women has long been discussed. A secondary issue of diseases linked to prostitution has often also surfaced, with concerns not just for sexually transmitted diseases but also for AIDS. In India since ancient times there have been brothels with well known locations for the practice of the profession. Though AIDS cases in India in 2002 were of staggering proportions, according to the CIA National Intelligence Council, the brothels provided a very convenient place to also raise awareness of protections possible. AIDS rates decreased dramatically with such strategies. India now has about 1.5 million cases of AIDS, despite earlier predictions that by now it would have 25 million cases. However the development of cell phones and their new use by prostitutes has changed many aspects of the profession. Not only do women now find it easy to get customers without a middle man, and in any location, but they are enticed by the lure of more money through that route. Use of brothels is decreasing rapidly and along with it the opportunity of government to promote and enable safe sex practice.Studies have found that women now using cell phones and operating outside brothels are at much higher likelihood of contracting AIDS.

A British Columbia woman who was conceived through a sperm donation wanted to know who her biological father was but encountered significant roadblocks to finding out. She said the BC government should enable offspring to know who their fathers are as it already does for adopted children and the court agreed with her. However the BC Court of Appeal reversed the decision, saying there is no legal right of offspring to know their past. The court concluded that providing this information risked violating the privacy of the sperm donor and intruding into his life. The appeal court also said that many people do not know their full family biological history due to other circumstances so she is far from alone. (ED NOTE: This is yet another example of judges' divergent views about what exactly constitutes "the best interests of the child." It is also a misguided ruling, as from the point of view of children of sperm donors, who refer to themselves as "genetic orphans," knowing their biological fathers is a vital need.  The "need for roots" is the most neglected need in contemporary Western society.)

Andrew Coyne has commented recently that poverty is on the decline in Canada. He says the Low Income Cutoff was 9.0% in 2010, its lowest level in nearly 40 years (it was 15.2% in 1996). He says that by the market basket measure it also is low, at 10%. The Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario has renewed interest in how to address poverty. Senator Hugh Segal has long advocated a Guaranteed Annual Income, one single universal cash benefit between $10,000-$12,000 a person. It would be taxed back at 25 cents on the dollar as income rises. The idea is not new. It was studied experimentally in some US states in the 1970s as a negative income tax, and had mixed results. Here are some of concerns expressed for this solution:
-some say a guaranteed income would discourage people from paid work. This did not prove true in the US study
-some say the benefit should be means-tested, not universal
-some say a guaranteed income should replace welfare, employment insurance , daycare subsidies and pensions while others want those targeted programs to stay
-some note that in Canada the provinces may have a jurisdictional issue over major federal changes in this area
-some note that the income supplement for seniors in poverty and the national child benefit already have some aspects of this guaranteed income
-some question if the real problem is in making sure that people still have access to housing and transportation and medical cost help even if they move just above poverty level.
-Coyne argues that the key issue for him is to make sure that not too much is taken away via benefits for those who move from poverty into low income jobs.

In the UK poverty and social breakdown have become an issue of great public concern. The Centre for Social Justice has traveled around the nation hearing from 2000 organizations in 2000 hours of public hearings. It commissioned a YouGov survey of 17,000 adults, finding that 55% feel their local communities are trouble by 'broken families, crime and poor schools.' 89% of those asked feel the answer is better financial help to parents to address the issues. However whether government will provide this help to parents is in question. In 2007 the CSJ completed a study called "Breakthrough Britain," and by 2010 the Conservative party outlined welfare reform plans that have not yet been implemented. The current situation is dire according to Helen Dent of Family Action. She says the cause of child poverty is not simply family breakdown and 'dadlessness,' and she wants more government help with income. She says the current British government is 'presiding over a wholesale attack on family income through cuts to welfare support' and says that 'austerity is chipping away at the support families need'. The new CSJ study says that the causes of poverty and social breakdown are family breakdown, welfare dependency, educational failure, drug and alcohol addiction and serious personal debt. (ED NOTE: What we need is to value families, including both parents, value caregiving that involves both parents, create a tax system that does not make people poor as they take care of each other. What governments so often forget is that if you take people from those they love in order to get them working longer hours outside the home, you may have helped their income but you may have broken their hearts. People are more complex than robotic earners.)


November, 2012

The yoyo discussion of how to parent - whether laissez-faire or with strict standards - continues each generation. Recently the forces for Tiger parenting and helicopter parenting have been countered by those who want parents to not push their children.Paul Tough researched neuroscience and educational psychology and found that enrolling children in a lot of classes when young does not necessarily provide the emotional nurturing and parental attention they really need. He says that focusing on top grades is not as important, long term, as making sure the child feels loved. He found that even for academic success, self-confidence is a better predictor than IQ. Tough has written" How Children Succeed". Psychologist Oliver James agrees. He says parents should spend a lot of time with their children, not just 'quality time'; and should make sure the child feels loved unconditionally. He calls this approach 'love bombing" and has written "Love Bombing; Reset Your Child's Emotional Thermostat". James says good parents allow children to make mistakes and do not check their homework or nag and finger-jab.

Dr. Janet Fast of the University of Alberta has released results of a study of career impact on those who provide care of the elderly. Her study found that caregiving has social, health and employment consequences. In her study about 500,000 of those aged 45 and over who were caregivers had taken 3 days a month off their paid job and 300,000 had to permanently reduce their hours of paid work by 3/4 of a day to 1.5 days a week. The time away from paid work was equivalent to a loss of 157,000 full time paid jobs in the economy. She also found that
-when a caregiving situation presents itself, women are more likely than men to take time from their paid job, possibly because they earn less so the budget impact is lower for the household
-that 54% of caregivers were women but 46% were men so genderwise the fact of caregiving is nearly equal
-women tend to spend more hours a day as caregivers than do men and women do different tasks than men do as caregivers
-She noted that some employers have adjusted to this new demand for eldercare by providing leaves or flexible hours. She also found that government policy is adjusting in several ways.Labor law has set up job protection so caregivers can usually come back to their paid job.The federal government has provided through the employment insurance program some partial income replacement for caregivers.
(ED NOTE: I am thrilled that the care role is being noticed but sad that it is viewed as a loss to the economy. It is actually a gain. Each hour someone provides care of a family member saves the medicare system from having to pay some professional level of care so government gains a benefit. It is however wise to recognize that the employer does not gain from this time away. Instead of making employers pay, a fair government should provide adequate funding.)

In the UK those with paid work can have some time off for illness and if they are parents with children aged 17 and under, can request flexible paid work hours in order to provide care of their children. Deputy PM Nick Clegg has told the press that women's employment in the UK has stalled in the last ten years and he wants more women able to do more paid work. He is therefore proposing that others can pinch-hit so women can be back on the job. He wants to let grandparents, family friends and other relatives have the right to have flexible paid work hours so they can take care of someone else's child so that parent can do paid work.

When a person interviews a job candidate labor law often makes it illegal to ask certain personal questions. It is no longer legal to ask age if the candidate is between 18-65 and it is not legal to ask about marital status or family situation.These human rights protections of job applicants are intended to prevent discrimination based on some protected grounds.However those rules seem to slip aside when some caregivers are interviewed, especially nannies, according to a study in the New York Times.When prospective employers interview candidates to nanny their children they are asking very personal questions such as age, whether the candidate is married, has children of her own, whether they had a happy childhood and what their own relationship is like with their parents and their children.Questions might be asked about languages spoken, if the person can swim or play a musical instrument, can handle a kosher kitchen and what their discipline style is. The potential employers try to figure out if the nanny is willing to follow orders or is secretly jealous of others who earn more than she does. In November, two New York children on the Upper West Side were allegedly killed by Yoselyn Ortega who had been their nanny for two years and parents across the world are becoming alarmed. To find nannies some parents use an agency and some look on the Net. Some rely on word of mouth.What is a common experience, apparently, is trying out several nannies over the course of your child's childhood. Jodie Abbatangelo Gray has had five nannies in five years for her two children. Some parents do background checks of candidates and some even install cameras to monitor what goes on in their absence. (ED NOTE: the key factor of any care of a child is that the caregiver is emotionally attached to the child and is consistent (one caregiver as posed to many), according to a 1980 Senate of Canada study. If we have a sea of changing faces, that risks the emotional stability of young children and frequent "nanny shopping" is thus problematic. Nobody is perfect and kids learn to cope with imperfect as long as the care is loving - and that is the challenge - to find someone who provides loving care.)

MLA Matt Jeneroux, backbencher with the Alberta Conservative government is anxious to help those who take time from their paid jobs to provide compassionate care of a dying family member.Currently Quebec gives 12 weeks of protected leave, Saskatchewan gives 16 weeks but Alberta gives none. The federal government does provide some funding for eight weeks of time from the paid job at reduced pay, using EI benefits. Jeneroux wants Alberta to also offer job protection under his Bill 203. There are some who criticize the proposals however.Some have said it would be hard for small business to protect a job for that long and Paula Simons of the Edmonton Journal admits that the bill would not help those who care for a very ill family member who is not actually dying. The bill would also not help those tending people recovering from strokes, broken hip or major surgery but Simons says at least it's a start
(ED NOTE: I feel very strongly that:
-we must value the care role
-it is unfair to value it based on paid work. It is a vital role even if you did not have a paid job last year so EI is not an appropriate vehicle to value it
-it is not a loss to the economy. People may be taking time away from their paid job but they are still working. In fact by providing care they are saving government a huge cost of providing hospital care
-the employer does not benefit from the employee taking this care time and should not have to fund it
-however the state and all citizens do benefit, just like we benefit from universal health care. We all run the risk of being caregivers and to share in the costs when someone is, is simply universally wise.So our government should have a tax category for caregivers with a fund to recognize this work.)

In the US, student debt is high and difficulty finding jobs on graduation has made it harder. However a new under recognized problem is the debt load of the parents who helped finance that education.Many parents now are struggling to pay off their portion of their kids' debt given the tough economic times.The number of borrowers aged 60 and over has tripled since 2005 and is now over 2.2 million people. They owe $43 billion, according to statistics from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Parents who lost jobs after taking on debt to fund their children's education face a bleaker outcome than kids do.They are less able to get a new job and the private loans they often got are not as flexible for repayment as are loan debts given to students. Students rally to gain attention to their own debt but middle aged parents are often deeply embarrassed at their situation, not wanting others to know. Some parents face penalties already from nonpayment. Nearly 10% of borrowers over aged 60 were 90 days or more delinquent on their debts in the spring of 2012, compared to only 6% in 2005.Some parents are moving back into their employed children's homes, and are 'boomerang parents'. Some parents are losing much of their pension and social security checks to debt repayment and some have declared bankruptcy. Students who see the new burden on their parents also feel high levels of guilt according to New York Times' interviews.

There are two philosophies about how to treat prison inmates, one being to punish them and the other to rehabilitate. Public Accounts have recently reported that there have been 840 inmate disturbances since the Conservative government took office and that last year alone the 357 incidents, marking a 12 year high. Why inmates are rioting or lodging disturbances has been studied. Howard Sapers, Correction Service of Canada investigator, says there is overcrowding, double bunking and inadequate employment for the inmates to keep them properly engaged.Inmates have had to deal with new policies such as having cigarettes taken way, having farm programs abolished, getting less access to rehabilitation programs and being charged more money for telephone calls.Incentive pay for taking prison jobs was cut and recently pizza parties and takeout nights were also threatened with being discontinued. The results, says Sapers is more self-harm, more assault, more use of force by staff and more staff sick leave.

Devaney was employed at ZRV, an architectural firm, for nearly 27 years but when his elderly mother became disabled he took time to provide care for her, working from home frequently. His employer became concerned that Devaney was violating company policy to be in the office 8:30Am to 5PM. Though his work continued to be of high quality, the employer terminated him for cause in Jan 2009. He appealed to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. At issue became whether it had been fair to fire him. The distinction about his caregiving became whether he had to become a caregiver (need) versus whether he just chose to (preference). To make a case that he had been discriminated against based on family status hehad to prove he was 'required' to be a caregiver.The HRTO found that the company policy had an adverse effect on him as a result of family responsibilities and that the employer had contravened the code.They awarded him $15,000 in general damages.Legal law website Bennett Jones points out that the case confirms that family status will now not just cover childcare but also elder care responsibilities.

In many countries if you get into serious debt, you can declare bankruptcy and erase some of the debt, having repaid as much as you could. In Spain however if a homeowner is unable to make agreed mortgage payments he or she can be evicted but still has to pay that debt. In 2008 in Spain there was a crash of property value and employment. Many Spaniards facing unemployment or reduced income found they had to default on their mortgage and faced eviction. In Spain there are 500 evictions a day according to the Associated Press in Madrid.On Oct 25 Jose Miguel Domingo, 53 was found dead when bailiffs appeared to evict him.On Oct 26 a 53 year old man jumped out of his apartment window after four years of unemployment and facing eviction. He survived but with injuries. In November a Spanish woman facing eviction also jumped to her death.Government has recently created a task force to study how to reduce evictions. The European Court of Justice has handed down a non-binding legal opinion criticizing Spanish law on the topic of evictions saying they are incompatible with European norms.

In China official policy still says that urban families should only have one child. If parents themselves have no siblings they are allowed two children and rural families are allowed to have a second child if the first is a daughter, a form of state-determined sex selectpn abortion. However the one child policy has now started to have long term effects not just with the intended population reduction. The China Development Research Foundation is concerned that millions of female fetuses have been aborted to ensure that the only child born is male. One unforeseen result is that there is now a serious shortage of adult women in China. The labor market is shrinking and there are not enough earners to make a tax base to support longer living relatives. The foundation wants the Chinese government to phase out the one child rule immediately, to let families by 2015 have two children and by 2020 to not have any limit on children.

Though in the developed world we deal with child poverty and hunger, lack of school supplies and warm clothes, the crises of other children around the world are even more basic. In Syria civil war violence has forced many families, intact or now missing relatives to relocate. President Bashar Assad's forces fight rebels daily and hundreds of thousands of Syrians are simply fleeing to neighbouring countries. However some of the neighbouring countries now won't let them in. Turkey decided in summer 2012 to reduce the number of Syrians allowed into Turkey and tens of thousands were suddenly stranded at the border. There are about 112,000 Syrian refugees currently in Turkish camps according to the Turkish government and the Atmeh camp houses mostly children. The rebels operate the camp and distribute food from aid organizations and about 5000 live there at one time. Children forage for food, carry water jugs and, try to find a way to play. It is estimated that 36,000 people have died since March 2011 in the Syrian civil war.


October, 2012

A solo yachtsman left Sydney Australia but for a week was adrift after losing his mast and running low on fuel.His distress signal was picked up and air traffic in the area was alerted to watch for him to determine his exact location and condition.Air Canada flight AC 022, a passenger jet en route from Vancouver to Australia heard the call and the pilot assisted. He alerted all passengers of the situation and, descending from 7500 metre altitude to 1800 metres, circled and dipped the wings. Someone on board did spot the yachtsman and called the flight attendant who then relayed the message to authorities.New Zealand Airbus 320 en route from Auckland to Sydney then was able to fly near the yacht and drop a life raft and satellite phone. The airlines in question arrived safely at destination after the rescue mission.

The United Church of Canada has launched an inquiry into forced adoption practices of earlier years. It found that many young single mothers were not given the choice of keeping their baby and were coerced into surrendering the child for adoption. One Winnipeg woman told a committee she was threatened with criminal charges if she tried to keep her baby.The National Post has also launched an investigation into such forced adoptions and reports some claims that social workers concealed information the women could have used about social assistance available for keeping the baby and that some maternity homes would not even let the woman stay unless she agreed to adopt the baby out. There have been reports that new single mothers were sometimes denied painkillers and that some were without their knowledge given lactation suppressants. In mid October around 100 such women, adoptees and friends gathered to discuss this issue, common between 1940-1980.In Australia a Senate committee has done a national inquiry for similar practices in those years in that country and has recommended a formal government apology to the many parents involved.

Margaret Wente, columnist for the Globe and Mail has noted an irony in a recent column. The very programs intended to help people may be the least efficient way to help them.She was looking at a social housing project along Danzig Street in Toronto. The area has considerable youth violence and has dozens of programs for residents to help address the challenges. The city spent $210 million for such programs in priority high needs neighbourhoods but Wente points out that there is no proof at all the programs have helped. Here is no one collecting feedback about crime or school dropout. The Cato institute in the US found also that the US spends nearly a trillion dollars on anti-poverty measures each year (or $20,601 per poor person) but the Institute's head Michael Tanner says poverty has not gone down. Wente says most social programs do not seem to work except as income stream for the 'legions of administrators and social workers' who deliver them.Nine of ten institutions followed up by the Brookings Institution tracing results of social programs had produced no or very weak positive effects.She says that we need more humble programs and more selective.She cites the Montreal Prevention Experiment where parents of disruptive youth aged 7-9 were counselled a few times and as a result antisocial behaviour dropped.Otherwise she says that often the helping industries are not really helping and it might work better just to 'take all the money we are spending to help the folks on Danzig Street and just give it to them" ED NOTE:I find it very troubling to see any government policy that assumes a person in poverty is not competent to handle money and needs a paid helper who get the cash himself.)

Dr. Janet Werker of the U of British Columbia has released results of a study of language development and maternal health, finding that if a mother is clinically depressed, language development of the child may be affected. Depression affects 20% of pregnant women and babies of depressed mothers are slow to reach language milestones.The study also found that of the 85 mothers studied with their babies, those who were depressed but taking antidepressants experienced a different effect. Those taking seratonin reuptake inhibitors, SRIs, had children who did not suffer the defect and some even reached language milestones early. (ED NOTE: it seems to me that this shows that babies benefit when mothers are calm.It is sad we have to medicate the calmness though. A wiser solution would be to create reasons for the mother to be happy- a better money flow, a better status for parenting, less stress about income loss or social needs.)

Great West Life Centre for Mental Health has released results of a study of workplace happiness, finding that 22% of Canadian employees say they suffer from depression. 16% more say they did at one earlier point have depression.The 6624 online surveys of employees and managers also revealed that one third of managers have had some training in mental health intervention. Mike Schwarts of Great West Life says that workplaces seem to deal well with physical disabilities but much less well with mental health issues. The Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health reports that in Canada there is a loss of $51 billion or 4% of the GDP due to mental health problems among workers.61% of workers who claimed they had depression said that the human resources department they worked for did not give much support but they did get some support from co-workers.

Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent has presented a paper saying that income inequality in the country is getting worse.He says that slashing taxes has particularly benefited the wealthy.The Conference Board of Canada confirms Broadbent's claims, saying that by the late 2000s, of 17 peer countries Canada has the fourth largest growth in income inequality.Broadbent through his Broadbent Institute argues that the nation needs improvements to the employment insurance program, affordable housing, fairer taxes and a national prescription drug program.

In the UK government has chosen to cut welfare benefits to single mothers.These women will be moved onto a Newstart allowance program instead, once their youngest child turns 8. This shift will lead to homelessness says John Falzon of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, since he says single mothers will end up less well off.Senator Rachel Siewert also says that single parents will lose $140 a week by the move.However Carol Brown, Labor member says the cuts will have benefits. The government will save $728 million over four years and she says it will be an incentive for parents 'to undertakepaid work'. (ED NOTE: too bad she does not realize anyone raising a child is already working and saving government money down the road in health care and justice.)


It used to be that sharing the family dinner was heralded as the last chance for all the people to get together at once and chat. Nowadays as families often during the week have different schedules, another bastion of togetherness of earlier times, TV watching in the evening, may also be leaving. Chapnik Myers of finds that when raising teens it is now common to have all of the family at home together, but each one in their own tech bubble, using laptops, blackberries, Xbox, Nintendo DS or on their cell phones. Consumer Electronics Association reported that in the US right now the average home has 24 different consumer media and communication devices. Susan Sperling of Vaughan Ontario finds that teens escape into individual pods now and she misses the idea of shared experience watching TV together and chatting. Communication Research Reports found in 2011 that 99% of American households still have a TV but over 50% have three, so even when family is watching TV they may not be together watching the same show. In 8000 observations of 30 families researchers found that 36% of the time people watch TV alone and in only 17% of the instances was an entire family watching together.

The Canadian census from 2011 has been released and analyzed with some revelations about trends for caregiving. 44.5% of couples listed are without children and only 39.2% have children living with them. While some couples just delay having children, Dr. Kevin McQuillan of the U of Calgary says that there is a drop in number of children that couples have in general and more couples are choosing to not have any. The census also looked at numbers of married, common law and lone parent families, finding across the nation that those tallies vary widely:
-31.5% of unions in Quebec are common law as are 32.7% in Nunavut, but only 10.9% are common law in Ontario. In Nunavut 28.2% of families are lone parent, in NWT 21.3% but in Newfoundland only 15.3% are lone parent.
-The census found an increase in the number of nontraditional families, those that are blended from previous marriages, those with grandparents raising their grandchildren while the parents are absent (skip generation families) and families where an adult offspring has returned to the family home.
-67% of couples are married, with numbers going up 3.1% from 2006 to 2011
-the number of common law couples is 16.7%, and the number of lone parent families is at 16.3%
-one in 8 couples with children have created a second marriage household, or 'stepfamily'
-There are 5.6 million children in Canada aged 14 and under
-63.6% of children aged 14 and under live with married parents (down from 68.4%)
-19.3% of children live with lone parents (up 18%). 82.3% of those are living with the mother not the father
-16.3% of children live with parents living common-law
-.5% of children aged 14 and under live in foster care
-.5% of children live in skip generation families where no parents were present and the children get grandparent care
-the average number of children per family was 1.9 (down from 2.7 in 1961)
-there are 4.3 million people in their twenties. Of them 42.3% still live with parents (up from 32.1% in 1991)
-17% of seniors live in a nursing home or seniors' residence
-there are 9.3 million families in Canada
-the number of households consisting of a couple with children (3,524,915) is now less common than the number of one person households (3,673,305)
Canada now has 34,880,500 people, making it the fastest growing G8 country. Some features of this growth are of interest:
-two thirds of the increase in population since the last census comes not from births but from immigration
-the median age of Canadians is now age 40 years
-our national population tends to go up at about the rate of 1% a year over the past 15 years
-the provinces of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia are experiencing negative or zero growth rate.
-The median age in Nunavut is lowest at 24.7 years and is highest in Newfoundland at 44.2 years.

David Food, Statistics Canada demographer, has recently told a Global Business Forum in Banff that Canada faces a crisis if it does not have more children. He says that nations have to look at an optimal rate of having babies, at about 2.1 children per couple. He says that Brazil, Turkey and Mexico have stabilized their demographics and will have prosperity because they have enough youth to offset the numbers of elderly, but that China and India 'face entirely different futures'. He says that India, because of high birth rate will face high poverty but China, with few young, will face economic slowdown but will remain wealthy because income will rise in an educated society. He says Germany, Russia and Japan had their powerful era in the past and are now facing population declines. Canada, he says, will see a birth drop, a decline in university enrolment and by 2026 a workforce crunch that cannot be solved by increased immigration. He says that the aging of the population will lead then to slower economic growth.

When a child misses a lot of school due to illness, it is also sometimes hard to come back. Small friends may misunderstand the reasons for the absence and the welcome back may present real hurdles as whispers abound. To address the adjustment back, Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario has on staff 10 nurses to go with a cancer patient back into the classroom, handling questions from other students and the teacher. Research has found that cancer patients and their siblings miss more school than do other students, and that sometimes the family may keep the child out even when they need not, for fear of weakened immune systems or emotional upheaval. 850 children are diagnosed each year with cancer in this country and about 135 die. Nurse Karen Dryborough of the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children is part of the program and recently helped grade 2 student Jack Lynch go back to class, answering lots of questions from his classmates about the cause of the illness and its effects. She says, "I'm constantly amazed at the school children's capacity for understanding and empathy". She finds that children want to be supportive and helpful.

In some countries access to birth control is given to teens without their parents' knowledge or permission, and sometimes even through the school system. New York City schools offer birth control pills and condoms for instance. However a more controversial treatment is also now being offered in some schools - Plan B emergency contraception, to be given the morning after intercourse has taken place. Some feel this is not merely a birth control method. Valerie Huber of National Abstinence Education Association says that offering the pill to girls, sometimes even before they have sex, is a 'terrible case of bigotry of low expectations', with the built-in assumption girls are going to have sex. Dr. Cora Breuner of the American Academy of Pediatrics, however, says that the pill is safe, effective and provides relief or solace to someone who has "made a mistake."

When women give birth the massive upheaval of hormones and body changes is often associated with mental adjustments too. For years a condition of postpartum depression has been identified for people who feel the blues, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, inability to sleep, difficulty caring for the baby and problems coping for more than a few weeks. Recently the Journal of Psychosomatic Research has examined another condition, in which a small percentage of women feel so traumatized by having given birth that they may suffer nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance of hospitals and feel detached from the baby. These symptoms are very much like those of post-traumatic stress disorder according to author Deborah Da Costa of McGill University. Women who feel helpless and afraid may even feel like their life or that of their baby is in danger. The study found however that the sufferers of this PTSD are only about 8% of mothers one month after birth, going down to 5% after six months.

Canada was signatory to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991 and since then has committed to regularly reporting back to the UN about progress it is making in this country about rights of children. Canada made a submission in September 2012, its first feedback to the UN in 10 years and the UN looked at the report and expressed concerns. The Geneva committee of the UN criticized Canada's report for its lack of analysis and its failure to clearly indicate progress about children's rights. It noted a high incidence of income inequality here, and criticized Canada for the way it treats aboriginal, disabled and immigrant children in particular, for their high rates of poverty, their prominence in detention centres, foster care and in the health care system. The UN recommends Canada set up a national coordinator or advocate for children to ensure that the Convention on the Rights of the Child is followed. 

Conservative MP Stephen Woodsworth proposed a motion recently in the House of Commons to review a section of the criminal code that says a fetus is only a human being once it is born. The motion was defeated, with some voters fearing this was a re-opening of the debate about abortion. Other aspects of the law however have remained before legislators and the courts. The definition of when life begins also has impacts on
-whether a person who kills a woman who is pregnant has killed one or two people
-settlements for damages when a car collision kills a pregnant woman
-legal implications when a dead fetus is found abandoned in a store washroom or garbage bin
-legal charges that are appropriate when a woman claims that she gave birth alone to a dead fetus and left it in a plastic bag
-there is of course the whole issue of sex selection abortion, which is widespread in Canada - the whole issue of femicide
The Supreme Court is currently looking at over two dozen appeals regarding similar issues and the definition of when life begins.

Hanna Rosin has recently written a book called "The End of Men and the Rise of Women", arguing that women now outnumber men in many formerly male bastions. Women receive about 60% of degrees at university and hold over 51% of managerial jobs. She admits there is still a gender pay gap with women earning 80% of what men earn but feels that women will continue to dominate many occupational sectors. Rosin is an editor at The Atlantic and is herself bringing up two sons and a daughter. 

There are two views of how much government should intervene to help the poor. One view says that we need to make life uncomfortable for the poor so they are motivated to work harder, get more education and pull themselves up by the bootstraps. The other view is to see the poor as needing help to level the playing field, so they too have adequate food, housing and access to medical care. With the recent Occupy movement and attention to the huge income gap between the wealthy 1% and the other 99%, analyses have been made of how governments here in Canada address income inequality. The Centre for the Study of Living Standards has reported that our government is doing something to reduce the income gap, mainly through tax programs to tax the rich more than the poor, and through benefits to low income families such as old age benefits, family benefits. Andrew Sharpe of the centre found that inequality before tax was up 19.4% in the past 30 years but that government through its intervention has been able to reduce the rise to just 13.5%. However Sharpe does point out that still means the gap is increasing and there is need of 'official will' to do more.


September, 2012

San Antonio has a North Side Independent School District that is trying a new pilot program to identify students. The RFID program gives radio frequency ID tags to students to be able to locate them at any time, to help teachers with doing more accurate attendance, and to reduce rates of truancy and absenteeism. Pasqual Gonzalez of the district says two million dollars in new funding may come to the schools if attendance can be improved.However some parents and students object. Student Steven Hernandez has led a protest in front of Anson Jones Middle School calling the ID tags a spy chip. Katie Deolloz of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy invasion and Marketing also objects as does radio host Dr. Katherine Albrecht. The technology that permits schools to tag children with radio frequency identification devices originated with such chips being plated in livestock. However schools in California and Texas have been using such chips now in elementary and preschool settings. As it turns out if a school is funded by the state, the basis is per pupil in attendance and to get the money the student count is taken daily. If a student is in the building but in a lounge, hallway, cafeteria or talking to someone in the office, that person may be marked absent and funding may be missed but if the student is tracked as being somewhere on campus, the student is then counted and the money still flows.

Those who take care of children and those who teach them in the school system are expected to instill in those children good values in society, values agreed on as worthy such as honesty, sharing, kindness. However if the instructors are trying to promote values not all others agree with, some religious views, some political views, there is legal objection. The fine line between teaching loyalty to one's school, city or nation however has been examined recently. The Hong Kong government has announced plans to ensure children learn the Chinese Communist Party view of history. The 'moral and national' education program has been introduced optionally for now but will be compulsory in 2015. So far only about 6 schools of the 600 are piloting it but even there objections have been raised. 188 schools have said they will not be using the new curriculum at all. In the guidelines one-party rule is praised and the protests in Tiananmen Square are barely mentioned. This month a crowd protested in numbers estimated to be 40,000 by foreign press and 8.000 by police.Hunger strikes and mass protests have been waged with fasting outside legislative council offices. Some claim the new curriculum amounts to a plan to 'brainwash' children.

The government of Ontario continues its research into the state of care of children in that province with an online discussion paper entitled Modernizing Childcare in Ontario". The paper outlines a clear agenda to work 'towards a high-quality accessible and coordinated early learning and care system' for all Ontario children. It argues that ensuring all children can go to daycare strengthens the paid workforce that mothers can take part in. The intention is expressed to have full day kindergarten across the province by 2014. The discussion paper admits some hurdles along the route
-It wants to change the Day Nurseries Act of1 946. It wants new licensing standards and an expansion to include funding of daycare venues with summer camps, homework and tutoring clubs - but does not seek to expand the definition of 'childcare' to value parental or family based care
-it says it recognizes the 'primary and fundamental role of parents' though it does not aim to fund them or enable care by them
-it says it supports 'choice for children and families' which it defines as the choice to use daycare and get funding or to not and to not get funding.
-it says it wants to ensure program quality, and learning though it does not itemize how those terms are defined or measured
-it argues that there should be a better funding formula for first nations peoples though it does not recommend funding directly to first nations parents
-it admits that when more children go to early kindergarten, fewer go to daycare so that daycare operators are losing business.It suggests one solution to let younger and younger children into daycare to expand the customer base again.
-it admits that it is using schools, to house not just the new kindergarten cohort but also new daycares for before and after school care
-it says that 'only a fraction of children receive care in licensed settings' and instead of indicating this may be by choice, makes the case that government must fund more licensed settings preferentially as if care by a licensed stranger is better than family-trusted care or family care
-it calls this type of long day of children at daycare, school, and daycare in the same building 10 hours a day good because it is 'seamless'
-it admits that some children have 'unique language and cultural needs' but does not propose funding to parents so they can choose styles of care they prefer to meet those needs
-it admits that some care has been less than optimal at centres and suggests a revised mechanism for revoking licenses.
-it seeks feedback from those who already benefit from the system, not those excluded from benefit.It expresses interest' in collecting information directly from childcare operators in order to have information on the entire licensed sector." (ED NOTE: Sadly that may strike some as people able to create report card about themselves. Across Canada the trend to only consult daycare users and operators when setting up a universal system for children is common and in my view problematic. All taxpayers are 'stakeholders' in how tax money is spent.)

The Canadian Radio and Television Commission has released results of a study of media use in Canada. It found that even though computers are widespread, television watching is up.Canadians watch about 28.5 hours of TV a week, up half an hour from 2010. If time watching TV online is counted, the TV watching is higher at 31.3 hours per week. Radio listening is also up at 17. 7 hours a week, up from 17.6 hours. Other numbers of interest were
-78% of Canadian households have Internet connection at home(10.4 million households)
-27.4 million households have wireless services
-90% of Canadians subscribe to basic television service
-use of home telephones however is down. 12.2 million households have a home landline,down 2.7% from 2011

In some Canadian provinces and US states a trend is being noticed to hire less experienced school teachers over more experienced ones. The cost savings to school boards is evident when pay is based on experience and education. In a similar way, in Australia a trend is being noted of hiring inexperienced staff for childcare facilities. The Community Child Care Association of Victoria representing 150 not for profit centres, has told a Productivity Commission that it is aware of some situations where workers have been told they have childcare qualifications after only a few weeks of training and without any practical experience. The association wants standards raised to ensure qualified staff are hired to safeguard care levels of children. The Victorian Children's Services Association has said that to make sure some staff is not so poorly trained as to be a 'danger' to children, some centres are operating with fewer staff. Some governments are now recommending that training minimally be 500-880 hours of theory with significant practical work. This is a vital issue that addresses several problems:
-the theory that taking care of children really is easy when in fact it takes time to develop the skill
-the theory that anyone who takes care of children should work cheaply because it is women's work and done out of love
-the theory that paper and book training is adequate for what is traditionally a hands-on skill
-the theory that children can be treated as products in a factory that can be assembled at lower and lower cost to ensure a viable bottom line
These are key misperceptions governments are now challenged to examine.

Though many proponents of daycare say that they like it for how it provides socialization (kids learning to play with other kids) and early learning, child psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld has made the case that those goals are often not met optimally in such a setting. He prefers delaying large group social interaction, formal learning and formal child academic evaluation till later. His reasons include:
-socializing with small peers does not teach children how to get along in society with all age levels, only teaching them how to imitate immature peers. Urie Bronfenbrenner, psychologist has found that just the fact that children play together does not mean they are learning how to be civilized.
-children immersed in large groupings early lose a sense of self and become mostly like each other.Uniqueness of personalities is not fostered. Neufeld says individuality is often crushed
-when only peers are the main social contact, not adults, children do not feel obliged to grow up into mainstream society. The culture gets 'flatlined' says Neufeld where youth don’t identify with growing up only with getting attention from each other
-Psychologist David Elkind in "The Hurried Child' found that pressure in large groups of children to become little adults creates too much pressure on them. He says that giving uniforms to tiny baseball players, putting kids under huge pressure to get ranked for ability to color or making them endure long days at a centre as long as adult working days, robs children of vital childhood.
-Neufeld says that the pressure to use 3rd party daycare is mainly imposed due to pressure on adult parents to have full time jobs and to find a place for the kids while the parents are away. The motivation he says is not about children's well-being.
-Neufeld finds that when governments preferentially fund 3rd party care over care by parents, this tilting of the equation deprives parents of any real choice.He does not like parents to have only one option for funding and a 'one size fits all system".
-Helen Ward of Kids First Parent Association of Canadais among others who say care by parents has been unfairly described as 'unregulated' and assumed then to be dangerous when in fact it is a high level of attentive care.
-Neufeld says that it takes till the fifth year of life before a young child has bonded well with an adult and points out that government should emphasize enabling that strong bond which a daycare centre cannot offer.

The financial crises of the US, collapse of the housing business, banking and loan instability have led to a new wave of poverty. Paul Craig Roberts, former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal and former assistant secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy has written about the collapse of his nation's economy recently. He outlined several troubling factors;
-low wage work being widespread - as noted by Peter Edelman. One quarter of the paid work force earns under $22,000 a year which is the poverty line for a family of four.20.5 million Americans earn under $9,500 a year which is half the poverty line for a family of 3.
-six million Americans are homeless and living under bridges or on the street
-education loans have been so onerous that many who did get an education are mired in debt
-salaries of the educated are also dropping.Some with doctorates and working as adjunct professors only get $10,000 a year
-there are a few very wealthy but even the middle class is getting poorer
-the top 20% of earners have 84% of the wealth.
-the 40% least well off only have 0.3% of the wealth
-the middle class has only 15.7% of the wealth

Statistics Canada has found that university enrolment is becoming more skewed towards families that have money as programs to assist those in poverty have been sidelined. Fewer than one third of students from the bottom income quartile go to university, while about 50% of children of the rich in the top quartile are enrolled by age 19. Erika Shaker of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that provinces facing higher costs of providing education could have chosen to keep tuition low or help the poor but have chosen to offload more of the cost to households and to keep tuition high. In 1979 provinces subsidized costs of university 84% but in 2009 they only subsidize by 58%.Tuition has correspondingly gone up, from 12% to 35% of total university expenditures. Across the country tuitions remain low only in provinces that keep them that way. Newfoundland and Labrador at $2861 and Quebec at $3278 have the lowest tuitions but Alberta at $7061 and Ontario at $7513 have the highest. The average tuition now is $6186 across the country, not counting cost of books, food or lodging. This new cost is up 6.2% each year, going up 3 times as fast as inflation. The result is that many cannot attend at all and that those who do often end up with significant debt on graduating. Shaker says that the average debt of $17,00 has a lasting impact on when they can 'start their lives.'

The cost of 'childcare' is often represented unequally. Governments and daycare often look at it as the cost parents pay for third party daycare and thereby assume that there is no 'cost of childcare' to parents or grandparents who provide food, toys, supervision and shelter to the young as the daycares do. The cost of childcare is often looked at alternatively as the cost governments spend to subsidize some types of care, particularly the government-inspected and regulated style. The cost governments pay for each space is about $10,000 per child per year but this is a cost borne by all taxpayers, users of the daycare or not. A third way to look at the cost of childcare is to compare it to costs of other facets of life. Some economists look at 'childcare' as one of many essential costs parents bear akin to the cost of food or housing, though they then often only count receipted care. A fourth way of looking at the cost of childcare is to consider money foregone - if one tends the child without salary that is loss of income would be have been earned elsewhere. Another view has surfaced about the cost of childcare, this time from a study by ChildCare Aware of America. This advocacy group for 3rd party care says that to enrol a child in daycare in the US may cost more than 4 years of college. The price ranged from $4600 in Mississippi to $15,000 in Massachusetts. For people in 22 US states, the cost of third party childcare was higher than median rent payments for lodging. The cost, put another way is half the median income of a single mother. Modern Parenthood looked at the high price of such 3rd party care admitting that some then go on to argue that childcare should be cheaper so women could take home more pay. Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner of MomsRising says there is a poverty spill when childcare costs so much you have trouble paying the rent. Several solutions have been proposed in the US including a paid maternity/paternity benefit.
-Actually there are several answers not mentioned but one is to recognize that the cost of care is actually highest for those parents who stay home with the child. It is good to sympathize with those who only get $10,000 a year in subsidy in Canada per child and have to pay out of pocket on top of that but while we extend such sympathy we should also sympathize with those who get no subsidy and have very high costs. A fairer solution for all is funding per child that flows with the child. I have often noted several ironies about the 'cost of childcare' debate:
-the highest costs for government are to give free daycare but that makes the lowest cost to daycare parents.
- the highest cost to taxpayers is to fund this free daycare instead of making parents who use the system pay. The answer really is to fund all kids equally and remove this inequality.

In Canada the census used to have two forms - the short form all citizens had to fill out with basic information and then a long form mailed to a select sampling of others that reported trends in economics, though unlinked to that user's name.In 2010 the Canadian government opted to discontinue the long form, amid some concerns people had expressed about invasion of privacy. Though Statistics Canada assured the public the data had never been associated with individual names, government eliminated the long form and replaced it with a voluntary study mailed out to a sampling of the public, and this study was called the National Household Survey NHS.Results of the new practice are starting to come in. Whereas 93.5% o f those who were given the long form census filled it in, only 69.3% are filling in the voluntary NHS. This gap is of concern to many observers. Derek Cook of the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative says that those who did not respond are probably among the vulnerable populations that need help. He says that the long form census provided vital information about income and employment and such data is not being provided by the new survey reliably or in some cases at all. There is a move among some activists to urge government to return the long form census for 2016. U of Lethbridge researcher Susan McDaniel says a decision about the 2016 survey should be made soon. (Questions about unpaid labor, which were included in the long form census, are not even asked in the NHS.)

The age of 'majority' can have significant implications for the criminal record of young people.Inconsistencies in this age have created confusion.In New York state a child is a minor if under 18 in terms of getting consent for body piercing and if under 17 if getting indoor tanning. In New York State a 16 year old still must get parental signature to apply for a driver's license and if a person is under 18, a person must get a parent or guardian to sign a work permit application. However in terms of criminal justice, the age of criminal responsibility in New York state has been set at 16 years. A 17 year old in the courts is treated as an adult; if a 16 year old is accused of a crime in that state, not only are parents not required to be notified, but services for youth may not be available to them. Michael Corriero, former judge has written of these inconsistencies in national news lately arguing that parents should be involved in the justice system for their young offspring ages 16 and 17.

Though children are considered non-contributors to the economy and those who take care of them not 'working', recent analyses have shown that presence of children actually is a major boon to industry and job creation.In the US, the National Center for Health Statistics found that as of 2011 the US birth rate had fallen to a 12 year low.Right in tandem with this drop went a drop in consumer spending.Pregnancy test producer Church & Dwight says there is less purchase of pregnancy kits and condoms.Maker of Huggies disposable diapers, Kimberly-Clark Corp says sales are dropping after 3 years of decline in birth rate.Dr. Neal Soss of Credit Suisse in New York found that when family formation is suppressed, housing is held back and all purchases associated with housing drop.Chris Christopher of IHS Global insight says that the trend is likely to continue.Deqan Maki of Barclays PLC says that fewer births have created a significant drag on consumer spending.The Census Bureau says that US population at 311.6 million is undergoing the slowest rate of growth since the mid 1940s.

The prevalence of people in poverty, especially of single parents in poverty has puzzled governments for some time with widely varying suggestions for how to help.One approach is to try to get the parents more money via welfare, funding for childrearing, cost subsidies for housing. However a much more common government approach lately is to get the poor away from the home and into paid jobs even if they are low waged.The idea is that those who used to be takers from the system (getting welfare) would now be contributors, earning money and paying tax.It was believed by government in 1996 that getting more people at paid work would reduce the $42 billion Canadian national deficit which was 9% of the GDP.In the last two decades the nudging of single parents out of the home has had the effect of dropping numbers on welfare as was hoped.In 1996 43% of single parents lived under the poverty line and in 1994 for instance 151,000 single parents in BC alone were on welfare. But by 2008 the number of single parents on welfare in BC was only 28,000.This huge drop was accomplished by several policies, some controversial:
-tough love - removing benefits and income for welfare, tightening up qualifiers, forcing people on welfare to do charity and volunteer work
-soft love - enticements to get more of your low waged income if you do move to paid work, letting people keep benefits they got on welfare. The National Child Benefit Supplement for instance was still received.
-Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives applauds these moves saying they help people 'get back to work' and help reduce poverty. (ED NOTE: I would just note that the other way of reducing poverty by valuing care of children itself,funding parenting, would also work and with a lot less family upheaval. You can't cite reduction in poverty as the only outcome if you have also in so doing ballooned the anxiety, stress and need for medication of young children and parents who were forced apart. I think that the CCPA has got it wrong here.)


August, 2012

A unique and logical quick way to introduce young children to reading has been put up online free by a Canadian school teacher and grandmother. The method was developed years ago when her children were young and after years of selling it in book and DVD form, the writer has decided to just let the world see it free on Youtube.It can be accessed under the heading "Nana explains the letters". There is also a blog of the 27 lessons, each about 3 minutes long at

In some cities the trends for housing have done an about face. Recent studies have found trends to the bigger house are shifting back to small
-1947 - Central Mortgage and Housing revealed that 1000 square feet was a common size house
-1975 - houses in the CMHC catalogue often had very large yard even if the house was small
-1975 - average house size was now 1075 sq feet with family rooms, enclosed garages and powder rooms
-1980 - houses expanded more with huge entrance foyers, mud rooms, wide hallways
-2002 - UK market analyst finds that Canada has more homes with over 5 rooms than do homes in Australia, US or New Zealand
-2005 - average size of a new home is 2300 square feet
-2007 - However CanadianHome Builders Association says the average size of a new home is now 1900 square feet.
-2009- Vancouver approved building small houses in the laneway.
-2011-American Institute of Architects says people are no longer wanting walk- in closets, hobby rooms or a huge living room.
-2012- new homes in the UK are still small - at about 800 sq. ft.
-2012- some new condos in Vancouver are only 400 sq ft and there are fewer hallways and smaller bedrooms

Though it is now quite common for computers to have synthesized voices, the voices used are often robotic and adult like.This has created an awkwardness for children who cannot speak and must depend on the technology. David Niemeijer of Assistive Ware has developed software to use a child's voice now for the text-to-speech application Proloquo2Go. There are two options- a girl's voice (Ella) or a boy's (Josh). The application costs $190 and early users have given it positive reviews.Enrique Mendez who has Down's syndrome and speech apraxia cannot speak except for uttering a few grunts.His father John says that now the "voice matches the boy".There are several problems creating such recordings of voices. First it is hard to know what to make the recordings say and high frequency words and phrases are selected but for children these may be different from those adults need. The second problem is that it is not easy or likely possible to get an actor child to sit and record for hundreds of hours.Sound engineers therefore needed to intervene but filtering and manipulating adult voices does not always create a child-like voice.A baseline recording was needed of an actual child's voice. Because computers now have more memory and can make a wider range of artificial sounds thoughthe new application is much more human. Proloquo2Go is used by children with autism and cerebral palsy and its producers say that 80% of its users are under age 18 and 11% are even under age 11. (ED NOTE: The question of whether young children should even be exposed to electronic media is an open one.)

While the Internet has permitted us to always stay connected to family and friends, it has also allowed the employer to find us and to in many cases expect us to respond to work emails even in off hours. Dr. Dalton Conley of New York University says there have been downsides for this over-connectedness.First, workers who feel always needed may get an exaggerated view of their own importance, he says. In addition companies may overuse the worker.A few companies however are noticing that letting workers actually 'leave' the office may be better for work productivity. A few companies are now requiring disconnecting after hours from the work email. Dr. Leslie Perlow of Harvard Business School says that being forced to disconnect is sometimes a good idea since "It's very hard to turn off by yourself" A few examples of companies trying the new strategy are:
-Boston Consulting Group had a six person team off-shift each other so one each week would take a night off starting at 6PM, being for that night unreachable electronically. At first there was reluctance but over time people shared tasks, got more engaged and talked more.This pilot program has expanded to 1000 teams in 14 countries.
-Volkswagen actually shut down the email server to a group of its workers so they could not use their BlackBerrys from 30 minutes after end of shift to 30 minutes before start of next day shift.
Dr. Kelly McGonical of Stanford University says that not all users of technology need this treatment. McGonical has written "The Willpower Instinct."

In Australia where after a year of publicly funded time to be home, there is huge pressure to use daycare, a new backlash is emerging.Researchers are finding that some children are spending so much time not just at school but at before and after school care that the child's 'day' away from home is very long.The Australian Institute of the Family has found that 5% of school children also go to before school care and 10% also go to after school care. The study of 10,000 children found mixed reaction among the public to the long hours.Dr. Jenny Baxter noted that it is often a long day for the child but says the programs used are good.Bill Muehlenberg of the Family Council of Victoria is concerned however saying that children are 'dumped' at school for 11 hour days and he is concerned.Baxter claims that parents do have options outside of the long day, noting that many mothers adjust their paid work hours to be home and some use grandparents or dads as caregivers. Scott Bull who provides care in such services before and after school says the programs he gives are so good even parents at home like to enrol the children. However evidence shows that for some children a 'holiday' from school is just longer hours at the childcare centre. (ED NOTE: I do think it poses a real risk to children of being exhausted, over stimulated, tired. In fact if we think of play as a child's 'work', then we are making the child's workday 11 hours long, longer even than the parent's. The mind thinks of child labor laws and the reasons legislators centuries ago noticed that kids need downtime, freedom, time outside, time at home, unstructured. The social whirl of kindergartens and daycares may look like fun to an outside observer but for the small child it is often so busy and crowded it is stressful, even if fun. Imagine jockeying for a place in a crowded theatre for 11 hours a day. Kids need lots of one on one nurturing time daily, I would prefer funding to flow with kids so parents can have more options, including being home, and all those options should be equally funded.)

Over time the designation of someone who looks after a child, for pay, has become formalized, from nannies and aupairs, to sitters and babysitters. Those who provide care for larger groups have slowly gotten formalized training as 'early childhood educators' and in Northern Ireland there is also now a new designation as 'playworker'. Jaquline O'Loughlin of Playboard, a group promoting children's play, is anxious to have the workers who teach children to play, be themselves designated professionals. Recently government in Northern Ireland has official endorsed such a move, setting out requirements for registration and inspection of childcare providers and training standards that are like those for early years' caregivers. Siobhan Weir of Skills Active says that employers often tell her playwork is a highly skilled profession.

A Museum of Modern Art display in New York City is looking at the years 1900-2000 and the evolution of how children were raised. It includes 500 items, toys, games, posters, books and furniture from seven eras. Curator Juliet Kinchin says that no period in human history has been as invested as the 20th century was in its concern for children. Froebel's kindergarten movement is featured, with its idea of rational-creative children. Maria Montessori's coloured objects show a logical approach to childhood reasoning. The post world war I era looks at how children need to express their impulses - the child as pure creative genius, captured in works by Picasso and Miro. In the 1930s German and Japanese approaches to children as malleable for social engineering are examined and after World War II health and hygiene is a key focus of child-raising. The 'healthy' child is shown as that era's new idea. The next phase looked at is the needy child who is urged to be a consumer. Contemporary childhood is represented as an artificial world with not much adult supervision but with huge demands for safety.

An elementary school in Kansas has partnered with a nearby nursing home so that the generations can benefit from each other.Stephanie Gfeller has published a guidebook "Uniting Wonder with Wisdom" setting out a roadmap for how kindergarteners and preschoolers can interact regularly with seniors.A classroom is placed within the nursing home and each day seniors greet the kids as they enter.Seniors come into the classroom for reading time, crafts and some other activities.Children go to a playground on the nursing home grounds and share some holiday activities with the seniors.Gfeller has been monitoring the project for 3 years and finds that seniors are able to maintain or even improve their own health now they have a greater sense of purpose.Children also get a 'grandparent' experience whichis useful for many who don't have a grandparent nearby.

Though care of children is often assumed to be the task of parents aged 18-50, many grandparents also provide childcare.Though care of the elderly is often assumed to be done for those aged 65 and up by those aged 30-50. many of the elderly are in fact caregivers of each other and of their own parents who are in their 80s and 90s. In the UK the website Gransnet has surveyed 1100 grandparents finding that 75% take care of their grandchildren and 35% are also taking care of elderly relatives.The study found that though the sandwich generation is often assumed to be middle aged parents tending grandparents, grandparents are also sometimes sandwiched, caring for their grandchildren and their own very elderly parents.How they feel about this was studied.
-68% of those who take care of grandchildren enjoy it
-20% of those who take care of grandchildren occasionally feel taken for granted
-27% of those surveyed were taking care of grandchildren and elderly parents
-59% said their help to their adult children and grandchildren with the last year had even been financial

Attention has turned lately to caregiver traits not instructed or tested for by marks. The American Nurse Project has collected stories and photos from 105US nurses who work in hospitals, hospices, care centres and at universities to see what makes a good nurse.The collection is now available on the project website and in book form. One key element is seeing nurses as guiding forces to help people through crisis.Nurse Amy Brown of Johns Hopkins Hospital pays tribute to a 'nurse who will hold that patient's hand and say 'I am going to take care of you today'".

Health Canada has passed an amendment to Food and Drug labelling rules to require as of August 4, 2012, that most prepackaged foods list some common allergens. The list was comprised after consultation with stakeholders, allergy associations and doctors. The public consultation process began in 2008.
-it did not used to be necessary to list components of margarine, seasoning and flour but it now will be
-the food label must now list any protein or modified protein derived from almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios or walnuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, wheat or triticale, eggs, milk, soybeans, crustaceans, shellfish, fish, mustard seeds.

When families are having trouble coping, some turn to domestic violence, some split up, some turn to drugs or alcohol, some to crime.Their kids may become restless and tempted to drop out of school or join gangs. When officials notice the problems however, ways to help differ.While some programs offer counselling, and others remove children from the home, some government initiatives actually pay workers to 'succeed' at getting the family into employment or back at school.Louise Casey of the UK government "troubled families" unit has interviewed people in 16 households finding that many who had become abusive parents were themselves abused as children and there was a cycle of low aspirations, not going to school, violence and even of arson.She found that 75% of mothers interviewed had been victims of domestic abuse .8 of the 16troubled families studied also were large, with over four children and many had started having children young.Casey suggests government intervention saying 'we cannot go on allowing families to fail their children'. The government has set up a plan to pay local authorities up to 4,000 pounds per family if they are able to reduce truancy, youth crime or antisocial behaviour or if they are able to help the parents get paid work (ED NOTE: A more effective alternative would be to directly support parents financially for the work of parenting.)

Statistics Canada has issued a report looking at health problems of children and teens in Canada, with particular focus on the Inuit community.The study found that though infections and parasitic disease kill some children, Inuit children are 11 times as likely to succumb to such an illness and twice as likely to die from a noncommunicable disease as are nonnatives.Risk of dying from injury is nearly 11 times higher for Inuit than for nonInuit. The suicide rate fogirls and young women in Canada is 2 per 100,000 girls but for Inuit girls is 40 for 100,000.For boys and young men the Canadian suicide rate is 4.2 per 1000,000. The rate of suicides for Inuit boys and young men however has gone up from 77.2 per 100,000 to 101.6 per 100,000. Jack Hicks, currently finishing his PhD thesis on youth suicide is concerned. Though suicide in the south in Canada is a greater risk as people age or become depressed, among Inuit suicide rates are highest for the young, aged 15-24. (ED NOTE: I think we are dealing with a perceived devaluation of their own culture and the issues are complex. We put them in a catch-22. They can't go back to their old ways which are economically often unfeasible now, hunting and fishing full time. However they also if the move ahead to becoming more like the white culture in trucks and business suits may feel they have sold out. What is needed is a third option, with their own industry and pride in their own skills. Literacy is also a big issue.)

Dr. Michelle Albert of Harvard medical school has released results of a study of over 22,000 women finding that those in highly demanding jobs with power and authority had a 40% higher risk of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular event than did women with lower job strain. These findings have been studied in men for some time but the research sheds light on the phenomenon also being true for women. During 10 years of follow-ups, and even allowing for higher risk due to smoking, high cholesterol or diabetes, women who were in the active and high strain groups had a higher risk. Albert theorizes that chronic stress increases inflammation throughout the body and results in more production of cortisol that affects insulin sensitivity and body weight. Women and men are little different in regard to cardiovascular risk.

In some northern communities in Canada, people who suffer mild accidents or injuries may be prescribed painkillers for a time, but often they then have gone on to develop dependencies to Percocet or OxyContin or its replacement OxyNeo.Dr Alice Ordean of St. Joseph's Health Centre in Toronto has been treating pregnant women who are also addicted to opioids, as opposed to heroin or alcohol. Ordean has found that rates of such addiction are still very high in some communities. In the Fort Hope aboriginal community in Northern Ontario, evidence of the effects of such dependency can be seen in the small graves of miscarried babies.Some women, dependent on a drug have created an illicit supply of it, while others decided to go cold turkey and then miscarried.Babies born to addicted mothers then are born addicted themselves and go through painful diarrhea, vomiting and feeding problems as they suffer what in essence is withdrawal.The Ontario Medical Association is calling for government to urgently provide more treatment for such mothers.

Anne Kreamer has recently written "It's Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace" looking at the pros and cons of having older workers on staff. She found that there is a stereotype that the older worker has trouble dealing with technology. Don Schepens of Grant MacEwan University found that older staff sometimes appear condescending to younger ones. Kreamer found that some professions are youth-centred and in that group were marketing, entertainment, physical labor, sales, communications.Even in Medicine she found that surgeons were thought to peak in their mid 50s.The National Academy of Sciences found that in the tech sector, older workers are 3 times as likely as young workers to be downsized and Network World said of 8 young tech managers interviewed, only one had hired someone over age 40 in the past year. Andrew Wister of Simon Fraser University did find that older workers have slower reaction time, less ability to learn new information but they have greater experiential intelligence and usually perform tasks meticulously. Dr. Linda Duxbury of Carleton University also found that today's older workers are used to putting in a full day and she dubs them the 'workhorse' generation. She says that 'it will take three people to replace two boomers".

If someone commits a crime, at what point do we feel they have paid an adequate penalty?This issue has been raised in Guelph Ontario recently after two events where the thief showed remorse.
-in 2011- Police were given stolen goods anonymously and a note accompanying them indicated they had been stolen from cars and the thieves now felt remorse. An attached note listed addresses that had been robbed and the apology was signed' Two stupid kids'. The police were able to return the items to the owners
-in July 2012- a couple woke up to find a plastic bag on their front porch. It contained their digital camera and an Xbox console they owned and an attached note.The couple read that they had been robbed the night before of these items and that the thief now felt remorse. The note has been published in full text in the media now, with its wording that "I'm the one who committed the serious crime against your family… I want to apologize from the bottom of my heart…I compromised your feelings of safety in your own home and privacy and that is unforgivable… I've been having a very tough time financially and I made the worst mistake of my life". In the package was also $50 for repairing a back door screen the thief had ripped.Sgt. Douglas Pflug of Guelph Police theorizes that the thief was a youth but is not convinced that the thief really was robbing someone for the first time. He was however impressed that all the goods were returned.

In the UK the Home Office has held focus groups of 125 people to look at attitudes towards youth who commit crimes.The study found that most people believe the cause of youth crime is poor parenting, lack of discipline from schools and society, plus a 'weak and ineffectual' criminal justice system. Most of those asked felt that it was best to not use formal prosecution for low level crime, preferring to avoid giving youth an official criminal record. The study appears to support government moves to use informal sanctions and restorative justice, to keep under 18s out of court.John Bache of the Magistrates'' Association sayshe and his colleagues are keen to use more restorative justice but feels there must be sensible guidelines and where violence is a factor, the case should still go to court.

The advances made by women's rights groups to get maternity benefits and the right to be with a newborn for a a few months, have been unequally achieved in various countries. Canada provides nearly a year of paid leave to new mothers, but only based on paid work the previous year so it does ignore women who had few paid hours of work.The US has however very little paid maternity benefit.Recently with some high profile career women not taking much maternity time away from the job, the ideal of what women want is being questioned.Marissa Mayer of Yahoo is due to have her first child in October and says she plans to only take a few weeks at home with the baby.Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton University has written in The Atlantic "Why Women Still Can't Have it All".Pooja Sanka, chief executive of online forum Piazza thinks of her job as itself another child and feels it wrong to ignore this child - the job - just because there is a new baby around. Jane Swift, acting governor of Massachusetts got a lot of criticism when in 2001 she took time home with her newborn twins but did a lot of office work there.Swift has commented that maternity leave is an 'outdated notion'. Meanwhile other feminists are aghast at rights not appreciated. (ED NOTE: I understand the argument against maternity benefits actually but my solution is different - not to remove them but to set them up differently. I think maternity and paternity benefits should not be linked to the paid job but to maternity and paternity. Maternity benefits should come from a government fund and be universal for mothers and fathers with newborns. Parents who choose to earn can use the benefit to pay for substitute care. Women who choose to be home can use the money to offset salary loss.)

In the US the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families legislation (TANF) of 1996 requires mothers to return to the paid work force when the children are babies or toddlers. However Rep Pete Stark of California has proposed an amendment to enable single parents to be home for a while.The Women's Option to Raise Kids (WORK) act would let mothers of children under age 3 be home with their children if that was their preference. Cosponsors of the WORK Act included Democratic reps John Lewis, Gwen Moore, Barbara Lee, Jim McDermott, Lynn Woolsey, Jan Shakowsky and Rosa DeLauro.
(ED NOTE: This is hailed as groundbreaking legislation to recognize the need for all children to bond with someone who loves them, and to not deprive any children of this right based on marital or income status of the parent. But I oppose the act on the grounds that it discriminates against men as fathers. A parent-inclusive act would recognize the need for men as fathers as well as women as mothers in children's lives: they are of equal importance, and equality of opportunity is key).


July, 2012

When doctors discuss health, the tone is usually serious but a new approach has been tried recently. The male suicide rate in the US is so high that by June 1 2012 there were more suicides among active duty soldiers from the US than there were troops killed in Afghanistan that year.Women are 3 times as likely as men to attempt suicide but men are four times likelier than women to die from suicide attempts. 79% of men's attempts but only 21% of women's result in death. Many reasons for this difference have been suggested. Suicide by firearms is the most likely action to result in death, at a rate of 85% while hanging or other suffocation are at 69%, jumping is at 31%.

A 2011 study by the American Life Project and Pew Internet found that 20% of Americans use the Internet to find people with similar health concerns to their own. This use of the Internet has been praised by many people especially those with rare disorders. Deb McGarry was able to connect with fellow sufferers of spontaneous coronary artery dissection, a condition even her doctors did not have much experience with. The ability of the Internet to lend moral support is also now looked at for its potential to provide a quick list of research subjects fortreatments and cures. The Mayo Clinic has launched a research project into McGarry's illness and will use data from patients who wish to participate who connected through the web.Stefane Putkowski of the National Organization of Rare Diseases has praised the Internet linking but still raises some cautions.The web is a dangerous place too she says, with a lot of misinformation and where scammers prey on the vulnerable.

The US is known as a land of equal opportunity but David Brooks, writing in the New York Times in July 2012 said that the equality emphasis on outcomes has been over-analyzed. What is lacking he says, is attention to the real inequality - inequality of opportunity for children. He has observed several trends:
-in the 1970s kids from wealthy and poor homes had about equal sports and recreation involvement but nowadays the rich are twice as likely to be in after school sports, and much more likely to be in theatre, yearbook, scouting or to go to church.
-in the 1970s parents who did not go to college spent more time per day with their kids than did parents who went to college.However now he says that college educated parents spend an hour more a day than do parents with less schooling, especially giving intense attention to the first 3 years of a child's life
-test scores of children in poverty are lower than those of the rich
-kids in poverty do less volunteer work than do children of the rich

The pride people take in what they are doing to skirt the law occasionally becomes its own problem.In San Bernardino California an adult male filmed but did not intervene in the punching match between two young boys aged five and six years, possibly amused by the fighting. The video was put up on Facebook and one viewer, happening to see it, recognized one of the men and called police.Two men, Agustin Gamboa, aged 24 and Gabriel Gamboa aged 23 have been charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Some nations draft all youth for a few years of military service but Canada and the US do not. Soldiers in those nations choose the job, in effect volunteer for it, and get paid for their time there.General Stanley A McChrystal, former commander of the international forces in Afghanistan has however a new idea. He has suggested that America draft its youth again. Thomas Ricks of the Center for New American Security continues that argument in the New York Times.Ricks is aware that some would resist so he proposes 3 tiers for the 4 million youth in the US, male and female who turn 18 each year.
a. military service for 18 months- the pay would be low but after the 18 months the now 19.5 year olds could get free college tuition. They would not be deployed to fight but would do military work needed painting barracks, paperwork, mowing lawns, driving generals around. Ricks says the military currently outsources these tasks or pays professional soldiers very high rates unnecessarily. He would like the 18 year olds to be given low pay but good benefits
b. civilian national service for 2 years and with low pay but some benefits like tuition aid at age 20.He says youth in this category could clean parks, rebuild structures in low income areas, teach, aid the elderly and serve in daycares for children.
c. those who did not want either of the above could opt out of the draft but then would agree to no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees.
Though such a draft would cost the US billions Ricks also envisages savings. He suggests along with the draft, that the retirement age for the military be raised from 20 to 30 years of service. The advantages of these changes he says would be:
-it would get work done by less costly workers
-it would by hiring mostly unmarried workers, cost government less in benefits for families
-it would cost the government less in military pensions
-it would keep seniors out of nursing homes by giving them someone to bring them food
-it would clean up local parks and provide school custodian staff who are young and energetic instead of 'tired and making $106,329" a year
-it would provide a lot of low paid daycare workers and let the state then offer universal free daycare
-it would keep young workers in temporary jobs but not on the ladder climb for them, so it would please unions that want to keep their older more skilled workers on staff

Dr. Ronald Kesler of Harvard has released results of a study of over 10,000 teens ages 13-17 and how they handle emotion. He asked the teens if they had ever had an anger attack where they destroyed property, threatened or engaged in violence. He found that 63% said yes.He also found that one third of those asked said they were under control though when they were angry or that there were provoking circumstances.He said that the others may be suffering from IED - intermittent explosive disorder.This is a controversial diagnosis however. Kessler hopes that the diagnosis helps people address the situation and intervene early with appropriate treatment of those who show impulsive aggressive grossly out of proportion to the situation. However Dr. Christopher Lane, writer of "Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness" says that we risk medicalizing adolescence itself with such a diagnosis. Dr. Allen Frances of Duke University also calls the IED condition an unreliable category that 'probably shouldn't be in' the new listing of statistical manual of mental disorders.(ED NOTE: I have often read that if you are very angry, rather than punch someone you should punch a punching bag, smash plasticene or really work dough hard.If kids are angry and breaking something, it would matter what they were breaking and why. They may be venting very healthily actually.-editor)/

The General Medical Council in the UK has just published new guidelines on child protection.They are intended to 'instruct doctors' in deciding if a child is 'at risk' of abuse or neglect.Shaun Kelly of Action for Children would like the focus to be not just on helping doctors but on helping families. Kelly wants doctors to give direct advice about nutrition, about the effect of drug or alcohol abuse or of family violence on children.However Niall Dickson of the General Medical Council admits that a key goal is to help doctors make' difficult and delicate judgments in a charged atmosphere' and wants doctors to be able to decide and be able to 'justify their actions' if a complaint is made against them. Dr. Hilary Class of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health also told the media that one must not 'underestimate just how important acknowledgment is for people' to ensure that 'provided you follow the guidance and act in good faith you're not going to be criticized' (ED NOTE: what kind of society feels the real issue is to protect the reputation of the one who rushed in to whisk the baby away? Yes we must help kids who are abused or neglected but why is it assumed that the parent is not able to be a better provider if better funded and encouraged? Why do we assume that if we take the child into some sort of state care or large childcare facility it will not suffer even more neglect.)

Scientists from the U of Texas have announced success in trials with mice fed rapamycin, to boost memory skills and learning ability and to reverse mental aging. The chemical, rapamycin, comes from bacteria in the soil of Easter Island. Dr. Veronica Galvan found that the drug added to the diet also reduced anxiety and depression symptoms in the mice. Rapamycin is already approved in the US by the Food and Drug Administration for cancer or transplant patients.It is therefore likely that clinical trials for its use on those with Alzheimer's may start shortly.

Dr. Rodlescia Sneed of Carnegie Mellon University has looked at 795 adults from 3 separate studies of health and social situation. Sneed found after exposing volunteers to the same virus, that one third got clinical colds while two thirds did not.Why not?The risk of getting a cold from the virus was 52% less for parents than for nonparents. Parents with many children had an even lower risk than parents of only one child. Parents in the higher age groups were at lower risk than parents aged 18-23 years and marital status was not a significant protector. While some speculated that immunity was higher in parents simply because they had been exposed to viruses of kids, the study found that parents who were noncustodial also were protected and the levels of antibodies in their system were not higher.Another possible explanation then by researchers was that the fact of being a parent itself triggers more immunity, with cytokines resisting infection better. (ED NOTE: there is an old quote' Anyone with a reason to live can endure almost any how'. I think most of us have a huge reason to live once we are parents and an immunity even kicks in from this.)

Statistics Canada has reported in March 2012 that couples with children are responsible for half of all household debt in Canada.They owe about $144,600 per household while the average debt for those with and without children is $114,400.Some families pay $600 a month for care of a child but others pay as high as $2,000 a month. Those yearly tallies then would be $7,200 to $24,000. One Milton Ontario couple admitted to the Globe and Mail that their four years of daycare costs for six year old twins were $90,000 or $11,250 per child per year.How families cope with the balance between the pay cheques of parents and the cost of daycare was outlined by Tamara Balujara of the Globe and Mail. Some parents use only one daycare spot and take turns with which child uses it. Some parents enrol their child only in part-time care while others enlist grandparents or neighbours for care of a child on a free or exchange basis.Others opt to have a parent home though some parents feel their paid career is vital to them. ( /Analysis of family finances often looks at the cost of care of children and when such costs are high there are then several uses of the stats.Some childcare advocates use the statistics including the high cost of daycare, to make the case that daycare should cost less and that funding for daycare should be a state obligation.I actually make the argument differently. Having one parent at home giving up a salary of even $40,000 a year which is a small salary, has a higher cost of childcare than the daycare users have so if we are to sympathize with the highest blow to the budget, it would logically be to fund those who don't use daycare.Daycare users get salary at their careers and then government subsidy for some daycare costs - so money as a reward for having earned money.However it would be unfair and unkind to not want daycare users to get help. I would just want all parents to get that same help - funding per child, maybe $3,000 per child per year and they could use it for the parenting style they preferred. editor)/

When a child is born, the costs of raising it are often the legal obligation of both birth parents. Divorce settlements often ensure that even an absentee parent cannot walk away from the financial obligation.However a new trend is appearing, that of support of the fetus, whether or not it is taken to term.Law professor Shari Motro of the U of Richmond has made the case that men's obligations could start with conception. She cites several advantages to making sure men live up to their share of financial costs of pregnancy including vitamins, prenatal care costs, delivery or abortion. She suggests a name for this support - preglimony.

It is unusual to put a money value on the presence of a parent but occasionally the courts are asked to look at the numbers.In Alberta in 2010 Chad Olsen was involved in a car crash while at the wheel. His vehicle is said to have run a red light hitting a small car killing Brad and Krista Howe. The couple was alone in the car but they left at home their now orphaned five children.Olsen's blood alcohol level was found to be nearly 3 times the legal driving limit.A lawsuit has now been filed against Olsen for $3.5 million in damages due to 'bereavement, grief, loss of guidance, loss of care and companionship" and also claims damages for future losses.Olsen was convicted of impaired driving causing death and given a 27 month sentence.

When young women or teenage girls are arrested in the UK for shoplifting, damage to property, drug use or alcohol abuse, authorities tend to charge them with the crime at hand without noticing the background situation, according to Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform. Her study "Out of place" has found that many girls who commit such crimes, sometimes in full view of authorities, want to be arrested because they only then can escape pimps and others who sexually exploit them. Crook wants the justice system to look at the economic vulnerability of such girls that often has forced them into prostitution.She says the clause that lets children be prosecuted for prostitution related crime should be abolished.She is also concerned that though there are specialist services to help such girls address the bigger picture of their victimization, the budgets for these services are being cut. Crook says this will likely result in more girls falling through the cracks.


June, 2012

Dr. Ronald Royhner of the University of Connecticut has released results of analyzing 36 international studies of 11,000 parents and children, finding that a dad's influence on a child's life is pivotal. He found that the experience of rejection by a parent in childhood is the strongest and most consistent negative factor on personality development for children. Those who felt accepted by the parent became more independent, had healthier self-esteem, were more emotionally stable than those who felt rejected. Those who felt rejected tended to develop problems with anger and aggression, were emotionally unstable and had low self esteem and a dim world view. A father's rejection was a stronger predictor even than a mother's rejection of a child later developing substance abuse, depression and behavioural problems.  More dads are now opting to be home with the baby. Statistics Canada in 2010 found that 11% of two -parent families had an at-home dad, and this number is significantly higher when dads at home part-time and sharing child care responsibility are counted, according to Dr. Gillian Ranson of the University of Calgary.

Dr. Blake Berryhill of Kansas State University has released results of a study of 2370 single mothers in the US and their stress levels. He found that raising children is itself stressful and that being a single mother brings on extra stress with less money, longer paid work hours and a limited support network. However he found that stress level for such mothers was reduced if they spent time playing with the child.Researchers have for some time known that when parents and kids play together it's good for the child but this study suggests it is also good for the parent.In the US in 2012, nearly 10 million single mothers were living with children under age 18 years.This number has tripled since 1970 according to the US Census.

Much attention has been focused on how stress is hard on the heart but recent studies have suggested it is also hard on the brain. Dr. Mark Hamer of University College London studied 68,652 adults over 10 survey years from 1994-2004. The subjects at the start had no known history of vascular disease. Over the years nearly 15% showed signs of psychological distress. There were 2,367 deaths from vascular disease over the interval - 1,010 from heart disease but 562 from stroke or other cerebrovascular disease and 795 more from other cardiovascular related deaths. Researchers found that those who were under stress were 66% more likely to die from stroke than were those not under stress. Smoking also increased risk of death from stroke and Dr. Hamer even found that stress and smoking are about equally bad for the body. Psychological distress can lead to hypertension, suppression of the immune system, and more exposure to or faster progression of other illnesses. There are about 50,000 strokes per year in Canada and stroke is our third leading cause of death.

The UK has offered a program that 152 municipal councils have accepted to try to help families with 'complex problems'. The goal is to help 120,000 of the most troubled families over the next 3 years and to do this, each council will get up to 4000 pounds sterling per family turned around if certain conditions are met. There must be a reduction in crime, truancy or antisocial behaviour or an adult must have been taken off benefits and put into paid work. Though this money is not expected to fully help families, and councils will have to put in some additional funds, this promise of money has interested many councils. Matthew Reed of the Children's Society says the 450 million pounds total is not enough. He is also concerned about the other end of the ledger, if 10 billion pounds for instance are taken away from families on welfare to nudge them to paid work. He suspects that this new program may actually lead to more children ending up in poverty.

In the UK a study of who takes care of the kids has found that there is a high rate of grandparent care - or kinship care. This revelation however is not just about who provides care but at what cost to the caregiver. The Giving up the Day Job study looked at 263 kinship carers finding that 47% of them had to give up their paid job in order to help with the kids.Sometimes they were even pressured to give up the paid job by social workers and yet there is little financial support to make up for the income loss.Though one might assume that grandparents are elderly and retired anyway the study found that 86% of the grandparent carers were under 65, and that38% of them had children of their own still at home. Grandparents Plus is an organization asking for attention to the needs of grandparent caregivers, to ensure they don’t miss out on social supports parents would have received. The group wants paid leave, a right to flexible paid work hours and to financial benefits for care of newborns. The charity also wants caregivers who look after a child over 28 days to get a national allowance. It estimates that there are about 200,000 kinship carers in the UK when one includes not just grandparents but also older siblings, aunts and uncles. They provide care to 300,000 children.

Although there is no magic pill to help people get good marks in school, there now are pills that help them go without sleep and that help them concentrate. Adderall is an amphetamine available by prescription usually to those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. However the New York Times reports that the drug is now being passed around routinely to others to help them study late or concentrate during tests. Some students fake symptoms to doctors to get their own prescription too. Dr. DeAnsin Parker of New York says that many private schools are seeing the phenomenon. There are several implications of the trend:
-Valium used for anxiety is listed only as a Class 4 drug so not very dangerous but amphetamines like Adderall and Vyvanse, as well as methylphenidates like Ritalin and Focalin are actually Class 2 controlled substances and highly addictive, the same class of drug as cocaine. Students may not realized the potency and danger of the drugs
-abuse of such stimulants can lead to mood swings, sleep deprivation, depression and even heart irregularities.
-some fear that use of these drugs may normalize drug use and will lead to later use of heroin or other narcotics
When children use such drugs their brain chemistry changes. The number of prescriptions for ADHA medication for those aged 10-19 years is about 2 million children, according to data from IMA Health.

Ontario set up in 2005 a new model for treatment of the sick. Family Health Teams or FHTs were created to administer the free universal health care plan more efficiently than single family practice doctors were doing. By offering a team of physicians in one location, with nurses, nurse practitioners and other medical professionals nearby, patients were able to get referrals and treatment easily. Under the system a patient would enrol with the group and would see whoever was on call, often with a promise to then not go to other clinics instead. The doctors would be paid in terms not per medical service as was the old schedule, but through an annual fee. The province set up 17 different arrangements for doctors in such groups. However, 7 years later results of the FHTs have produced feedback that is not all positive. On the plus side, over 2.1 million Ontarians without family doctors now have one. There are now 200 FHTs in the province serving 2.8 million people. However several criticisms have been raised:
-some administrators are concerned about physician salaries at FHTs which end up being about 25% more than those who work solo
-government pays employees listed with the FHT but studies have found that sometimes there is no employee actually there. The 'ghost' employee turns out to be a nurse-practitioner or other staff member who has not yet been hired. There are concerns that some of those funds then were distributed to other staff as a bonus, according to a report in the National Post
-there have been mass resignations among some boards of directors with staff turnover rates in some cases of 51%, amid allegations that doctors were lured by a promise of full time pay for part-time hours
-there have been allegations that some of the physicians were in a conflict of interest when they served also on the board of the FHT
-there have been allegations that some FHT credit card purchases were not receipted on financial statements
Postmedia has reported that the Ministry of Health in Ontario has demanded and recovered repayments from several of the teams.

In a country with few doctors it might be assumed that those without money and those who live far from hospital would use the medical system least. However in Canada, where there is more universal funding for health care and where excellent care is available, recent studies have found a different trend. The Canadian Institute for Health Information found that in 2010 of those who had been in hospital and were sent home, many later had to come back. Ten percent of patients who were discharged returned to the emergency ward within a week. The number of readmissions was 180,000. Jeremy Veillard of the CIHI says readmissions can't always be avoided but sometimes they could have been prevented and one concern is income level of patient.The study found that the wealthy are much less likely to seek readmission than are the poor.The study suggested it is possible that the poor don't have a family doctor.It was also found that more rural than urban patients were readmitted, against suggesting that there is a lack of home care and palliative care options rurally.

Gloria Taylor has Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS) and it is generally fatal. She has joined a group of plaintiffs in BC who have applied to the BC Supreme Court for the right to die with doctor-assisted suicide, if and when they choose. BC Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith has ruled in their favour, saying that the law banning such suicide unjustly infringes on the right of the patient to liberty, security of person and life.She ruled that since suicide itself is not illegal, those who are physically disabled and cannot commit suicide without help are disadvantaged by the ban. She ruled that the physically disabled and grievously ill want to have some control over their circumstances at the end of their lives and the ban unfairly discriminates against that right. The fallout from the ruling has been huge. The BC Civil Liberties Association is pleased; however, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is extremely concerned about the ruling.

The definition of assault and of sexual assault has recently come under question. It is usually assumed that the perpetrator caused physical damage and that the physical contact was not consensual and the damage horrendous. However in Nova Scotia Craig Hutchinson and his girlfriend engaged in consensual sex and when she found out she was pregnant, she was unhappy. She had assumed his condoms were intact and she had an abortion. When he later revealed to her after they broke up that she should throw out the condom package because he had poked holes in them, she was angry. She felt that he had tricked her into a pregnancy and she took him to court, charging aggravated sexual assault. In 2009 he was found not guilty of the offence but the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial. In 2011 he was found not guilty of aggravated sexual assault but guilty of sexual assault. He was sentenced in December 2011 to 18 months in jail for condom sabotage. In 2012 the Court of Appeal however reserved the decision. The public is now also commenting:
-Lawyer Jim Bumpert says that a woman who has lied to her partner about taking birth control pills also has committed sexual assault .
-Lawyer Luke Craggs says some fathers may now be angry if a woman tricked them into a pregnancy by not taking birth control pills. They may not want to pay child support. But he says we must not call such actions assault and we should not blur the lines between what is immoral and what is actually criminal. He says not taking your pill 'falls outside the boundaries of criminal conduct."

In China the law in many areas requires that couples only have one child. There have been exceptions for ethnic minorities, for families where both parents were themselves single children, and for rural families if their first child is a girl. However in general an urban family has to pay a heavy fine if they have a second child, the amount of the fine adjusted to the income of the couple. The nation has 300,000 family planning officials and enforcers of the rule. Concerns have recently arisen about mass forced abortions and sterilizations perpetrated by family planning officials in rural areas throughout the country.


Fierce debate has also erupted not about whether schools should offer sex ed (an old debate) but about if parents should be allowed to let their children opt out.In most Alberta public schools, children can opt out and in fact parental consent is required for the children to attend.Those who do not attend go the library or other location to do other work and there is no change in credit or marks.However the Manitoba Teachers' Society has voted recently to ask the province to make sure all students do take the lessons and to not let them opt out.The lessons start in grade 5 and continue through grades 7, 9 and 10 in Manitoba.Though some argue that the lessons are vital for children to be well informed about sexuality others have objected. Yohannes Engida of Bethel Evangelical Christina Assembly says that parents should have a choice. Some parents have already threatened to leave the public school system if they are forced to use sex ed values of the school system. Those who promote mandatory lessons however say that parents in the public system should have to sign on because they do have options of homeschooling or private school if they don't agree.A study of those options however has revealed that the options are not equal. Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan do publicly fund religious schools, Manitoba does not. It would therefore cost more to not go to the public school.

Efforts to inform children about life sometimes are themselves criticized. In Ottawa the Montreal Science Centre is touring a display called a tell-all exhibition about sex. The displays, created by scientists teachers, doctors and public health educators have been roundly criticized by some and applauded by others.The Institute for Marriage and Family Canada said the display was erotic and titillating not informative. Heritage Minister James Monroe said it was not appropriate for a museum.The displays feature nudity, animated videos about use of birth control, interactive sites, sites talking about various infection risks and sexual activities.The museum has responded to some of the criticisms by raising the age of those allowed in without an adult to 16 years from 12 years.

Fires in seniors' facilities have raised concerns about safety but change in policy has been slow. In 1980 25 seniors died in a Mississauga nursing home. In 2007 there was a fatal blaze in Niagara Falls at a seniors' facility.In 2009 there was a fatal fire at a retirement home in Orillia and this past month two died at a Hawkesbury Ontario seniors' home that had no fire sprinklers. Pressure is rising after four coroners' inquests have reported, many calling for installation of sprinklers in facilities for vulnerable people. Jim Jessop of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs says there have been 48 deaths since 1980. Ontario Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur says staff training, annual inspections and retrofit requirements will continue to be discussed but says that the issue is complex, including concerns about the size of the facility and access to municipal water. Jessop says the delays are taking too long, saying the issue has been 'studied to death'.

A Calgary company, Pedalheads, is now offering to teach small children to ride a bike to spare parents the frustration of providing the lesson. Nick Pavlakis of Pedalheads says that getting a 'pro' is safer, more fun and gives children a supportive environment. Writer Naomi Lakritz of the Calgary Herald however bemoans the trend, yearning for the days when parents bonded with their children by just such lessons. Lakritz has written"parents are hiring experts to lead kids by the hand through the most basic childhood events," even the finding of friends and "playmates."

Otis Kryzanauskas was born to a family that already had a daughter, Asta and whose mother was a midwife.His father was allowed to cut the cord when Asta was born and when Otis was born and when the family got a new baby brother Eugene, Otis was four. The family decided he could be in the room and he could cut the cord.He never forgot the experience, viewed birth very positively and now at age 25 has just graduated with a Bachelor of Health Science n Midwifery at McMaster University. He is the first man to ever graduate with this degree in Canada.Currently there are 600 registered midwives in Canada up from 50 in 1994.He says he enjoys meeting the client six months before delivery and from then on till six weeks after the birth and he gets to know the family well. Whether his gender is an advantage or not was a question he dealt with.He says that sometimes a woman or her partner will prefer a female midwife but many do not. He says he does not judge but he supports the women as well as he can and has had some great feedback.

Arkansas passed legislation in 2003 that let schools test for and list the body mass index of students on its report cards. Some parents objected, admits education department spokesperson Seth Blomley. Now Malaysia and the UK have also joined the trend, believing that reducing obesity is even more important than parental objection. Doretta Wilson of the Society for Quality Education says that schools have a role to play when they provide physical education but that measuring BMI 'is starting to cross that line into the responsibility of parent'.Dr. Geoff Ball of the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton says that the biggest predictor of an obese child is an obese parent and he does want parents engaged. Toronto school trustee John Del Grande however says that schools are overstepping in this instance and in other ways too, such as banning junk food, fries, sugary drinks and coffee.The balancing act between school for academics and school for physical health is being questioned by others. Principal John Currie of James Bell Jr Middle School in Toronto admits that in his school cafeteria line students will be stopped if they have not put enough green vegetables on their plate.

The fact that little children like bright things and like opening packages has become a factor in a laundry detergent package controversy. Tide, Purex and several other manufacturers have created small one-time use packages for lightweight portability as customers use detergent at laundromats without having to lug around a big box or jug.However nearly 250 US cases have been reported this year to poison control centres of small children eating the detergent. The packages may be being mistaken for candy or juice crystals. Poison control centres also deal with thousands of calls about children under five ingesting other non-foods, including diaper rash cream or ibuprofen.However Dr. Robert Glatter of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City says the detergents are particularly bad since they can lead to vomiting, aspiration and problems breathing.

The new revision to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) will soon be published ( May 2013) and it has come under attack already for its widening of classifications about what constitutes psychiatric illness. Having a condition named officially opens the door to insurance companies possibly covering its treatment, to schools offering special education for those afflicted, to courts excusing some behaviours as due to mental problems, but also may lead to more use of medications and more business for psychiatrists. Experts have weighed in on the announcement that there will now be a new definition of "addiction" not just to drugs or alcohol, but to gambling and to other behaviours which may include shopping, Internet, video game and sex addiction.
-Favouring the expanded terms:
-Dr. James Scully Jr. of the group of 162 specialists writing the manual says the new move will promote more accurate diagnosis, earlier intervention and ultimately better outcomes
-Dr. George Woody of the U of Pennsylvania says that the new definition of addiction as a spectrum would permit 18 more million of the 20 million addicts to get treatment and medical coverage
-Against the expansion of terms:
-Dr.Thomas Babor of the U of Connecticut is concerned that 20 million who abuse substances mildly will now also be called addicts. He says that over-diagnosis will stretch the few existing programs for addicts and risks not giving enough attention to the more serious problems.
-Dr. Allen Frances of Duke University says that since there is no gold standard for diagnosing psychiatric illness biologically, the risk is of declaring 'false epidemics' and he suspects an agenda of just generating more clients and more people on prescription medications.
-Dr. Lisa Cosgrove of Harvard says that she is concerned that 2/3 of the advisory task force members have ties to the pharmaceutical industry and other financial conflicts of interest.

Dr. Mark Walker of the Ottawa Hospital has studied 55,570 mothers to see if the 23,340 who got vaccines during pregnancy fared differently than those who did not get vaccines during the H1N1 pandemic.He found that those who got a flu shot were protected from the flu and had a lower risk of premature births, still births or underweight babies.Many women are concerned about whether pregnant women should get a flu shot but this study suggests it is a good idea.For every 1000 vaccinated mothers there were 2.6 still births, while for unvaccinated mothers there were 4.3. There were 83.3 underweight babies for every 100 vaccinated mothers, compared to 98.2 for those not vaccinated. There were 6.1 premature births for the vaccinated and 8.4 for the unvaccinated.

Much attention has been paid to the financial situation of the elderly and concerns younger adults have about being able to afford retirement. However Leger Marketing has just released a study about the psychological attitude toward aging. The Association for Canadian Studies commissioned the study and the 1522 Canadians surveyed indicated:
-24% of young people are worried about aging but only 6% of those aged 65 and over are worried
-20% of those aged 35-44 were worried about physical health as they aged but only 10% of seniors were worried about it
-20% of those aged 18-24 were concerned about their mental health as they aged but only 3.5% of the elderly were worried about it
-51% of those aged 18-24 were worried about their eventual death but only 25% of the elderly were worried about it
ACS executive director Jack Jedwag said many seniors may be just denying realities and 'whistling past the graveyard" but he also said that seniors have reason to be optimistic given the good state of medical advances in Canada.
-ED NOTE: I suspect that seniors have come to terms with a few things and have discovered the purpose of life is not simply extending it.

Dr. Nora Volkow of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse has issued a warning about a new drug that is circulating widely among young people. It is named 'bath salts' and sold under names like Ivory Wave, Purple Wave, Blue Silk, Red Dove. It is a mix of amphetamine-like chemicals and stimulant drugs that are sometimes substituted for cocaine. The drugs create cravings, are highly addictive and have been associated with chest pains, high blood pressure, high heart rate, agitation, hallucinations, paranoia and delusions. Within two months the US saw 251 calls to poison control centres about these drugs, soon after they first came on the scene.

Dr. Peter Lin, regular medical commentator of CBC radio has reported that recent studies of longevity have found pockets around the world of long-living people. Two of those pockets are in Okinawa, Japan and among the Seventh Day Adventists in the US. What those groups have in common seem to be high priority for family, activities centred around family, daily exercise, eating not too much sugar, not overeating, eating vegetables and not too much meat and sleeping soundly. Lin says that research confirms that genes have something to do with longevity but it is estimated lately that the influence of genetics is only 25%. He says lifestyle indicators constitute the other 75%.

In New Zealand Peter Atkinson has a daughter with cerebral palsy. She uses a wheelchair and has been given funding for a caregiver for two hours a day five days a week. One day the caregiver did not come and the family had to provide the continuous care instead. He asked that the Ministry of Health fund the family member as it would have the paid caregiver and when told no, took the issue to court. He said that when a parent provides care it is a labour of love but there is also a financial cost involved. The Ministry of Health lost the appeal but it contested the ruling 3 times. Ultimately the Court of Appeal ruled that parents who provide care of their disabled children should now be paid for the work they do. The court ruled that not paying them was discriminatory, confirming the same conclusion by the Human Rights Review Tribunal (ED NOTE: This is groundbreaking news! It happened also in BC at the human rights tribunal for a woman who wanted to choose her caregiver since she is disabled and the province would fund anyone but a family member. The Hutchinson case ruling was that she should be funded for her dad to be the caregiver if that was her preference.)

In Europe economic crises are hitting family budgets.In Italy the four years of hardship with high unemployment have strained many families and created a new type of homelessness among those who used to be quite well off. Particularly hard hit are families that also have stopped being intact. In Italy by 2009 for every thousand marriages there were 297 separations and 181 divorces annually, according to the statistics agency Istat. Divorced parents have to make do with less money spread farther, often to two households. Under 2006 divorce law makes joint custody the norm for divorcing parents, but the courts still tend to have children placed in the home of the mother. Papa Separati Lombardi, a non-profit helping single fathers has reported increases to their ranks of dads now homeless, trying to keep up support payments.In Greece, a charity group for the homeless, Klimaka, estimates that their numbers have gone up 25% in the last two years and a third of those are single or divorced, usually male. In Europe and North America, many fathers have been jailed for not providing child support. A new housing project for separated fathers has been set up at the Oblate Missionary College in Rho, Italy. Guests pay $250 a month and the province subsidizes with $500 a month. (ED NOTE: When marriages end governments become punitive and the one they blame is often the man.Rather than government helping subsidize costs of child-raising, from which in fact society benefits, the state asks parents to bear most of the costs alone and if the marriage ends, also expects the main earner,the dad, to now shoulder them in two houses.It seems to me that if government was carrying its share of the weight of costs of child-rearing, the state of the marriage should be irrelevant. Money would be there for the child regardless.An effective men's movement should address this, not to blame women or ask women to pay more, but to ask government to pitch in the share it already should be giving.)

A Dutch entrepreneur noticing that his friend went through a painful divorce, had an idea that this need not be so difficult.He was concerned that the divorce industry cost so much and set up a series of six high end hotels which would offer a divorce package for those couples who wanted a quick split without acrimony. These "Divorce Hotels' do not advertise directly as such but they offer an arrangement that includes separate rooms, a suite for mediation talks, and the help of mediators and independent lawyers. The couple checks in Friday and by Sunday checks out, divorce papers in hand. The flat fee is$3,500 - $10,000 depending on the complexity of the financial arrangements.Reaction to the idea has been mixed. A 44 year old computer consultant used the Divorce Hotel when he amicably split with his second wife after a seven year marriage.They had dinner with wine on the weekend and parted friends. Other have expressed concerns.Lawyer Robert Scohen who helped with divorces of Donald Trump, Christie Brinkley and Mayor Michael Bloomberg says that the idea is a great gimmick but not practical for complicated cases with lots of property, business holdings, stock options or offshore accounts. Randall Kessler of the American Bar Association says that child custody is often a key issue and needs to be carefully worked out. Lawyer Jason Marks of Miami says that when marriages end some spouses hide money, undervalue assets or perpetrate fraud and divorce cases are not always simply. Halfens however feels that if he screens couples carefully so only those who want to divorce, are willing to work with a mediator and are not bickering are accepted, the idea is good. (ED NOTE: This seems like an excellent idea. It is not surprising that the most vociferous critics of divorce hotels offering intensive mediation services are lawyers, whose livelihood is threatened by non-adversarial divorce.)

In the UK parents of children with special needs are making the case that some of their extra costs should be covered by the state. Funding for Special Education Needs (SEN) is insufficient, according to children's minister Sarah Teather, outlining long delays and lineups to get specialist care. She wants to set up a way that families can get personalized budgets and some leeway for how to use them. "The right to a personal budget will give them real choice and control of care, instead of counsels and health services dictating how they get support" .By 2014 there will be a single assessment process and budgeting plan for special needs children in the UK from birth to age 25 years. (ED NOTE: This also is groundbreaking. It is money that flows with the child. It is not only a good idea for special needs kids but for all kids. I am so happy to see that government dares to trust parental judgment because in fact parents know their kids' needs best.)

In Canada the Youth Criminal Justice Act replaced the Young Offenders Act in 2003. The new act applies to those youth accused of a crime who are between 12-18 years old. It permits the courts to treat the child as adult under some circumstances by age 14 and to face adult sentence. Those under age 12 still cannot be charged. By this new act, accused youth have the right to be heard, victims have the right to be informed but not unduly inconvenienced and parents of the accused have the right to be informed. In some cases for nonviolent offences and by youth with no previous record, non-jail measures are encouraged such as police issuing warnings and cautions, referrals to agencies. One option is for the accused to make formal apology and reparation for damage done. The youth is not allowed these 'extra-judicial ' solutions however if the youth denies guilt or wants a formal trial. In the UK debate has surfaced about also adjusting their youth justice laws. Rob Allen of the Criminal Justice Alliance recommends that the age of criminal responsibility be raised.

Statistics Canada has published results of studies of family violence in 2010 noting that of the 99,000 who were victims, nearly half were victims of spousal abuse.17% suffered abuse from a parent, 14% from an extended family member, 11% from a sibling, 9% from a child, usually an adult child. Women were twice as likely as men to be the victims of abuse, including female children, female parents, female siblings. Of the cases of spousal abuse, women were victims 80% of the time.

Facing the well-reported risk of too many elderly retired and not enough adult workers, some nations are encouraging births with birth bonus and more parental benefits, funding for children to early adulthood or low cost daycare.However Canada is also looking at simply increasing immigration as a quicker fix. Canada currently accepts 250,000 immigrants per year and the Globe and Mail has run a series asking the public opinions about increasing that number.The solution of increasing immigration to 400,000 per year by 2016 is proposed. One reason to support the move is to address the shortage of skilled, educated workers. If the country had an immigration rate around 400,000 per year (0.75%),population would be 52.3 million by 2061. With immigration slightly higher however, at 1%, the population would be 63. million by 2061.The case is made that right now there are only 39,600 births per year. Criticisms of the plan have also been levied, however:
-many immigrants are not recognized for their professional qualifications
-it takes a long time for immigrants to earn the same as locally-born workers
-the language needs of immigrants need to be addressed and this may be costly.In 1970 most immigrants were from the US, UK and West Indies. In 2010 most are from the Philippines, India and China.
-ED NOTE: If government really wants to address the aging population, immigration is a small answer. Birth bonuses and family-friendly taxation are answers in perpetuity- editor)/

UNICEF has just issued its 10th study of child poverty in wealthy nations but its way of defining it has led to criticism from some observers.Dr. Miles Corak of the U of Ottawa says that there is quite a difference between absolute poverty and relative poverty
-absolute poverty level - is whether you can afford the goods sold in that community to buy a basket of good needed for a minimal standard of living. The amount varies per community but applies to everyone in it
-relative poverty level- is the number of people living in the bottom quarter of income level. Since it is based on income level, even if they are all millionaires or multi-millionaires, the bottom quarter is seen as poor and if they are all poor, only the very poorest would be counted.
Dr. Corak feels that the absolute measure is much more accurate. The UNICEF study however uses the other measure.Dr. Corak therefore questions the use of data that suggests for instance that Canada's child poverty rate at 13.3% ranks it as 24th worst of 35 rich nations. The US at 23.1% child poverty ranks 34 of 35. Corak suggests instead that we should endorse the basic theme that more attention should be paid to children. UNICEF admits that if child poverty rates are looked at in terms of market incomes, they are nearly the same in the US and Canada and only lower in Canada when transfers and taxes are taken into account.

Dr. Elizabeth Dunn of the U of British Columbia has published results of a study of happiness among parents and childless couples.She found that of 186 people asked, parents found that taking care of a child made them happier and the care roles seemed more meaningful than did other tasks like going to paid work, cooking, socializing or committing.The paper is called "In Defence of Parenthood".

Premier Christy Clark of BC has just announced that British Columbia will institute an official holiday in February, Family Day, to celebrate families. She says it will be a way to spend time with the family, that quantity, not just quality time, matters to children. BC Conservative MLA John van Dongen, however, said that having to give another statutory holiday in addition to the ten current ones will likely cost jobs.

May, 2012

Bullying is a new 'cause celebre' of some activists, who are concerned that children are cruel to other children . Filmmaker Lee Hirsch says that 13 million American school children are bullied each year and he decided to follow some of the alleged victims with a small camera as they rode the school bus or went around the school. He has now produced a movie called "Bully". In this film real life situations are re-enacted or studied - five children experience bullying and two later committed suicide. One 16 year old girl in Oklahoma was not only excluded from friendships when she came out as gay, but even the teacher took attendance of 'boys', girls' and Kelby. Tyler Long committed suicide at age 17 after kids kept telling him he was worthless.One boy, Alex, is poked with pencils and punched and called Fish Face and is even mocked for not standing up to those who mock him. The film promotes a group called Stand for the Silent that tours schools to raise awareness of the problem. US censors, finding that there is swearing the movie, have rated it R (it is PG in Canada) and some reviewers are noticing that this means many young teens in the US who may benefit from the message won't be allowed to see it. (ED NOTE:  I feel that we have become way too melodramatic about this issue. Serious bullying is not just verbal but actual emotional assault and very serious. However most kids are a little cruel to each other from time to time as they learn how to get along. I feel parents must intervene, as must teachers, but in a calm way, to model and require sharing and respect. Labelling a person a bully creates for the young an actual expectation of what they could grow into and identify with. I like that the movie looks at the victim but we must also realize that if we ostracize the young perpetrator as evil incarnate we also victimize them. We should reserve our harsh condemnation of 'bullies' labels for that small group that is genuine cruelty.)

Though people who are sad often retreat into themselves and may spend too long playing computer or video games, recent research has found that sometimes a computer program may actually reduce depression.Dr. Sally Merry of the U of Auckland had 94 children aged on average 15 years, play a 3 D fantasy game called SPARX. The children all were suffering from depression.In the game users take on seven challenges and create a character or avatar who has to learn how to deal with anger and become kinder.The study found that over 3 months, playing the game led to some character changes in the children.44% of the players who did at least four of the seven games were said to have 'recovered completely'.Other children given only conventional depression therapy, not the game, had only a 26% rate of recovery. Both groups of teens endorsed the type of therapy they were given however (ED NOTE: If one of the problems is feeling like no one cares, any attention helps reduce that problem.I would think that it's way better to get a child away from the computer and go biking with them, swimming, playing basketball and just hanging out. I would hate to think we now rely on computers to deal with those who feel already that the world is too impersonal.)

To address the problem of declining birth rates, countries around the globe are now offering birth bonuses, marriage grants and family allowances:
-Taiwan has recently announced that it will fund a birth bonus to address the very low birth rate there. In 1951 each woman had about 9 children but by 2010 the fertility rate is 0.89, one of the lowest in the world.Taipei will give free tests to determine fertility problems, a baby bonus of 20,000 Taiwanese dollars per child and a childcare allowance up to 150,000 dollars per child to age 5. The government also organized matchmaking day trips for singles and free courses on managing relationships.
-Australia has for some time had a baby bonus and its birth rate has gone up. It now gives $5,000 per child per year. Australia in 2001 had a birth rate of 1.73.
-Singapore has a baby bonus to address that country's low fertility rate. The amount is $4,000 for first or second babies and $6,000 for subsequent ones. The government also gives dollar for dollar savings contributions for parents toward a children's account, capped at $6,000 for the first and second child and $12,000 for 3rd and 4th and $18,000 for fifth and subsequent. Since the plan was introduced in 2001, the birth rate has gone up 0.2%.
-Germany has announced that if a parent does not use the daycare the state sponsors, subsidized by 1000 euros per child, the at home parent can still get 100 euros a month going up to 150 euros a month.Dorothee Baer lawmaker says that the new benefit will help parents raise children according to their own values. She is head of the Christina Social Union coalition. Others have objected to the move. However Germany has been facing a low birth rate since 2005 and has been trying to entice people to have children, partly by a program of paid parental leave for the first year of the child's life. Baer says she has had so much positive feedback about the new benefit.
-Spain has announced in 2012 that it will give 2500 euros to each child born. PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said the baby bonus matches moves in Scandinavia and France to address the aging population. Spain's birth rate in 2006 was 1.37.
-Austria- family allowances to all children up to age 18, and to those up to 21 who are seeking paid work. The amount starts at 105 euros per month per child and goes up as the child gets older, being 152 euros per month at age 18. There is no means test
-Azerbaijan-universal family allowance, no means test, in the amount of 50 euros monthly.
-Belgium- universal to age 18, up to age 25 for children taking professional studies. Amounts start at 81 euros and go up to 151 for second child and 225 for third child.There is a supplement in addition for children in single parent families. There is also a birth grant of 1107 euros for first child and 833 euros for other children
-Bosnia, Herzegovina- means tested, to age 15-19, but universal for handicapped children. There is also a birth grant up to 50% of the preceding year's salary
-Bulgaria- means tested to age 20 years, with lump monetary assistance on childbirth
-Croatia - universal and not based on employment status and goes to whoever the court says is caregiver. Basic rate is 27 - 41 euros depending on household income. There are higher payments to children with unknown parents. There is also a birth grant of 318 euros per child, universal regardless of household income
-Cyprus- universal benefit to age 18 years or to age 23 if in college or 25 if in the military. There is a supplementary benefit for the poor. Basic benefit is 391 euros for one child, up to 783 per child for a family with 3 children and 1292 per child for a family with four children or more. There is also a maternity grant of 446 euros, universal. This country also has a marriage grant of 607 euros per couple. The rate of child poverty in Cyprus is very low
-Czech Republic-universal means-tested child benefit extends to age 15 years but up to 26 years if a child is in college or vocational training. The amount goes from 30 euros for those under age 6 to 28 euros for those aged 15-26. There is also a birth grant to the mother, to the father if the mother dies or to the person who provides permanent care of the child under age 1 year.
-Denmark- universal benefit to age 17 years. Benefit of $155 per month for a young child goes down to 110 euros per month for older children.Additional benefits go to lone parents. There is also a birth grant of 244 euros per child and a supplement for multiple births until children are age 7.
-Estonia-universal means tested benefit to age 16 and to age 19 if in school. The amount goes up for larger families, going from 9 euros per month for one to 19 euros per child per month if more than one.There is a payment of 169 euros per month more for families with 7 children or more.There is also a childbirth allowance of 320 euros. Studies found that child allowances were effective in reducing child poverty.
-Finland- universal, to age 17 years and amount if 100 euros per month for first child going up to 161 per month for 4th child, and 182 per month for 5th or later child. There are supplements for single parents. There is also a birth grant accessible to birth or adoptive mothers.
-France-universal benefit, not means tested, and given to families with 2 or more children, and to age 20 years. Amounts increase as a child gets older. Amounts start at 120 euros per child to 585 euros per child in a family of 5 children, and supplements of 34 euros from age 11 and 60 more euros per month from age 16 years. There is a birth or adoption grant fixed at 855 euros.
-Germany- universal child benefit not means tested, to age 18 years or to 21 years if in college or seeking jobs. Amount increases for number of children, from 164 euros per child for one, to 195 euros per child for four or more children. There is a supplement for parents who are at home or of personal low income.
-Greece-not means tested but given only to children of people in the paid labour force. It goes to age 18 years or if in college to age 22 years. The benefit of 8 euros goes up to 67 euros for a 4th child. There is also a birth grant of 881 euros for employees giving birth.
-Hungary - universal child benefit, not means tested, and to age 18 years or to age 23 years if in school. Amount of 63 euros per child is increased if the child is handicapped. Amount also increases for lager families and for single parent families. There is a birth grant of 22% of the minimum old age pension - about 278 euros.
-Iceland - universal benefit for children to age 17 years but tied to parental income.Amount is increased as child ages and for larger families or single parent families
-Ireland- universal not means tested- to children aged 16 years or to age 19 if in school or disabled.The amount of 166 euros per month goes up for bigger families to 203 euros per child per month. There is a birth grant of 635 euros for multiple births.
-Italy-a means tested benefit only for children of parents in paid employment. The benefit goes to children to age 18 years and is given only to lower and middle income households.
-Latvia-universal and not means tested. The benefit goes to children to age 15 years or to age 20 years if in school. The amount increases for larger families - 11 euros for first child per month, but 20 euros per child for 4th or more children. There is also a childbirth allowance of 421 euros. There is an even larger birth grant if this is a 2nd, 3rd or later child.
-Lithuania - universal, not means tested, given to age 18 years. Lithuania has been increasing the cope of the benefit in recent years.The amount goes from 28 euros for young children to 15 euros per month for older children, and is increased for larger families and can extend to age 24 years if the child is in school. There is an additional benefit to children who have no parents available and are in legal guardianship. There is a maternity benefit, a birth benefit and an adoption benefit.
-Luxembourg-universal benefit, not means tested, going to age 18 years but age 27 years if the child is seriously ill or in college.The amount goes up for larger families from 185 euros for one child to 802 euros for 3 .As children get older they get a larger benefit. There is also a birth grant of 1740 euros, given in 3 installments.
-Malta- benefit is adjusted for household income and is only given to Malta nationals. The amount of the benefit increases for larger families and goes to age 16 years, but age 21 years if a student. Maximum amount of benefit goes from 87 euros per child for one child to 218 euros per child for larger families. There is no birth grant but there is a marriage grant of 227 euros.
-Monaco-the benefit of 126 euros for infants goes up to 266 euros for those over age 10 years. Benefits are restricted to having one parent in paid employment. There is a pregnancy grant.
-Montenegro-The benefit goes to children to age 15 years, but 18 years if in school. The amount of 18 euros per month per child increases for those with disabilities. There is a newborn allowance, akin to a birth grant, of 100 euros
-Netherlands- the benefit is universal and not means tested. It goes to age 17 years and the amount increases with age from 193 euros for the young to 276 euros for those aged 12-17 years. The amount also increases for larger families. The amount doubles if the child is a 16-17 year old student or aged 16-17 and not living at home.
-Norway- the benefit is universal, not means tested and goes to age 18 years. The amount is 118 euros per child with a supplement for those living in the north. There is a maternity or adoption grant of 4092 euros per child. Single parent families get larger subsidies
-Poland-the benefit is universal and not means tested. It goes until the child is 18 years old and the amount goes up as the child ages, from 13 euros for the young to 18 euros until age 18 years or 24 years if in school. There is a birth grant of 261 euros per child with more for the poor.
-Portugal- the benefit is means tested and goes to age 16 years, or 24 if in school or disabled. The amount goes down as the child ages.There is a supplement for large families Amounts of benefit are large only until the child is age one year.
-Romania-universal benefits are given and are not means tested. They go to children up to age 18 years and there is a birth grant of 59 euros per month.There is also a 200 euro wedding grant per spouse.
-Russian Federation- there is a means-tested benefit until the child is aged 16 years, or 18 if in school. There is a birth grant of 234 euros with supplements for larger families.
-Slovakia-universal benefit is not means-tested and is 16 euros per child. There is a birth grant of 4560 euros with supplements for multiple births
-Slovenia-there is a universal means- tested benefit to age 18 years or 26 years if in school or infirm. The amount varies with household income, and goes from 90 euros for the poor to 18 euros for the wealthy. The amount increase for larger families. There is a birth grant of 259 euros.
-Spain-a universal benefit is means-tested and given to children up to 18 years, longer if the child is disabled. The amount decreases as the child gets older and is from 500 euros per year until age 3, then 291 euros per year to age 18. There is a birth grant of 2500 euros with supplements for single parents or large families.
-Sweden - the universal benefit is not means-tested. It is given to age 16 years and increases for larger families. There is also an allowance to students in college for 10 months each year.
-Switzerland- the benefit is for those in certain occupations only, especially agriculture, and that benefit is not means tested. It extends to age 16 years or up to 25 years if a student. Some cantons but not all provide a birth grant.
-Turkey - the benefit is means tested and only goes to children of married civil servants. There is a flat rate birth grant to civil servant mothers also but paid to the father if both parents are civil servants. There is also a wedding grant.
-Ukraine - the child allowance to age 3 years is not means tested, but from ages 3-18 years is means tested. The amount is 17 euros per month for the young and there is a birth grant that is larger for larger families.
-United Kingdom- the universal benefit is not means-tested. It is 18 euros per week for the oldest child and 12 euros per week for each other child. It goes to age 16 years or age 20 if in school. There is a maternity grant for the poor.

April, 2012

A disconnect has appeared between what parents say their preteens and teens are doing and what they are doing. Stats Canada has released results of a study of 878 children aged 6-11 years who were studied over 7 days in 2008-2009 with an accelerometer attached to them all waking hours to track their physical activity. Parents were interviewed about how they felt their children spent their time.
-parents thought the child spent about 105 minutes a day in moderate or extreme physical activity but the actual number was under 70 minutes.
-parents predicted that their kids watched TV or played video games about 2.5 hours a day but the actual number was about 7.6 hours
Rachel Colley of Statistics Canada hopes the numbers help in the encouragement of actual physical activity. Under 10% meet the current activity targets for 12-17 year olds of 60 minutes of physical activity per day.

Currently in Canada prostitution is legal but solicitation is banned.Prostitutes are not permitted to advertise and pimps are not allowed to live off the avails of prostitution.However the Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled in April 2012 that brothels should be legal and that prostitutes have the same legal right to security of the person as do all other citizens.The reaction to the ruling has been swift. Those in favour say that finally prostitutes will be protected and free from exploitation and abuse since the practice will be more scrutinized. Politician Danielle Smith in Alberta even wrote in 2003 that she approves of red light districts in Calgary. Those opposed however differ on reasons
-The Calgary Herald editorial board says that now prostitutes can hire support staff and security but doubts any actually will since, "someone hooked on crystal meth is unlikely to have a business plan."
-Ontario Superior Court judge Susan Himmel ruled in 2010 that brothels represent the commodification of human beings through regulation.
-Sweden has taken a different approach, and rather than making prostitutes criminal, criminalizes their customers so that it is illegal to purchase sex.
-Other critics argue that any legitimatizing of prostitution will keep women from moving out of the trade.
-ED NOTE: Voices of sex trade workers themselves seem to have been ignored by the critics. For sex workers, safety and security is the overriding priority, and to the degree that legalization and regulation will increase their safety, this is the most humane and enlightened approach.

In the US presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife Ann had five children. Ann was home to raise them and says that being home to do so was dignified hard work. However Mitt Romney has apparently a different view of mothers who want to be home to raise their children and are in poverty. He said that women on welfare should have to go out and earn money, even if their child is less than two years of age. He says mothers on welfare need to go to work and would be better off 'having the dignity of work'. In the US many states have exactly this requirement, as do many Canadian provinces, with policies that say the state will pay for childcare as long as the woman is earning, and will deny her welfare unless she is out there trying to earn. The policy in a 2006 Congressional Research Service report found that across the country you can only get money for welfare if you engaged in at least some minimal activity the state approves of, including paid work, work experience, on the job training, job search, community service, education or child care of someone not in your family, but not caring for your own kids. The Urban Institute found in 2012 that mothers in poverty have these options to get welfare and being home with the child full time is not one of them:
-single mother must earn 30 hours a week
-single mother with child under 6 must earn 20 hours a week
-married mother must earn 30 hours a week regardless of age of child
-married couple must together earn 55 hours per week if they get government funded childcare
(These laws and policies clearly use the definition of work from traditional economics and a paradigm that ignores the importance of care roles. These laws both cause harm to children and remove parental choice.)


March, 2012

Several institutions in the past operated homes to help unwed mothers with their pregnancies. The Salvation Army and some churches such as the United Church operated such homes for unwed mothers, but what was done there has recently been questioned. Retired judge Herbert Allard, also a former child welfare worker, says that many mothers were coerced into giving up their babies for adoption. Some places looked at these women as fallen and viewed taking the baby as rescuing it from poverty. Some groups did not even let the woman into the shelter unless she promised to give up the baby to them. Some city social workers withheld information to mothers or fathers of the children, not telling them that it was legally possible for them to change their minds and take their child back, or of the option of only temporary wardship. In Prince Edward Island a woman has called for a public inquiry into adoption practices and a similar move in Australia has led to government formally apologizing to the "many parents whose children were forcibly removed." Writer Lori Chambers has researched thousands of children's aid cases between 1921- 1969 in Ontario, looking at unmarried mothers and how they were treated, and has written the book, "Misconceptions." A series of class action lawsuits is pending in Canada. Many mothers are registering with Origins Canada, some accusing government of kidnapping, fraud or coercion, according to lawyer Tony Merchant. Some of those who have come forward are the adopted children themselves. Mary MacDonald was adopted in 1958 and says she was taken by the agency from the hospital even before her mother signed the adoption surrender document. Children adopted in such circumstances are expressing concern about losing their sense of roots, knowing their true identity or their medical background. (ED NOTE: A good friend of mine who became pregnant as a teenager and sought support from Catholic Family Services in Montreal was told that she had a choice: between adoption and abortion.  The option of keeping the baby was not even mentioned.  It took Herculean efforts on her part, and her own parents' support, to keep the baby after the birth.  Her daughter is now a successful family lawyer.)

Though many people live alone by choice, others just end up alone. BMC Public Health reports that one third of people in the US and Britain live alone, and that this number has doubled in the past 30 years. In Canada 26.8% of households have just one occupant, up from 6% in 1941. The trend has been examined by Dr. Laura Pulkki-Taback of Finland who examined health of 3500 working aged adults there. She found that:
-men who live alone often feel they lack social support and many are prone to alcohol abuse
-women who live alone are more likely to have financial disadvantage compared to married women, and are more likely to suffer from depression
-if people are alone due to marital breakup they are more prone to depression than if their being alone is the result of other circumstances
-people who live alone are 80% more likely to have been taking anti-depressant drugs during the study period.

In the US the Civil Rights Data Collection looked at the treatment of black students in 72,000 schools across the country. It found that though black students are only 18% of those enrolled they represent 35% of those suspended, 46% of those suspended more than once, and 39% of those expelled. Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, has pointed out that 'education is the civil rights of our generation' and is concerned that 'too many students of colour' have their principle of equity violated in the school system. The school report also found other areas of discrimination. Though about 12% of students at school have disabilities, 70% of those who get physically restrained have disabilities. What is happening also, possibly related to schools being funded based on marks, is a pressure (some suspect) to exclude those who do not perform well. Students of colour and students with disabilities are being pushed out of the school system, according to Deborah Vagins of the American Civil Liberties Union. The difference even extends to course selection. Though 55% of schools of diverse populations offer calculus, only 29% of schools with mostly black or Hispanic students even offer it. Though 44% of the students in the study were black or Hispanic, only 26% of the gifted and talented program students were black or Hispanic. The study also found that teachers in school with few black students get paid more than teachers in high minority schools.

In Saint John, New Brunswick, local land use is regulated by city council - rules are made about size of residential property and amount of land a house can occupy on it. Recently Counsellor Donnie Snook had an idea to change these rules, to make housing more affordable and to benefit the environment. He wants to permit very small homes on small parcels of land. The 20 meter wide lot would be able to house a home 4.8 metres wide and 7 metres long with a small front porch. The two storey building would actually be about the size of one and a half car parking stalls. Gary Vincent is a local developer who likes the idea. However, some neighbours argue that the lots would change the character of the neighbourhood, draw too may people and too much traffic. Some parts of the US already permit such homes.

Ipsos Reid has released results of a poll asking parents what professions they trust most and another of what professions they would like their children to enter. The study of trust found that people trust doctors and firefighters highly. However the study of desired professions found that parents usually don't want their children to enter professions that might pose physical risk, such as firefighting. The poll about desired jobs of children went out to 1003 Canadian adults. It found that doctor, pharmacist and nurse were highly ranked but politician, civil servant, union leader and salesperson were less endorsed. Researchers theorize that parents want for their children a stable or high income and job security, with good social values of helping others.

Aquila Tours, a long established tourist agency has recently announced a new program to enable customers to not just visit a place but to do volunteer work in it. The 'voluntouring' experiences available currently are to El Salvador or India and the customer is informed that there is not just a chance to do several days of sightseeing but to stay in the local community, live and eat as the locals do, to help building homes, protecting the natural environment, improving living conditions. There is no upper age limit for clients, and children under 18 are allowed as long as accompanied by adults. There is no experience necessary either. The fee for the 15 day trip to India does not include air fare or visa costs. It is $2900 Canadian per person but includes housing, meals and travel within India.

A New Jersey school has recently banned hugging. Principal Tyler Blackmore has decreed that the 900 students in his school ages 11-14, grades 6-8, will no longer be allowed to engage in "unsuitable physical interactions." The superintendent has said he supports the decision but will not suspend students who hug.

Dr. Colleen Maxwell has released results of a study of 2000 residents in either nursing homes with round the clock care or in supported living care facilities in Alberta. She found that patients in supported living have insufficient staffing for their complex medical needs and is concerned that those lower care facilities may put patients at risk. Those in round the clock care homes during the previous 90 days were 50% more likely to have seen a doctor but less likely to have been taken to ER or to have been hospitalized than those in the supported living residences. That means that in the supported living environment when there is a medical concern, people tend to take the most dramatic action. Her study found that in supported living facilities over half the residents were medically unstable and nearly 60% had dementia. Those in supported living also pay higher fees, have more costs for health related supplies and service and family caregivers are expected to provide some of their care. Maxwell calls this an 'off-loading of costs and care' to family members. Dr. David Swann, health care critic for the Liberal Party, says that the province's plan to build even more supported living beds is a problem when the report might suggest in fact more nursing home beds are needed. (ED NOTE: Care in a private home is not even mentioned though it is a common and often preferred style of care. In the home-based care option there is attention to daily crises by family members, so the arrangement can work well, but little is available in the way of funding. Maybe the answer lies with more funding to that level.)

With new technology enabling women to freeze their embryos for future use, several drawbacks are being studied. Dr. Carl Laskin, former head of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society, has found that if a couple splits up, the embryos become part of the custody battle. There are two types of freezing embryos, one for medical reasons, often because the woman is about to undergo cancer treatment and is not sure of fertility after, and the other 'social freezing,' where parents just want to ensure they can still have babies 10-15 years into the future, once their careers are established. Concerns expressed have now included:
-the health of the baby: Dr. Roger Pierson of the University of Saskatchewan argues that embryo freezing technology is still evolving. There was in earlier times a risk that ice crystals would destroy the embryos and sometimes only 80-90% of frozen eggs survived the thaw process. It is not clear how long frozen eggs can be safely stored according to Dr. Jeffrey Roberts of the Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine in Vancouver
-the cost: A typical charge for egg freezing is $3,500 to $5,850
-the nature of the eggs at the start: If the procedure is done for a woman up to age 40, it is possible that the egg collected is already chromosomally abnormal according to Dr. Calvin Greene of the Regional Fertility Program in Calgary.

The Centers for Disease Control in the US have found an increase over the past five years in the numbers of preschoolers with dental cavities. Children of all income levels are showing 6-10 cavities or more, a situation that is critical because with that amount of work to be done, many will need to be given general anesthetic since they can't sit still long enough for all those fillings. General anesthetic poses risks for preschoolers. The reason for the increased incidence of cavities seems to be misinformation on the part of parents about the importance of brushing even baby teeth. Some parents admit they give their young a lot of snacks and juice or sweet drinks, and many point out that young children usually don’t like to brush their teeth, and the parents just give in to their refusals. Dr. Rochelle Lindemeyer of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia says that even affluent families overuse sweet beverages for the children. (ED NOTE: I am also concerned that daycare and kindergarten kids almost never brush their teeth after lunches or snacks.)

Dr. Mark Yudin of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada has found that about 90% of pregnant women in Canada already have antibodies to chicken pox and are nearly all immune to the infection. However there is a risk to those who are not immune. Though it is only a 2% risk of complications if they contract the illness during pregnancy, he suggests that women all get the vaccine against chicken pox before they conceive. Dozens of women, each year, get chicken pox while pregnant. The risk is that 5-10% of them will develop complications such as lung tissue inflammation or that their offspring will have short limbs, chest wall malformations or brain abnormalities. One key risk factor is when the chicken pox is contracted because it is most dangerous in early stages of the pregnancy.

With a greying population and challenging economy, many seniors find they have to stay at paid work longer since they can't afford to retire. However it is not clear that employers are as open to keeping them on staff. Towers Watson, a consulting firm, found that most Canadians can't contemplate being able to retire until about age 67, but Mike Cuma, human resources expert, says that people younger than that already are at risk of illness. His studies have found that if older workers are high users of medical services, it will be very costly for employers to afford health care plans. A 2010 report found that of those aged 65-79, 15% have one of four chronic illnesses including diabetes or hypertension. Amy D'Aprix, gerontologist, says that those aged 65 and over are at higher risk for dementia and Alzheimer's though those conditions should not be considered a normal part of aging. Though the human rights code bans discrimination by employers on the basis of age of worker, and nationally regulated companies cannot legally impose a retirement age, some observers have expressed concern about how far an employer has to go to accommodate a disability. (ED NOTE: I think this is a little unfair. There is often a huge difference between the health of someone who is 65 and one who is 79 and those fourteen years can be productive years. The reasons we should not force seniors to do paid work are not because the senior is unwell. A better reason is that the senior is needed in other roles, such as caregiving, nurturing, advising and mentoring. We are not automatically useless at age 65, but to prove we are useful does not mean we need to be doing paid career jobs. As a society we have adjusted to the idea that mom or dad may not be available for a child when he or she cries because parents have to work. But it is sad for a child to think that grandma or grandpa are also not available. Is nothing sacred?)

In Alberta there is a legal recognition that parents have the right to decide the religious and ethical traditions for their children. However home-schoolers have become concerned that under the new Education Act they may not be able to exercise those rights. Paul van den Bosch of Alberta Home Education Association is unhappy that if he teaches his children his personal views about heterosexual marriage as an ideal, and teaches pro-life views, authorities will shut down his home school. The new law in section 16 says that all school curricula must be consistent with the Alberta Human Rights Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, both of which promote abortion rights and gay rights. Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk has tried to accommodate the concerns of the home schoolers, saying that he has no plans to undermine their rights, but he has not removed some of the clauses of concern. He has, however, written a preamble to the legislation, saying that a child's education begins in the home, and that parents play a foundational role in the moral and spiritual formation of their children.

It is illegal to discriminate against a female employee in Canada because she is pregnant. It is considered a form of sex discrimination, and women are not to be denied employment, fired or harassed due to pregnancy. However reports are still being received of such discrimination. In Alberta between April 2009 and February 2012,there were 532 complaints about discrimination due to pregnancy, amounting to nearly 25% of all the types of complaints submitted to the Human Rights Commission. An Ontario centre received over 6000 inquires about sex discrimination in 2010-2011, and most of those were also about pregnancy, according to Jennifer Ramsay of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre. The complaints are of women not hired due to pregnancy, dismissed while on parental leave, or not accommodated during employment due to the special needs they had.

One of the ways that governments try to make budgets balance in tough times is to raise taxes. Another is to reduce services. A third way is to try to keep the taxes low and still give the services, by having the private sector provide them. Human Resources Minister Diane Finley has announced that she is looking at the corporate and not-for-profit sectors to deliver social programs. She is considering a 'pay for performance agreement' with set targets and money paid by government to agencies that meet those targets. She is also considering 'social impact bonds,' contracts between government and private investors to provide money to finance a not for profit centre to deliver a social program. Government would pay the investor a premium if the outcomes were achieved. (ED NOTE: This all sounds good until we consider how it would work. Let's say government wants bottom line savings in the number of people living on welfare. Technically you could reduce that by simply reducing amounts paid. Or you could raise the standard and not pay out if people have savings, causing hardship and greater poverty. Or you could push people to get paid work by giving them free daycare at substandard warehouse-type locations. This might reduce bottom line the number of people getting benefits, but it might also cause huge harm to children and earners who continue to live in dire poverty. A lot depends on what 'programs' are offered but I really think that most of the important things we can do to help those in poverty are not just about bottom line accounting. A child deprived of the nurturing of parent for most of his or her childhood has no accounting column for that, but will have a permanent hurt. Better to let government fund parenting and make that a core social program.)

A program that offers to help doctors in the developing world learn new skills may be backfiring. Many who come to the US to learn medical skills are tempted to not go back home, given the higher standard of living and higher salaries in their new country. The New York Times recently examined situations where foreign doctors were facing such a predicament, finding that the US is a 'powerful magnet' for the world's doctors. 25% of doctors in the US have been trained at medical schools outside the country, and many who were born in the US do not choose to be family care specialists. That leaves a void easy to fill by those who come from elsewhere, wish to stay and don’t move on to specialty areas. The problem is that the nation in poverty that sent fledgling students away for medical training needs them back. In some countries such as Zambia there is anger against those doctors who don't return. Some accuse them of betrayal. In Zambia life expectancy is 46, one million of the 14 million people have H.I.V. or AIDS, 10% of children die before age 5 and hospitals are ill equipped. There is only one doctor for every 23,000 people, while in the US there is one for every 416 people. Doctors who stay in their home country or who train and return to it speak of the strong commitment they have to helping the people there, but they admit they often have to improvise with inadequate tools and equipment. Also, in places that have a new CT scanner or dialysis machine there may not be enough trained doctors to operate them.

In the western world birth rates are dropping, but in the developing world, until recently they were still very high. However the US Census Bureau has found that birth rates in some Arab nations are also now falling. Fertility rates have dropped nearly 60% in Morocco, Syria and Saudi Arabia, and in Iran they are down 70%. Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute has looked at how economies manage with fewer children to take over as workers and taxpayers. Currently nearly half of the world's nations have birth rates below replacement level. Writer David Brooks of the New York Times has concluded that around the world, "young people are the scarcest resource."

Highly aware of the 99%, many communities are now looking at what they can do for those struggling with poverty. When even dogs recognize that restaurants throw out a lot of good food, some restauranteurs are figuring out ways to avoid such waste. Though it isn't legal or ethical to give away food that was served but not eaten, it is legal and ethical to give away food that was never ordered, that never left the kitchen and that otherwise could go to waste. In Montreal Alain Archambault helped set up an initiative in 2009 called La Table des Chef to have hotels and restaurants distribute such food to local shelters. This program was successful and Didier Luneau, manager of a Montreal Hotel, Le Centre Sheraton at the time, has now taken the same concept to his new job as general manger of the Westin Calgary. In Montreal there are 200,000 portions given per year to the homeless through the program. Now the Calgary Chef Table program already is providing 300-400 meals to the Calgary Drop in Centre each week. The surplus food is frozen during the week and then is delivered by a donated refrigerated truck to the centre to be frozen or reheated as necessary.

Substance and Mental Health Services Administration in the US reports that 10.5% of US children under age 18 have one parent who has an alcohol disorder. In some cases both parents abuse alcohol. (ED NOTE: if we however conclude that parents are unfit, which is a common assumption, I think we ignore why people drink. It may be that the poverty they face, the low level of government help they get for the role is so demoralizing them that drink is their escape. Are we doing enough for parents?)

Common Sense Media recently found that over one third of children aged 8 and younger use iPads, smartphones or other mobile devices and 25% of 5-8 year olds even multitask with several of the devices at the same time. Given this, many toy manufacturers are trying to create a high tech option to old favorites
-Mattel has created a Barbie doll with a lens in her back so children can push a button on her belt, take a picture and download it to a computer.
-Hasbro has changed Laser Tag so that players instead of pointing a toy gun at each other, point a gun with an iPhone in it and a live video displays what is ahead, along with graphics. When kids pull the trigger, lasers appear
-Mattel has put free apps on its brands, in a system called Apptivity, whereby kids can pick a game for the iPad and use plastic toys with sensors around on the iPad.
-In a new version of Monopoly a smartphone will count your accumulated money and landing on Chance starts a short digital game, deciding whether a player goes to jail. The new games are more costly then the older visions. The Barbies with camera cost $50 instead of the usual $25. Lutz Muller of Klosters Trading admits that low income families are unlikely to use the downloaded apps options. Michael Acton Smith of Mind Candy, a toymaker, adds that there will always be a place for real plush toys since 'we don't want a world where kids are just staring at a screen'.

Those who wish to have a baby but can't find a life mate sometimes turn to adoption, or may marry without love because they want family. Some turn to IVF. However another option has surfaced. Modamily is an online matching system where single men and women can match up in a social network to commit to having a child and co-parenting in common. Some media reports have said this is a cross between online dating and a sperm bank but Modamily creators are working to handle the dissenters. Modamily introduces people who match for various factors and says it is helping to provide a financial and emotionally committed set of parents.

Health Canada has found that the painkiller drug OxyContin is highly addictive and is being widely misused in Canada to create euphoric highs. Though obtained by prescription it is being used by some who may crush it or inject it. In response manufacturer Purdue Pharma Canada announced it would stop producing the drug at the end of February 2012 and would replace it with a similar drug OxyNeo, which is harder to crush or to liquefy for injection. Several provincial health ministries have announced they will not fund use of OxyContin any more under their health care plans. Nova Scotia will only fund it for cancer and palliative care patients. Saskatchewan will not even fund the new replacement drug except for cancer or palliative care. Ontario will fund the new drug but under tight controls. Coroners in BC have reported that drug overdose in that province results in 140-180 deaths a year. Ontario's chief coroner has found that deaths related to Oxy Contin opioids rose 240% between 2002-2006. However many groups that help detoxify addicts by slower removal are concerned they will no longer be able to continue that process. At a high school in Thunder Bay Ontario a pilot project has been under way to help 40 students through withdrawal from OxyContin. Nurse Colleen McCreery has told the press that withdrawal symptoms are painful . Many counsellors fear that some of the recovering addicts may now turn to other opiates like heroin.

Though babies can't speak words, they have long been known to communicate with parents through noises, gesture, smiles and cries. However Dr. Jennifer Sumsion of Charles Stuart University in Australia was interested in whether very young babies also communicate with each other. She looked at children aged 6-18 months and attached small cameras to their heads for about 10-15 minutes at a time. The cameras recorded how the little kids looked at and played with each other, finding that they do play games very young, preverbally. They pretend to hand a toy and snatch it back, sit close to each other and switch drink bottles around and laugh. The researchers were amazed at the social skills evident.

Canadian standards for what are common healthy birth weights have created charts that alert doctors to potential problems. However Dr. Joel Ray of the U of Toronto has become concerned that many of those standards err, simply because they assumed Canadian-born parents. He looked at statistics from 760,000 Ontario births and found that those born to mothers from other countries weight up to 250 grams less than those born to Canadian, European or western born mothers. This lower weight may have been tagged as a problem by the charts, but is in fact normal for those from African or Caribbean origin. He found that 67 of 1000 babies born from those demographics were at risk of being mislabelled as underweight. He wants to create modern birth weight curves that recognize specific hereditary and ethnic normal tendencies. Otherwise some have an 'unnecessarily prolonged stay in hospital' and genetic testing that is not needed.

When someone needs an organ transplant, friends and family are often asked to see if they could donate and tests are done to see if they are a match. Sadly often those who are willing are not a good match medically. Rick Ruzzamenti in the US heard about a friend who had given a kidney to someone who was sick and he was thinking about making the same gesture with one of his two kidneys, though he did not know who might need it. When he approached a hospital to offer this altruistic donation of a kidney he was treated with suspicion, even though 400,000 Americans are on dialysis waiting for transplants and fewer than 17,000 get one each year because of lack of donors. Even though 4500 die each year waiting for a donor, hospitals do feel an obligation to check on the psychological health of anyone who suddenly wishes to donate. Getting more people to donate a live kidney has however big advantages and Ruzzamenti wanted to set up a computer system to link those needing organs with those willing to give, and to include the medical match criteria. The idea of an exchange developed so that a person who knew someone needing an organ may not be able to give their own to them but could give their own to someone else and then could arrange for a match to then give to the person they loved. A Domino chain like that was set up in 2005 at Johns Hopkins and other chains have thrived since. Ruzzamenti's chain recently set up a chain that resulted in 30 kidneys being donated.

In an irony that some might find nearly comic, it may be that a very widely available product most people consider a nuisance could successfully treat leukemia. Dr. Caroline Hamm and Dr. Siyaram Pande of the U of Windsor have found leukemia patients who for 3 years drank tea made from dandelion root, had a drop in growth of cancer cells. One patient even has gone into remission though at the time of starting the trial her situation was desperate and even chemotherapy was no longer working. Pande hopes that the cell suicide seen when dandelion tea is consumed may hold hope not just for treatment of leukemia but for bone, pancreatic and colon cancers and for neuroplastoma. Researchers also point out that drinking tea is easy, in contrast to toxic chemo treatments which kill healthy cells.

Just like there are programs now to give addicts methadone to help get them off drugs, there are other programs to give them the drug they are addicted to, in order to reduce harm to themselves or society if otherwise they would commit crimes to get it. The controlled and safe use of drugs and safe injection sites are working well. Another initiative is now being tried, regarding alcohol. Dr. Ron Joe of Vancouver Coastal Health says the Managed Alcohol Program that has been operating in Ontario for 15 years an will soon start in BC. Under it those who are so addicted to alcohol that they have turned to hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol and Listerine are in dire need of intervention. To help them they are given 12 daily doses of safe alcohol, non poisonous (which the other substances may be) and these 12 daily doses are one every hour from 10:30 AM to 10:20 PM. Eight chronic alcohol users are currently receiving this treatment in B.C.

In Europe the move to have a well educated population but requiring them all to pay high tuition is creating a social fallout of huge proportions. The New York Times has recently reported that many young people cannot afford to attend post-secondary education and yet, without an education are unable to find jobs. The unemployment rate has been part of the economic downturn of Europe in general and a key element of recent riots The number of unemployed between ages 16-24 in the US is 18%, in Britain is 22.3%, in Italy and Portugal is 30%, in Greece is 48% and in Spain is nearly 50%. Statisticians calls this new group the not in education, employment or training group, or NEETs, and they number in Britain alone about 1.3 million people. Loss of job hope is demoralizing an entire generation according to some analysts while the cost of social assistance for them is also very high. In Britain in the most recent fiscal year, government paid out $6.6 billion US for their social assistance and some say this would have been better spent on job training. In addition many companies no longer offer job apprenticeships. Economist Dr. Hilary Steedman of the London School of Economics found that under 10% of employers in Britain give apprenticeships while 25% do so in Austria, Switzerland and Germany.

Lawyer Edgar Cahn has become concerned that we actually have two economies in western society- the one that counts monetary activity private and public, and the second one that involves family, neighborhood, community and civil society actions that do not generate money. He says that that second sector is overlooked in traditional economics and is not only of huge value but is at risk. He says that care of infants, teens, and seniors, and comfort to people in crisis, saves government a lot of money.
-The value of household work in the US in 1998 would have been $1.9 trillion or one quarter of the GDP were it counted. The value of informal care of seniors in 2002 was $253 billion, and the amount government did not have to spend on this care is dramatically displayed since that figure is higher than the entire cost of health care and nursing home care. Economists Gary Becker and Nancy Folbre estimate that 40% of economic activity takes place in this second economy that is not counted officially. Cahn points out that the group doing most of the nation's health care is actually parents and the group that produces a workforce that gets up daily and gets to work on time is parents, yet those roles are usually officially ignored.
-He is concerned that undervaluing the time spent on care roles has pressured people to leave them just to have enough money to live and this has created a gap in services. He says the labor supply for this vital economy has dwindled as grandparents move out, as single parents try to do everything alone and as there are more parents out earning. He created a solution of sorts - a kind of labor exchange registry - called time banking. In this registry people offer an hour of service for free, and agree to get back a free hour of service from someone else, in an area they need. Services exchanged could be babysitting, eldercare, home repair, taxiing people around, helping after hospital discharge, protecting the environment, tutoring. His computer tallies up Time Dollars earned and owed and matches members. He admits that some members have given hundreds of hours and not yet claimed back their due while others have been receivers without yet being able to pay back but he says this is the caring economy trying to still exist.
-The time banking movement has spread. The currency in the US is called a time dollar and in the UK a time credit. Advocates claim that it builds social capacity and helps members gain confidence and social contact. Today 26 countries have TimeBanks and in the UK alone there are 108 time banks while in the US the are 53. Critics have raised concerns that some work that benefits society is not visible. An hour to think and read about how to help a teen in distress has no visible product. Cahn does have a category of work for social justice movement participation, for studying and changing public policy, and for protesting illegal behaviour.

As minority groups get equality rights, there comes a time when preferential treatment, reverse discrimination or affirmative action may no longer be needed. The theory has been that once women or people of colour or the handicapped are viewed for their own merits, without prejudice against them, they can compete on a level playing field. However those who endorse affirmative action are often leery of giving up rules that require it, in case society slips back to discrimination. In the US admission to colleges and universities was legislated to look at race and to make sure minorities were not excluded, and a 2003 Supreme Court ruling confirmed that principle. However a white student, Abigail Fisher, was not admitted to the U of Texas recently and feels it was because of quotas for other races. She has taken her case to court. Several US universities have already dropped the race consideration for people seeking admission.

Child Trends, a research group in Washington has revealed results of its latest study finding that marriage and having babies are tied closely to income, and younger women are more likely now to give birth without having married.
-59% of all new mothers in 2009 were married
-however nearly 67% of new mothers under age 30 were not married
-college graduates tend to marry before they have children
-the poor and racial minorities are more likely to not have married before giving birth; 41% of black children in the US are born outside marriage
-29% of white children, 53% of Latino children and 73% of black children were born outside marriage in another recent study
-Many of the nonmarital births are however to couples living together, just not married
Reasons for these trends have been speculated. Some say that there are some disincentives to marriage:
-single parents can get food stamps and child care benefits that may be lost if they marry
-women's incomes have gone up 8% but men's have gone down 8% in the past 30 years, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is possible that women do not feel that men are needed for income.
However sociologist Frank Furstenberg is concerned that children born outside marriage tend to run greater risk of poverty, school failure, and behavioural problems.

Though many nations are seeing a greying of the population and a drop in birth rate, the fast decline in Japan has created international concern. Currently Japan has 127 million people. However there is nearly no immigration and the birth rate has fallen so much that it is experienced a drop in population of 183,000 in 2009. Its Health and Welfare ministry estimates that at this rate it will lose 1 million people a year and by 2060 it may have only 87 million people, with 40% of its population being over 65. The birth rate currently is 1.21 and media has found that many young Japanese are no longer interested in marriage or having children.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called, "Inspiration and Chai," which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called, "The Top Five Regrets of the Dying." Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. "When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently," she says, "common themes surfaced again and again." Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:
1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. "This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it."
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard. "This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence."
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings. "Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result."
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. "Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying."
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. "This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."


February, 2012

The foster care system is being criticized for some of its policies. Thaila is an 18 year old girl in Toronto who feels that current policy making teens leave their foster or group home by age 16 or 18 is not fair. She says the policy puts kids out into the street too young. Though some provinces permit youth to stay slightly longer, some to age 21, the trend still is that most people who 'age out' for the group care system face a life of poverty. Rates of homelessness are high and rates of eventually landing in jail are higher than for the general population of teens. Thaila and a friend, Shanna, also in care, are working with the Child and Youth Advocate of Ontario and speaking at Youth Leaving Care hearings at the Ontario Legislature. CBC radio interviewed some of the 85,000 young people currently placed in the government care in Canada. Often the teens are forced to end their education early and rely on food banks because little is provided for them once they reach the required exit age. In poignant interviews some teens admitted they feel alone, and that it is hard to not even have someone to phone if they want to know how to cook something, since they are both disconnected from their biological parents and their relationships with foster parents was often tenuous and a paid relationship. A common question many ask, given that they are often still in high school and not able to get good jobs or enter post-secondary education, is to ask where the nearest food bank is. (ED NOTE: It is grossly unfair to assume that for some young adults "30 is the new 20," that we allow a long time for middle-class kids to launch, and yet we still force kids in poverty from the foster care system out so young.)

In many countries rights of the parents and rights of the state are at loggerheads. In Australia it is legal to keep your children out of the public school system but you do have to teach them, and to home school them you must register officially and follow a prescribed curriculum. However a recent study has found that many parents are home-schooling but not bothering to register. Bob Osmark of Queensland was prosecuted for not registering to home school his 13 year old daughter and this father of ten said he sees education as his own parental right and responsibility.  He was found guilty in court and fined $300 plus costs. A new school year is just starting in Australia in Feb 2012 and ABC News estimates that about 50,000 children are being home schooled, many of them illegally. Research is however hard to do. Dr. Glenda Jackson of Monash University says it is even hard to find families to research because parents are often suspicious of the motives of researchers. The Tasmanian Home Education Advisory Council asked 600 parents why they home school and 17% said it was for religious reasons, 50% said it was for other philosophical reasons, 27% said it was because they did not like the local school and 7% said it was because they wanted to meet the special needs of their children. Dr. Rob Reich of Stanford University says that some parents also have a deep distrust of authority and government-based curriculua.

Dr. L. Alan Sroufe of the U of Minnesota Institute of Child Development has written in the New York Times of his great concern about the over-diagnosis of children as having attention deficit disorder. As a practicing psychologist for 40 years he says we rely too heavily on Ritalin and Adderal for children and that there has been a 20 fold increase in the consumption of those drugs in the last 30 years. He admits that short term studies show short term effects on the brain of people using such drugs, effects that seem positive, but he says that the stimulants in them, dextroamphetamine and amphetamine actually over the long term have a quite different effect. He says that these stimulants do not improve broader learning. It is true that the initial body reaction of sleeplessness and loss of appetite fades but so does the beneficial effect on behavior as the child simply develops a tolerance for the drug. Cutting off the drug for a few days has effects similar to taking an addicted adult off tobacco or coffee. He says there is no long term benefit of these medications on academic performance or even on behavior problems. He is also concerned that medicating so many children gives them the message that they can't function without drugs, and that there is 'something inherently defective in them'.

The American Psychiatric Association is working on its fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and several controversies have arisen. Once a condition is labelled an official mental disorder it becomes eligible for medical insurance coverage which some say increases access of sufferers to treatment. However once it is recognized officially, it may also be more diagnosed than ever, risking calling abnormal some things that are actually normal, according to other observers.
-attenuated psychosis syndrome - is a new diagnosis proposed for those who have delusional thinking and hallucinations. Some say treating it early could prevent it becoming full fledged schizophrenia. But others say that the symptoms for it are very poor predictors and 70-80% of those with the vague symptoms never develop schizophrenia anyway. If they were treated with powerful anti-psychotic drugs they may have more problems.
-a new condition called premenstrual dysphoric disorder would be for premenstrual fatigue and blues
-a new diagnoses called binge-eating disorder would name out of control bingeing.
-grief after someone dies is also being considered as a disorder linked to clinical depression. Some feel that those who are bereaved may need drugs for depression. However others say that drugs for depression can produce bad side-effects of sleeping problems and lower sex drive. Dr. Sidney Zisook of the U of California San Diego says that we need to call bereavement in some people depression because otherwise we do them a disservice because they need more attention. On the other hand Dr. Allen Frances of Duke University says he fears we are going to 'medicalize normality' and that millions will "unnecessarily get stuck with psychiatric labels."

As people age they sometimes have declining health that requires changes in care level. At first they may be able to care for themselves and then they may need some help from a family member and they may later need a caregiver coming into the home. They may then need to move to a higher care level. In Alberta seniors have sometimes been forced to move from one building to another, uprooting much of their lives, whenever their care needs changed. There have been buildings for assisted living, supported living, where you have to stay very healthy to be resident and then there are buildings for higher levels of care, long-term care. Health Minister Fred Horne has announced Feb 2012 that he will try to remove the confusing terms of types of care and will focus not on money to each building but on the patient. He wants to let people be in facilities they can stay in even if their needs change and he wants to ensure that simple home care for the rest of one's life is also an option. He is planning to create two demonstration facilities one in Calgary and one in Red Deer by 2014.

The UK Office for National Statistics has found that many women in the United Kingdom now return to paid work very soon after having a baby with a key reason that they have more income earning power than does their spouse. The decision to have one parent at home is still a priority in many families, partly due to preference and partly due to high cost of 3rd party care compared to income of the second earner. The result is a growth in numbers of fathers as primary caregivers of children. The average woman in her twenties now earns more than a man the same age. In 1997 men earned 5.9% more than women at that age but by 2005 for the first time women earned more. In 2012 women earn 3.6% more than men. The new lifestyle, however, has not necessarily been the preference of women or men, financially the best option. 

At the World Economic Forum in Jan 2012 PM Harper has revealed that he plans to address issues of an aging population by making 'major transformations' to the pension plan. The Canada Pension Plan is funded by contributions from paid workers and he has said he intends no changes to it. However it is rumored that he is planning changes to the Old Age Security program, which currently is a payment given to those aged 65 and over. Speculation is that he plans to raise the age of eligibility to age 67. NDP finance critic Peter Juliam is concerned about what he calls the 'ominous' rumors and he would prefer that OAS was more generous. His party and the Liberal party want the OAS increased by reducing spending on prisons and fighter jets. Government documents indicate that currently the OAS output of $36.5 billion would be required to be $108 billion in a few years if the number of seniors increases from the current 4.7 million to 9.3 million by 2030.The OAS amount is $540 a month for those earning under $69,000 in retirement but is reduced for those who earn more and is eliminated for those with retirement income over $112,000. Other groups have reacted to the PM's suggestion differently:
-Some have suggested that MPs should also reduce their own pensions. Derek Fildebrant of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says that MPS can get a pension after only 6 years of service, and they need contribute only $10,900 a year while regular Canadians have a much different contribution rate. Fildebrandt says that ordinary people pay $23.30 for every $1 MPs contribute to the MP pension and an ordinary person would have to save $129,000 a year for six years to get the big pension MPs get.
-Jane Badets of Statistics Canada found that even with immigration the population does not get younger so adding new taxpayers who are immigrants does not solve the problem. If Canada admitted four times as many immigrants per year the median age of the population would still increase, to 22.3% of all citizens by 2056.
-Tyler Meredith of the Institute for Research on Public Policy says that pushing the age up to 67 for everyone would unequally harm those who do not have the financial means or physical ability to earn two years longer.
-Dr. James MacKinnon of Queen's University says that Harper plan could work well and might be quite simple. He says the plan would be better than just reducing payments to everyone and still letting them get money from age 65.
-other activists have argued for increases to birth benefits so that more people have children, generating income to the pension plan for each generation to come. Licia Corbella, writer at the Calgary Herald says the real solution is what a 2006 Stats Canada study said, to have more babies. Without a substantial increase in fertility Canada's population growth could in twenty years be near zero.
-Canadian pension plans were designed for a birth rate of 2.2 and since the current birth rate is 1.6 there is a problem.

In the US there is a tax break for those with children, called the child tax credit. It is provided for those who file tax returns and all they have to do is provide their Social Security numbers or individual taxpayer ID numbers in the process. But as the US looks for ways to cut expenses and has turned down tax increases for the rich, it may be cutting benefits to the poor. A new proposal would only give the child tax credit to those with a certain type of application form. Unauthorized immigrants are not given Social Security numbers. All they get are taxpayer identification numbers. The IRS makes them pay tax and to date they have been able to apply for the tax credit but the new law could cut them off . On average those who earn $21,000 a year got a benefit of $1800 and they would now lose that. Editors at the New York Times say that denying the very poorest this benefit will also harm the communities they live in, and they will not be able to purchase groceries, utilities, gas or pay rent.

In South Korea a new government plan will subsidize not just use of kindergarten or daycare but also the raising of children at home. South Korea is hoping to raise its low birth rate through support for child birth and President Lee Myung-bank says that child-rearing "is the surest investment in the future". He has announced in February 2012 that
-regardless of parental income level, subsidies will be given to those who put 3-4 year olds in kindergarten or daycare centres. The amounts will be 240,000 won in 2012, and will go up to 300,000 by 2016.
-families with a net income in the bottom 70% bracket will be able to get childrearing payments even if they don't use kindergarten or daycare. It is expected that 640,000 families will access that fund next year. His ministry says, "The support system is expected to add a sense of security for those people planning to have children."

In the US there is a huge housing crisis. 20% of Americans with mortgages are unable to pay them. Many now owe more than their home is worth, even if they could find a buyer, which they usually cannot. Banks have foreclosed on four million American homes, and many people have been evicted by the banks. Many homes have just been abandoned. On average homeowners are underwater $50,000 each, with a total negative equity of $700 billion. Who to blame for this housing crisis is at issue, and mortgage services and banks have been roundly criticized for how they got people to commit to mortgages without full transparency and how they evicted them without full documentation. The second problem though is how to help homeowners in distress. Government has been talking with the nation's five biggest banks not just urging them to make allowances but with the likelihood of legal action against them if they do not. The result has been an agreement that will provide some funding to about half of the homeowners in distress. Under the deal
-one million people will get their mortgage debt reduced or be given lower rates to refinance their homes
-750,000 will get cheques for about $2,000 each to make up for having lost their homes to foreclosure in the last 3 years
-Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial have set aside reserves for these accords
-though only $26 billion is being offered, federal officials say that they hope the amount will reach $39 billion for homeowners.


January, 2012

Barbara Kay, writing in the National Post, made a startling discovery in her background research on late-term abortion;  there was never any animal testing of certain kinds of "suction" abortion methods now routinely used in human populations.  The unintended outcomes of these procedures are only beginning to be identified in research, including a significantly higher rate of spontaneous abortion/miscarriage in women who become pregnant and who previously had undergone late-term abortion procedures, and a higher rate of autism among children born to women who had undergone abortion procedures in previous pregnancies.  Kay has also written on the topic of sex selection abortion.  In a recent decision, the Canadian Medical Association recommends that doctors no longer reveal the sex of unborn children to parents, because of the rapid increase in sex selection abortion, with a high rate of female abortion globally.  The trend is reversed in Canada, with significantly more male sex selection abortions.

The 1997 film Gattaca, set in “the very near future,” depicts a eugenic dystopia created by embryo screening, in which people born naturally suffer in the shadow of those who begin life in a lab. In one scene, a geneticist reassures a couple that “this child is still you, simply the best of you. You could conceive naturally a thousand times and never get such a result.” But the film's protagonist disagrees: “What began as a means to rid society of inheritable diseases has become a way to design your offspring – the line between health and enhancement blurred forever.”  The Globe and Mail, in a feature article this month by Carolyn Abraham, focuses on the issue of "unnatural selection" involving in vitro fertilization and genetic testing. At least one prominent Oxford University scholar supports such “unnatural selection” wholeheartedly, arguing that people who procreate are morally obliged to improve the species: a "survival of the fittest" outlook.  Many in the medical community also take such a positive outlook. Jeffrey Steinberg's Fertility Institutes has branches in Los Angeles, New York and, for those on a budget, Mexico. “The dilemma we've got,” he says, “is that ... there are no rules.”  The lack of regulation in this domain is alarming.  Roger Pierson, a fertility specialist at the University of Saskatchewan, says, “twenty years from now, you have to wonder if all babies will be conceived by IVF.” Steinberg offers IVF with embryos screened for a long list of conditions, and says his clients come from all over the world, including 10 to 15 couples a month from Canada – “a tenfold increase from five years ago, and the bulk of them are fertile.” Because of “an old-line religious stance or new-line political correctness,” Dr. Steinberg says, most of his international clients can't have babies this way in their own countries. Barring people from selecting the sex of a child was one of the few federal regulations the Canadian Supreme Court left intact, and the only restriction there is on embryo screening. Even so, couples face no repercussions for doing it out of country. Clients from certain cultures choose boys, but Dr. Steinberg finds Canadians tend to want girls. “I don't see myself as a rebel,” he contends. “I'm just offering what the science allows.”
The science of embryo testing was born in a small London hospital in 1989. British scientist Alan Handyside, who had trained with test-tube-baby pioneers Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards, devised a method to extract a cell from a newly created embryo and amplify enough of its DNA to check for mutations. Doing so would allow doctors to implant in a woman's uterus only those embryos free of the mutation she wished to avoid. Known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, it was billed by critics as a leap toward designer babies from the outset, a form of eugenics. But initially, few balked at its noble aims of eradicating hereditary diseases that can kill a child before kindergarten or result in catastrophic impairments, such as muscular dystrophy, Tay-Sachs and cystic fibrosis. Yet this was before the human genome was mapped, and even Dr. Handyside says that “PGD was born prematurely.” Since then, genetic know-how has grown steadily, as have the uses of PGD, which is now employed to select a child's sex, to create “saviour siblings” genetically equipped with donor tissues to match those of another child in need - one of the more chilling aspects of PGD.
Canadian researcher Jeffrey Nisker was a PGD pioneer helping to push the boundaries of the technology, but, unlike Dr. Steinberg, rather than slow down when ethics became a concern, he stopped altogether. Like Santiago Munné, a PGD pioneer in the United States, he advocates for the disabled, who  understandably oppose the procedure. And to those who believe that life begins at conception – even if it takes place in a petri dish – there is no difference between terminating a pregnancy and terminating human life in a petri dish. In a 2006 submission to Health Canada, the Catholic Organization for Life and Family called for a ban on PGD, saying it “inherently disrespects the dignity and worth of human life, since it is performed in order to select the most genetically perfect embryos while discarding those that are deemed undesirable."
Despite his own fears and 15 years of pushing for regulations, Dr. Nisker laments that universal limits are tough to set, given that PGD is embedded in the freedom of reproductive choice debate. On the other hand, Julian Savulescu, the controversial Oxford University bioethicist, claims parents have a moral obligation to select embryos that are “most likely to have the best life, based on the available genetic information.” That information, he argues, should not be limited to avoiding disease genes, but should include those that might improve intelligence or physical characteristics – even if it maintains or adds to social inequalities. He calls it “procreative beneficence.” Prof. Savulescu, whom Dr. Nisker has often debated, also believes that society should embrace the genetic manipulation of embryos to endow future offspring with superior traits that inheritance has not provided. Until recently, such engineering was only theoretical. But in 2007, researchers at Cornell University quietly created the world's first genetically modified human embryo by adding a fluorescent gene that allowed scientists to watch it develop. The breakthrough did not become public until the following year, when it was roundly condemned as a worrisome step toward designer babies. Nisker and other believe that PGD "reinforces the inequalities we already have in society to a shameful degree and introduces new inequalities where only some people have these traits.” He also worries that parents who go to great lengths to stack the genetic deck of their children ("offspring projection") will place undue expectations on them. And we start to look at our children as we look at remodelling, as when painting the front porch somehow leads to a full home renovation.

Dr. Suzanne Tough of the U of Calgary has released results of a study of fertility in men. finding that not just mothers but also fathers, have a decline in fertility with age. Her study found that babies born to fathers aged 40 or over have a higher risk of developing some medical conditions such as autism or schizophrenia. It has already been known that after age 32 it is harder for women to become pregnant and that women who give birth after age 35 are at a higher risk of ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, high blood pressure or placental abnormalities. A study of Canadian ages of parents shows that 5% of women were 35 or over in 1987 when they had their first baby but now 11% of first babies are to women over 35.

The mechanism Canadian tax law sets up to provide funds for taking care of a newborn is through the employment insurance plan. This plan is tied to paid labor force activity however so taking care of a baby is funded only if the parent has in the past year done over 600 hours of paid work. The situation has become difficult also not just for mothers at home who did not qualify but for adoptive or foster parents who did not give birth to the child as part of the qualifier. Adoptive parents have now been granted maternity benefits as long as they did the required paid work hours last year. The federal government has announced Jan 2012 that it will also now let foster parents get the benefit, again only if they have done enough paid work. In the past such parents may have eventually qualified but they had to legally adopt the child first. This waiting period will now be waived as long as the prospective parent shows a 'demonstrable commitment' to adopt the foster child.

While some parents want to ensure girls have the right to choose any toy, free of gender bias, others feel strongly that boys should be encouraged to become manly and not be playing with dolls. Toy merchants have in the past created boys' and girls' sections in some toy departments but that is changing. In London England, Hamleys, a 250 year old toy store chain has taken down its pink and blue sections for boys and girls to instead offer a red and white environment that categories its floors and departments no longer by Barbie dolls and action figures but by types - Soft Toys -or interests - Outdoors. The Lego company which from its inception in 1963 advertised its product 'for girls and for boys' is now changing some of its figures. Lego has made a Friends collection after doing anthropological research which found that girls like toys that exude 'harmony' and permit them to tell a story with role-playing. Lego will now have a beauty parlour as part of what kids can build. Peggy Orenstein who wrote "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" a study of what she calls 'girlie-girl culture' says that the new focus of some toys is on princesses. Some toys now have 'girl friendly ' science kits to create a beauty spa lab or a perfume factory. Dr. Lise Eliot who wrote "Pink Brain, Blue Brain' found that preschoolers are easily influenced to prefer toys that match their gender. Recent studies of young children have found:
-boys like cars and balls more than girls
-both genders like books and stuffed animals
-boys play in a more solitary way while girls like to cluster in pairs and trios
-girls talk more than boys do as they play
-girls cooperate with each other more than boys do as they play
-in a study of 5,000 three year olds, girls had better spatial skills if they lived in a home with older brothers than if they did not
-boys from egalitarian homes were more nurturing to babies

Though some nations have a 'fend for yourself' economic policy where the poor are not helped in order to push them to work harder, other nations have adopted policies to try to help the poor. The International Labor Organization and World Health Organization are concerned about the 1.4 billion people trying to live on less than $1.25 a day and think that a key solution is not just to urge them to 'work' harder but to help them. The plan is to set up an international 'social protection ' baseline or floor that all people in the globe are entitled to as a human right. This social protection floor would give universal access to health, education, housing, water and sanitation. It would ensure food security, adequate nutrition, and a guaranteed minimum income. An international petition is being set up to tell UN Secretary General Ban KiMoon that people are in favour of this 'global floor' initiative. The petition reads: "We, members of civil society, strongly support the Social Protection Floor Initiative – a joint UN effort coordinated by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and supported by UN agencies, international NGOs, development banks and other development partners." About 75 percent of people in the world do not have adequate social security. This lack of protection undermines social cohesion and economic performance and creates political and institutional instability. This floor is a necessary tool for eradicating poverty.

In Belgium a parent who has a severely handicapped child is entitled to parental leave until the child is 12 years old. That limit however has recently been changed and as of March 2012 the parent will be given the parental leave benefit till the handicapped child is 21 years old.

December, 2012

Many who sit idly at computers find the wealth of options amazing and may Google their own names, do map searches to look at former homes, troll Facebook to see what friends are doing, play games online or watch Youtube videos. However the experience of being upset and sitting down at a computer wishing for help is also being noticed. US Surgeon General Regian Benjamin says that 36,035 Americans commit suicide per year, about 100 a day, and the idea of helping them on the Net is spreading. Google and Yahoo provide a phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you search 'suicide' . However Facebook has recently announced a new program to let users instantly connect with a crisis counsellor through the chat messaging system. Lidia Bernik of Lifeline says that key to any intervention is to be there now, right when needed. She says instant messaging has a huge advantage over having to pick up a phone even. There are however risks. Some people who are upset may be concerned that Lifeline, if contacted will then cal police without permission. Facebook is trying to deal with the issues by permitting friends who 'spot a suicidal thought' from someone's page to report it to Facebook, and then Facebook will email the person encouraging them to click on a link to have a confidential chat with a counsellor. (ED NOTE: I think the Internet can be a great resource for sad people. It provides music and humour and distraction, but the idea of also caring connection is useful. Since suicidal people often tend to leave a suicide note, making sure we give them an avenue to call out for help is good.)

If teens are balky to their parents, this may be a good thing long term if they are making their case with reasoned arguments. Dr. Joseph Allen of the U of Virginia has released results of a study of 184 children in grades 7 and 8, looking at their drug and alcohol use, their friends, their friends' behaviors and their relationship with their own parents. The study found that teens who sought autonomy and who were given some trust by parents after discussions, tended to later be able to resist peer pressure. The study found that
-if a teen's friend used drugs or alcohol, the teen was much more likely to also do so, especially if the friend was popular
-teens tended to change their drug or alcohol use to match that of friend.
The authors observed that "We may be in danger of substantially underestimating the importance of peer influence processes"
-teens however who had been given parental attention, trust and some autonomy were better able to resist the peer pressure
-occasionally teens would also imitate a friend for positive behaviors
(ED NOTE: In the absence of parental presence, teens turn to each other. That may become the blind leading the blind, sheep following sheep as the saying goes. I favour parents being there for their kids, for information and wisdom. This however is not achieved without a tax system that enables parents to be there and does not just value them away from home earning.)

Though debate about instituting kindergarten has been with us for years, it is taking a few new turns. The first move to include kindergarten at all in public education was expanded to having it not just for 5 year olds but for 4 year olds. The next move however is to include those 3 years of age and there is talk of having it for 2 year olds. Columnist Bronwyn Eyre of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix wrote that her four year old son finds even a half day experience exhausting, and is leery of full-day kindergarten. She quotes Dr. Aric Sigman, American psychologist-biologist who found that up to 80% of children in daycare have high cortisol levels associated with stress. She says that 'no program can replace a nurturing home'. A British study she quoted found that up to half of five year olds are not getting the traditional games, nursery rhymes and bedtime stories parents used to give and she says the Quebec universal daycare experience has not been as successful as intended. She noted that reading scores in Quebec have plummeted since the daycare experience began and in the Pan- Canadian Assessment Program, Quebec's literacy levels were among the lowest in the country.

Macleans Magazine has featured an editorial in its Dec 19 2011 issue, addressing the recommendation for kindergarten at age 2. Though former Lt Governor of New Brunswick, Margaret Norrie McCain and the late Dr. Fraser Mustard promoted kindergarten that young, a Quebec think tank found those who had not attended kindergarten did better on reading tests than those who had. A 2009 Quebec study found that children who had been in the universal daycare program and now in high school are not reading or doing science at average national levels, but below them. A 2008 study of the daycare system found that 'children are worse off in a variety of behavioral and health dimensions, ranging from aggressive to motor-social skills to illness' if they attend daycare. The Macleans editors observed that the child care debate arguing how good daycare is, is not arguing for children but for parental convenience.

From 1933 to 1977 a North Carolina program was designed to reduce costs of welfare, to stop poverty and to improve the gene pool. The plan was to ensure that some people unlikely to be able to parent well would not become parents. The Eugenics Board of North Carolina ordered state sterilization of several categories of people, some of whom are only now coming forward claiming this violated their rights. Included in the categories were
-uneducated young girls who had been raped by adult men
-teens in poverty who came from large families
-people with epilepsy
-people deemed too 'feeble minded' to raise children
-those whose parents had low IQ scores
-women of racial minorities. They more likely to be sterilized than were white women
-some were told they were having an appendectomy and did not understand the procedure imposed on them So far about 7600 people sterilized under the program have been identified and in 2002 the state issued an official apology to them. Some who were deemed of low IQ went on to hold down several jobs at once, showing that their low IQ was not a barrier. Though some prominent wealthy people endorsed the sterilization boards, including President Woodrow Wilson, Margaret Sanger of Planned Parenthood, Dr. Clarence Gamble of Procter & Gamble and James Hanes, the hosiery CEO, the tide now has been to condemn the practice. (In fact 31 US states had similar eugenics programs.) Governor Perdue now says that state does owe the victims compensation but mental health services are also being offered.The amount of compensation and who gets it are being debated. Charmine Fuller Cooper of the Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation says it is hard to quantify damage from a choice that was taken away. In about 4600 cases, the person sterilized has died by now and another issue is whether the estate should get benefits. Only 68 have actually been verified in state records as still alive and having had state run procedures but there were also many private doctors who provided the sterilization.  There is also the issue of privacy since some of those sterilized went on to marry and adopt children and may not have ever told the family of their past.

The General Social Survey of Statistics Canada has found that caregiving is a common time use of Canadians. The study looked at care of children, domestic work, volunteer work and care of seniors, all historically unpaid roles. It found that
-3% of Canadians take care of a senior living with them
-14% of women and 9% of men take care of a senior not living with them
-49% of women and 20% of men spend over 10 hours per week providing care of a senior
-40% of women and 36% of men did unpaid volunteer work for an organization in the preceding y ear
-38% of women and 33% of men did such volunteer work 5-15 hours per month.

In the 1980s researchers became concerned that giving children aspirin might be linked to development of Reye's syndrome. Many parents then switched to giving children acetaminophen when the child had a fever. However in 1998 Dr. Arthur Varner of the U of Wisconsin became concerned that use of acetaminophen might be linked to development of asthma. Since then 20 other studies have confirmed that there may be a link between acetaminophen and asthma and some pediatricians are now arguing that ibuprofen be given instead. A 2008 study found that children who were given acetaminophen for a fever before age one year had a 50% greater risk of developing asthma. Not all agree there is a problem though. Dr Mahyar Etminana of the U of British Columbia notes that fevers are usually caused by viral infections and those infections themselves are linked to later development of asthma, regardless of what fever medication was used. He has said "It's hard to tease out whether it's the drug or the viral infection"

The American Academy of Otolaryngology says that noises above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. Toy manufacturers are urged to keep toy noises down and generally toys are tested to created less than 70 decibels when the toy is on a table or floor. However Dr. Hamid Djalilian of the U of California, Irvine feels that the standard has to be adjusted. He found that small children often put noisy toys right up to their ears and that even holding a toy arm's length away can make it very loud since the child' s arm is so short. He tested 10 popular toys and found that Road Rippers and T-Pan Mic made decibel levels over 100, as loud as a chain saw or subway. Toys like Let's Rock Elmo or Green Lantern Colossal Cannon Blaster went over 90 decibels. Researchers suggest that parents supervise small children playing with noisy toys and that maybe they put tape over the speakers to reduce the sound.

Dr. Mark Ellenbogen of Concordia University has released results of a test of the drug oytocin for students. The drug was administered to some of 100 students, the others getting a placebo, and the means of administering was a nasal spray. The students then completed a psychological questionnaire. Those who had inhaled the hormone have higher feelings of extroversion, feelings of warmth to others and positive emotions. The idea of using a nasal spray to make a person less shy, more open to ideas, less tense on first dates or during a job interview is being discussed. (ED NOTE: This is a mood altering drug. Being high to get through the day is not something I would recommend for any social or job situation.)

Several studies about the age of retirement have been made recently with huge political implications.
-France, Australia, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Spain , the UK and the US have found their pensions systems are unsustainable at current payout rates
President Sarkozy of France however was met with huge public fury when he suggested extending the retirement age from 65 to 67.
-Roger Martin of the Rotman School of Management in Canada recommends retirement at age 75, phased in over time so that those now 40 would retire at 69 but those now under age 4 would have to wait till age 75.
-In Canada there are several pension plans:
a. Old Age Security goes to citizens and permanent residents starting at age 65. It pays $533 a month. There has been talk of making people wait till age 67 to get the benefit.
b. the Guaranteed Income Supplement GIS goes to low income seniors. This is a federal plan accessible at age 65 but there has also been talk of making people wait till age 67 for it also.
c. the Canada Pension Plan - CPP is a pension based not on age but on paid work. It only goes to those who contributed to the plan via paid work. In 2009 the government announced that though you could start taking the CPP at age 60, you would have to take lower amounts for life, 36% less than if you waited till age 65.And if you waited to claim till age 70, you'd get 42% more than you would have if you started at age 65.
-the Mowat study by Martin Hering and Thomas Klassen suggested that the CPP should start at age 67 not 65 saying that would save the fund money, about $982 billion by 2050.
There are two currents when the topic is mandatory retirement. Some feel that being told you can no longer do the job because of your age is unfair while others feel that freeing up jobs for young people is a good idea. Some argue that forced retirement robs firms of valued expertise and that government could make a lot more tax revenue if it let these people earn longer, and did not have to pay out pensions. However some workers say that they are not physically able to still lift crates and do their job and they are not happy to be told they have to wait to retire longer. Within this debate some issues have surfaced:
-Airline pilots used to have to retire at age 60 but they complained and recently won the right to continue to earn if they choose
-In 1973 New Brunswick made it illegal to force people at age 65 to retire but it permitted an exemption for people in a bona fide pension plan.
-Many provinces followed suit and banned compulsory retirement, Quebec and Manitoba in 1982, Ontario in 2006, BC, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland in 2007 and Alberta and Nova Scotia in 2009.
-A federal Budget Implementation Bill of 2011 has just been passed so that as of Dec 2011 the federal government also will outlaw mandatory retirement rules. This new ruling applies to federal civil servants and 800,000 workers in federally regulated industries like mining, railways, and broadcasting.
Many organizations are trying to find a compromise that will suit all workers. The Canadian Association of Retired Persons says it should be possible to retire gradually, to get some pension while still earning for those who prefer that. Some plans used to cap what a person could get in benefits even if they continued to earn after retirement.

As pension plans come under scrutiny, many observers are finding that a few get very generous provisions and others do not. Pension expert Bill Tufts is concerned about such pension inequities, particularly between the public and private sectors. His research found an inequity between pension plans set up years ago for people now older, and ones for today's young people dealing with pension contributions. Pensions plans for university staff and faculty are a case in point. The U of Guelph has a $344 million shortfall. York University has as $339 million shortfall in its pension plan and the U of Ottawa is lacking $206 million while McMaster's is down $301 million. Dalhousie has a shortfall of $270 million which amounts to nearly $100,000 per plan member. A study of what has gone wrong has revealed
-ten years ago many pension plans were so well funded they had surplus funds
-the plan administrators decided to offer members 'contribution holidays' and they enriched the planned benefits for retirees
-the earliest plans promised set returns, a defined benefit.
-the earliest plans required the employer to contribute twice as much as the worker did to the plan. Today's plans require equal contributions of employer and employee.
-then the markets sank and interest rates for pension investments got very low. Pension funds that used to be healthy were now in crisis.
-retirees also started living longer, needing pensions that lasted
-young people today have little hope of getting the generous pensions some in earlier generations got but are also being asked to pay for those pensions. Statistics Canada has estimated that each student has to pay fees so high just to graduate that on grad day he already has a debt of $18,800.

Recent statistics reveal that in 2009, 231,000 seniors in Canada lived in poverty, meaning about 5.2% of the elderly. Among those aged 18-64 however the poverty rate was nearly double that. In the US in 2000 the rate of poverty among the elderly was nearly 20%. So one might assume that seniors are doing quite well in Canada. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that Canada's poverty rate for seniors is very low comparatively around the world. However the picture in some locations is more bleak. In Toronto the senior poverty rate went from 6.5% in 2005 to 8.4% in 2009. In Vancouver it went from 11.8 to 13.8%. In Calgary it went from 1.6% in 2005 to 4.2%. In fact a TD bank study in the fall of 2011 found that seniors in Canada are accumulating debt faster than younger people are. St. Clair West Services for Seniors has found that once -proud seniors have lately been approaching them for top ups of their pensions or disability payments because all the help they are getting is not enabling them to pay bills. People are living longer and often alone, with extended family sometimes in other cities.

In Alberta the newly elected premier in her first few months in office has prioritized two aspects of caregiving. She restored funding to the schools, ensuring educational care of young children. She also promised to increase funding for the severely handicapped. Currently the handicapped get $1188 a month but she will now give them $1588, a significant increase. 43,500 people receive this government help.

The Canadian Association for Retired Persons wrote an open letter to the nation's finance ministers for their December 18-19 meeting in Victoria BC. The association urged the ministers to
-enhance the Canada Pension Plan
-develop and fund a national home care and caregiver support plan. They want a federal home care transfer grant to ensure a basic level of home care for any Canadian who needs it
-explore setting up stable funding for long term care such as long term care insurance
-support informal caregivers by financial help, especially to those giving 'heavy care'
-giving workplace protection and work leave for those who have to be caregvivers
-giving training and respite care for informal caregivers
(ED NOTE: I am very happy to see any lobby to value caregiving, especially of the neglected family based sector. However the focus on 'training' concerns me because it is often not necessary. Direct financial support is needed.)

In 2010 in the UK David Cameron promised if elected he would make his government 'the most family friendly' ever. In 2011 the Family and Planning Institute has surveyed 1996 pregnant women or new mothers to see if once in power he has succeeded. The survey found that :
-47% of those asked say the policies have not made any difference
-22% say the situation for families has worsened
-6% say the situation for families has improved.
In the 18 months since the government formed its coalition, the child benefit has been frozen and will next year be means-tested. Middle income earners have lost their entitlement to tax credits and many parents at home have been forced to return to paid work. The cost of 3rd party childcare has gone up and cuts to council budgets have closed Sure Start centres, libraries and youth clubs that used to cater to families. Dr. Katherine Rake of the institute says the poll shows 'we must do more to nurture new families'. Surveys of fathers in the UK have produced similar negative assessments of the Cameron government.

In the US the Associated Press has reported Dec 2011 that nearly one in two Americans are at low income or poverty level. The 'middle class is shrinking' for one of the first times in history. The Congressional Budget Office reported that from 1979-2007 the bottom 20% of earners got 18% more money but the top 20% earned 65% more money over the interval. Those at the very top 1% of earners got 275% more income. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has confirmed the trend across all OECD countries where the gap between rich and poor is very wide. A Gallup poll in the US found that the public however has not necessarily admitted the shift. In the US most Americans still don't think the country is divided into haves and have-notes. Nearly 60% of Americans still se themselves as 'haves' and only 33% see themselves as have-nots. Another Gallup poll found that most Americans don't think the gap between rich and poor is a problem.

When students do poorly at school, a new trend has been to blame the teacher, teaching ability, classroom situation and peers but rarely the student or the home. Thomas L. Friedman writing in the New York Times Nov 2011 however takes issue with that trend. He observes that when the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development examines 15 year olds around the world for academic skills, students from Singapore, Finland and Shanghai get higher scores than do Americans on math, science, and reading comprehension and he suspects that the teachers are not to blame. He says that a key factor may be the home. Andreas Schleicher of the OECD conducts studies of the home life of 15 year olds who write the tests, and his team went to homes of 500 students by 2009. Dr. Schleicher found that
-marks are higher for students whose parents read to them. This trend was true regardless of household income
-those whose parents asked how their day went scored as high as those who had had private tutoring
-those whose parents had just played with them did not score as high as those whose parents had read to them, discussed books with them and told them stories
-attending parent meetings, school board meetings, and volunteering in classrooms did not raise a student's marks as much as did making sure the kids went to school, monitoring homework, rewarding school success and talking up the idea of going to college. (Bev Smith writes, "With my own kids we celebrated every report card with cake, whatever the marks, to praise what had been good and I nearly never darkened the doorway of their school except on interview day or assemblies. I considered school their job and gave them their space to not butt into it, but provided them with a desk and a lamp at home, time to do homework, rules about no TV and lots of trips to libraries . I am firmly convinced as a current teacher in the school system, that parents are the first teachers for they teach not only some skills but attitude to learning. Schools see kids 6 hours a day, Parents are responsible for them however all the other 18.")

Many parents bend over backwards to make their children happy. Debbie Allison and her husband, though having income only as a chef and a respite care worker, wanted to make sure their daughter Allison did not do without and they got her a borrowed horse when she was 14 because she wanted one. They got her a laptop ,an iPod and paid for her mobile phone when she was a teen, gave her a car when she turned 18 and paid for her gas and car insurance. They supplemented her part time job income with money whenever she needed it. Her mother said that when Allison was growing up they wanted to not burden her with too many chores so the mother did the washing and dishes for her and they paid for her to get ballet, jazz dancing, trampoline and judo lessons. They drove her 20 minutes to college each day to save her the irritation of having to wait for the bus. However their daughter Allison heard of a six week opportunity to live with the rural Amish in Ohio and took the offer. The result has transformed the girl. Charlotte has told the media that from the rural living Amish who do not permit cars or electric light, she learned basic skills, how to make porridge and pecan pies, how to clean and do chores, how to hang clothes on the line and how to dust. She says having children do chores among the Amish solidifies the sense of community and working together and she learned from them to look at inner beauty not just purchased products. Allison also says the experience taught her to appreciate more all the work her mother had done for her all those years and she on returning home now helps with the cooking, cleaning and laundry, voluntarily.

Though it is now possible to read books digitally, downloading them or purchasing them to a Kindle or other tech device, and though 25% of sales of many books now are digital, many parents of young children do not want their kids to learn to read using computers. Even the tech savvy users and business operators are opting to have their kids cuddle up with actual books, learning to turn pages and marvel at sizes of pictures and of colours. Sales of ebooks for children under age 8 remain very slow, less than 5% of sales of all children's books. John Yaged of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group himself reads on Kindle, iPad and iPhone but his young twins are using real books. Parents cite the value of smelling the pages, touching them, getting a sense of a book. Matthew Thomson of the social media site Klout also says that for his son the bells and whistles of a tech device may be distracting and then kids may just want to play games instead of reading.

Do some parents, believing that their teens are going to try smoking, drinking or drugs anyway, enable them to do so? Some justify this practice saying at least the teen is safe. However others question it. The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has revealed that 709,000 American children ages 12-14 drink alcohol and over 200,000 of them said they were given it by a parent or other adult family member. Only 6.6% of children actually figured out a way to purchase alcohol themselves The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism finds that 5,000 people under age 21 die each year in the US due to underage drinking, including by burns, drowning or from falls while inebriated. Frequently underage binge drinkers engage in other high risk activity such as drug taking and sex and they tend to get failing marks at school. In some US states parents are being offered a solution. Besides advice by some media that letting kids drink because they're going to do it anyway is a spineless parenting style, there is a free no -questions asked alcohol test kit available to parents in Michigan.

If you were told the name of someone in another country and had to contact them through a network of friends, how would you do it? Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy in a 1929 story called Chains, speculated that if you tell the right friend, that person has a friend, who has a friend who knows someone who can contact a friend of that person, with only 6 steps from start to finish. The idea we are all interconnected and only six degrees of separation from each other has intrigued researchers but The University of Milan has completed a study using algorithms to approximate if that number is even smaller using Facebook. The research group says 99.6% of all pairs of Facebook users are connected by six hops and 92% are connected by only five hops. The average distance to connect with any random other name on Facebook in 2008 was 5.28 hops but is now 4.74. Researchers also estimated that within a single country that number is only four hops.

In movies we often see the typical family living in a very large home. Studies have confirmed that trend in reality. The average size of a new single family home in the US went from 1780 square feet in 1978 to 2479 square feet in 2007. However some people felt the trend was bad and another movement began- the small house movement. Susan Susanka wrote The Not So Big House in 1997. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005 cottages of 308 square feet were designed. In Japan Tezuka designed a home for four of 458 square feet. In Spain Flores made a 300 square foot house dubbed' in a suitcase" and in England Abito made apartments of 353 square feet in Manchester. The trend continues.

The government of Saskatchewan has embarked on an innovative way to fund seniors' care, to cut down on costs of institutional settings and to permit seniors to live in the care location and style they prefer. The "Saskatchewan Direct Client Funding Program' funds the care itself and lets the client choose who provides it. There is in essence the option of a family member being paid to provide care, up to $3000 a month as income replacement. The amount helps match money saved by not having to provide nursing home care and ensures good care because of early enough intervention. The money can be spent on groceries, salary of caregiver or any other care expenses. The system is already in operation as a pilot project and there is less bureaucracy than in earlier funding arrangements. Researchers are fining there is easier transition also from one style of care and back if necessary because money flows with the client. A case manager closely monitors the first month of the care and then watches for later signs of any problems. The goal of enhanced quality of life has already been achieved by some clients who praise the government for setting up a plan that attends to the client's priorities and lets them face end of life issues based on their own values.

The Calgary Herald has recently looked at what it takes to make a community senior-friendly and has surveyed readers. By the criteria listed, communities in the city were ranked, with many in the suburbs ranking very low. What seniors want include
-access to transportation
-good housing
-smooth level nonslip sidewalks
-safe parks
-lots of outdoor seating if you go for a walk
-well-lit pedestrian crossings
-nearby grocery store, pharmacy, medical care
-a high proportion of other seniors in the area
-low crime rate

Pollster Frank Graves has written about an oddity in Nov 2011 in the Ottawa Citizen. He observed that what the public wants by polls has lately not been policy of the winning political party, suggesting a disconnect between public will and voting habits. (He suspects that only a certain sector of the population votes, and that they may have views that differ from those of the general public.) Graves cites several instances lately of that phenomenon:
-climate change
-scrapping the long gun registry
-F-35 jet purchase
-tough on crime legislation
In each of those circumstances, he says "the majority is opposed but the majority is scattered and not tightly alloyed around the issues".

In Canada health care is provided by doctors and nurses, in hospitals, clinics and care facilities but there is also a component where charitable organizations get involved. The Saint Elizabeth group in BC has for 100 years offered not for profit care and continues to do so with a foundation established in 1997 of 5000 nurses, rehabilitation workers and personal support workers making 5 million heath care visits per year. These home visits help people remain in their homes and services can include even companion care, shopping with the elderly. A visit may cost a senior $55 an hour but enables the senior to get into the community and shop for needed products. The program used to be called ElderSafe.

A controversy has erupted about what rules are appropriate for school yard play. In 2010 an Ottawa public school banned balls during the winter. In June 2010 a St. Catharine's Ontario school banned balls after a spectator got injured watching a soccer game. Students themselves started a petition to get those rules reversed and won. This year a Toronto elementary school has warned parents and students to not bring soccer balls, basketballs, baseballs, footballs or volleyballs to school. The only permitted balls are sponge balls. A daycare located at the school had permitted ball play in its playground and a mother picking up her child got hit in the head with a soccer ball two weeks ago, spurring the new rules. One parent, Chris Stateski is however angry at the new rules. He said injuries are normal in life. "I haven't come across an adult or child yet who hasn't had a scrape, bump or a bruise in their lifetime doing activities. It's not about safety. If it was about safety they would put pillows all over the school yard in case a child falls".

It has long been known that some babies start life with less chance of success than do others. If they are pre-term, low birth weight, and the mother did not get adequate medical and nutritional care during the pregnancy, the baby already faces disadvantages. This could be looked at various ways, as a problem for the baby health wise, as a problem for the mother, career or lifestyle wise, or as a problem for the nation, budget wise. An article in the Hamilton Spectator Dec 2011 has looked at a few of those angles
-In 1997 the Ontario health ministry set a goal of helping pregnant mothers so that only 4% of babies were low birth weight. At the time the rate was 5.7% of babies but by 2010 the rate had actually gone up, to 6.5%. The health ministry had increased its provincial budget from $17 billion to $44 billion a year, there are more programs than ever for pregnant mothers on First Nations reserves and still there were many low birth weight babies
-Neil Johnston has been part of BORN project through his work at McMaster University. Areas of Ontario that tend to have clusters of poverty and low birth weights have been identified.
-The health ministry reports that it costs $1,000 to have a healthy newborn stay in hospital but $87,000 per baby for a low -birth weight baby. In Ontario there were 3370 low birth weight babies born, costing the system $293 million more than they would have cost if a healthy weight at birth
-After birth, care of low weight babies also costs a lot.
-Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews has a doctorate in sociology and she wants to address the problem. However the federal government is the one that funds First Nations Health care while the province only funds health programs per se.
-Health Canada's Gary Holub says that one of the results of native residential schools has been that kids who were taken from their birth family young also did not learn parenting skills and this has had intergenerational impact. Infant mortality among natives is twice that of nonnatives.
- Debbie Sheehan of the Hamilton Health department has found that blaming teen mothers is not helpful. She says even teens need a community around them supporting them.
(ED NOTE: I am concerned that we look at birth weight problems as a money issue for taxpayers. That is very crass. We need to ensure pregnancy itself is valued, not mocked and not just for native women or women in poverty but for all women. I don't like it when pregnancy is by definition seen as a mistake, when raising a child is seen as some sort of drain on society. When nonnative people tell native people how to raise their babies I am not surprised at the lack of desire to cooperate. We need to empower them, respect their elders, their traditions and enable them with per child funding. A universal birth bonus, universal benefits, universal funding per child till age 18 would nicely eliminate child poverty for nonnatives and natives and would also avoid the problem of jurisdiction for natives. If all children and parents get the benefit, end of problem.)

Preventive medicine specialist Valerie Ulene has written in the Los Angeles Times some research results about childhood anxiety. Many doctors have found that it is not just a minor thing kids get over but that it can have big impacts on adult life.
-Dr. John Piacentini of the Semel Institution at UCLA says anxiety can be disabling. Kids with separation anxiety who cry at school or refuse to attend, or teens with social anxiety afraid to take part in class discussions may suffer fatigue, irritability and sleep problems that parents do not associate with the real concern. He has found that there is a genetic component to anxiety and some kids are just more anxious than others, but he also says that environment matters. Parents can teach kids if the world is a scary place or not and if they do, they may add to anxiety

Children who have a troubled childhood seem to have a greater risk of health problems as adults. Dr. Clyde Yancy of Northwestern University School of Medicine studied 67,000 female volunteers about health care in 1989. He found that 11% of those women had been forced into sexual activity of some kind before age 17. The women were then tracked for 18 years and Dr. Yancy found that those who had experienced the negative sexual experience had a 56% higher risk of cardiovascular disease as adults. They also had a higher risk of becoming overweight, which may be closely linked to the heart problems, and higher rates of smoking, drinking, high blood pressure and diabetes. Though traditional risk factors of heart problems explain some of the high numbers, Dr. Nieca Goldberg of Langone Medical Center in New York says that stress raises cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine and over time such chronically elevated stress levels are likely also having an effect. (ED NOTE: I find it interesting that though our culture assumes that if someone wants to have sex with you, that is flattering to you, in fact forced sex has the reverse message and women forced feel very low self esteem, sometimes for life.)

A national vision survey in China has found that 85% of university students there are short-sighted. Explanations proposed include a genetic predisposition to myopia in children in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. However an even bigger factor suggested may be overuse of technology, televisions and computers, and lack of exposure to situations which use distance vision, such as being outdoors. A look at 350,000 children in 31 provinces found that 41% of primary students need eyeglasses, compared to 21% in 2005. Of middle school students 67% need eyeglasses and 85% of university students need them. The Chinese government has now begun trials of sending children outdoors more often.

In theory a baby will thrive best if the mother is happy and well during and after the pregnancy. If a mother becomes seriously depressed after having given birth, the baby may not thrive. Dr. Curt Sandman of the U of California, Irvine, found however that the relationship is a bit more complicated than that. He found that if a woman becomes depressed that is very bad for the baby but if she has all along been kind of depressed, the baby seems to have a coping mechanism. What seems to be hardest on babies is if they get deficient care outside the womb when previously they got sufficient care. He says it is as if a fetus is 'biologically primed' to expect certain treatment. Sandman looked at 221 women during and after their pregnancies, scoring the emotional health of the mothers at several points and also scored the babies on physical and mental development. Babies whose mothers were consistently happy or consistently unhappy scored better on physical tasks at 3 and 6 months than did babies whose mothers' moods had shifted a lot. Other studies found that women who ate poorly during pregnancy had babies with higher rates of diabetes if they were fed well after birth but less so if they also at birth got inadequate nutrition. Dr. Jay Belsky of the U of California, Davis, calls the results surprising and says that genetic makeup of babies may also be a factor. (ED NOTE: Actually I think this does suggest that babies establish a world view based on their surroundings and whatever the world gives them, they accept. If however what the world gives them keeps shifting, they lose stability and a sense of security. That is for instance why I think ensuring babies all have enough to eat, a warm place to sleep, a constant caregiver and a regular income stream all add to the mental and physical health of the baby. We are talking about something very basic here - is sense of security.)

The immune system seems to chiefly be designed to help the body fight disease and invaders. However recent research has suggested that it also has a role in digestion. Dr. Andrey Morgun of Oregon State University in Corvallis found that immune cells help mice digest food and without those cells, mice become malnourished. The study may prove useful in treatment of people with immune system challenges such as HIV for they commonly also become malnourished.

Dr. Wendy Norman has released results of analyzing data about abortions in Canada. Abortion has been legal since 1969. Her study found that at first the numbers were low, at about 70,000 across the country per year but after 1988 when the Supreme Court ruled free standing clinics could offer abortions outside hospitals, that number rose. She notes however that more recently the number of abortions is down, a fact she attributes to wider use of contraceptives. Abortion levels in Canada in 2006 are now about 45,000 a year in hospital and about 53,000 in free-standing clinics. These numbers , are lower than the peak years for abortions 1996 and 1997. The number of abortions however has shifted for different ages of women. The rate is highest for 20-24 year olds not teens and the second highest for women aged 25-29. There is also a category of women who have multiple abortions. 38% of women who seek an abortion already had an earlier one. Dr. Norman suggests that telling women at the time of seeking an abortion more information about birth control would be useful.

Deciding when to retire is a big question for those in their fifties and sixties but several factors may be pulling them opposite ways. Desire to pursue hobbies, health concerns, heavy physical demands of the job, wishes to care for other family members may urge them to leave the paid job while financial need or boredom at home may nudge them to stay on. Wells Fargo & Co asked 1500 middle class Americans through Harris Interactive about their retirement plans. Of those asked 20% had a set age in mind at which they planned to retire but 76% said they had a set amount of life savings in mind before they would retire. Joe Ready of Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust found that 25% ofAmericans fear they will have to do paid work till age 80 to afford to retire and 75% of those asked expected that they would supplement their pension by some part-time paid work.

Katherine Marshall of Statistics Canada has released a 2011 analysis of "Generational Change in Paid and Unpaid Work". Using data from the General Social Survey, an ongoing study of citizens since 1985, she looked at diary time use recordings of 20-29 year olds in 3 cohorts, those who were that age in 1986 (the boomers), those who were that age in 1998 (Gen X or the baby bust generation) and those who were that age in 2010 (Gen Y or the echo boom). She found that people are living at home with parents longer, are delaying marriage and having their own children, so that Gen Y actually had few parents in its study. The study found that
-15% of boomers, 18% of Gen X but 19% of Gen Y were in school at that age
-31% of Gen X but 51% of Gen Y were still living with their parents
-29% of boomers, but 19% of Gen Y were parents
Marshall did attempt an analysis of unpaid work which was defined as housework, child care and shopping, but admits she emphasized housework. She looked at paid work which was defined as time spent related to a 'job or business' but included in that category also any unpaid work for the business or farm. She then concluded:
-people do more paid work than unpaid work per day (8.5-compared to 3.1 hours)
-women in Gen Y do less housework than women boomers did at that age
-men do more paid work than women do but the gap is lessening

The new 'tough on crime 'legislation of the Harper government has raised the ire of several observers. Under the new law a 19 year old from a good family and with no criminal record could be sent to compulsory two years in federal jail for using marijuana. Though sharing marijuana with friends, even if no money is exchanged, has always been called trafficking, the penalty now is becoming much more severe and judges will no longer have discretion in sentencing. The Safe Streets and Communities Act with anti-drug measures and 9 pieces of crime legislation will aim at keeping streets safe but commentators say will require a lot more jails, will wreck the career aspirations of a lot of people and will criminalize and brand otherwise unblemished characters, while exposing them to federal penitentiary life and actual dangerous offenders. Dr Anthony Doob of the U of T says "The government has a role to make good laws and this isn't a good law". Joelle Roy of the Quebec Defense Lawyers Association says that having mandatory minimum sentences in this way is an attack on the freedom and independence of the justice system. The Canadian Bar Association, Canadian Association of Crown Counsel, Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, are among many groups opposed to or concerned about the new legislation. However the party has a majority in the House of Commons and the bill passed.

In 1993 Sue Rodriguez, terminally ill with ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, wanted to choose to legally end her life by physician-assisted suicide but the law would not permit this. She appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada but lost. She has since died but several jurisdictions do permit physician assisted death, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and in the US states of Washington and Oregon. In British Columbia in Canada the case has again gone to court. This time it is about situation of Gloria Taylor, aged 63 who also is dying with ALS and wants a legal recourse to end her life. Five plaintiffs are in the case including Hollis Johnson and his partner Lee Carter whose mother died before trial. The case will look at Section 241 of the Criminal Code prohibiting physician assisted suicide and will attempt once again to declare this unconstitutional as a deprivation of basic freedoms under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In Canada polygamy is against the law. The Criminal Code prohibits it and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and The Canadian Bill of Rights while supporting freedom of religion, also do not permit it. However in the BC community of Bountiful, two men, Winston Blackmore and James Oler were accused of polygamy and went to court. Defending them as polygamists were some civil libertarians, some polyamorists and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of  Latter Day Saints, under which they serve. Those supporting them argued that the criminal code is wrong to make criminal those acts between consenting adults where no harm is done. However against the men were several intervenors. Beyond Justice, the BC Civil Liberties Association, the BC Teachers' Federation the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, the Christian Legal Fellowship, REAL Women of Canada, the West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund also made presentations, some pointing out that when young children were placed in forced marriages with older men, other factors were involved. The Attorney General of BC was represented by a legal team of 6 lawyers and the judge Robert Bauman created a lengthy ruling, looking at legal, historical, religious and other nation's practices. Bauman ruled that polygamy still is illegal in Canada and that adults who break the law are guilty of a criminal infraction. However he excluded children under the age of 18 from criminal prosecution for having been part of such marriages. Bauman said that women in polygamous relationships are at an 'elevated risk of physical and psychological harm' and that placing young girls into forced marriage and early childbearing has negative implications for them and limits their economic development.

The Early Years study has published the third volume of its research which started in 1999.The series has long argued that children are a key resource in the nation, that their care is important and then that government should fund 3rd party care, drop-in centres, family resource workshops, early kindergarten and nursery schools. The series does not recommend what many parents recommend, directly funding the work of parenting. The latest study recommends that two year olds be admitted to school. The case is made that 70 % of mothers work outside the home so they 'need' such care in order to earn money and to benefit the economy by their paid work. The claim is made that 'working mothers' pay taxes (implying mothers at home do not, albeit with the single income tax penalty many accountants have found at home parents pay 45% higher tax than dual earner homes). The case is made that children learn well, that teaching them pays off (not admitting however that they also learn at home and with sitters, grandmas, nannies and parents, and with more adult attention). Kerry McCuaig, author of the study is a longtime daycare advocate. Parent Moira MacDonald, writing in the Toronto Sun reacted that the study undermines parents and she as a work-at-home mother would prefer government set up funding that respects parental choices. Dr. Fraser Mustard, who died this past month, was a key writer of earlier recommendations for funding nonparental care. Dr. Mustard, though identified by some as a childcare expert was actually a medical doctor whose field of study was the relationship of lips, blood coagulation and atherosclerosis.  (ED NOTE: I always think a childcare 'expert' for the theory of it should be one who has spent 15-20 years taking care of kids 18-24 hours a day. On the topic of specifics, though, the expert on your child is you.)

While some people believe the feminist struggle is mainly to get paid jobs like men and pay equity like men, others believe the hurdles are lately to get recognition of unpaid work, which is more often done by women. The Economist magazine recently reflected on issues of women's paid labor force successes.
-In the OECD 83% of men and 64 % of women are in the paid labor force (The Economist reports this as 64% of women working)
-The gap of paid work hours between men and women is reported as the 'employment gap'. The Economists says that this gap is about 33% across the OECD but only 12% in China and 10-15% in the 'big rich ' countries
-the pay gap between men and women is also reported. The gap is about 18% across OECD countries, standing at about 20% in the US.
-women tend to earn less because they choose jobs that pay less, such as in health care, teaching, clerical and social care
-the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington says rates of professional choice for women have increased - since the 1970s 30% of dentists are women, 32% of lawyers are women, and nearly 50% of photographers and pharmacists are female
-women in the public sector tend to have higher income and better benefits than in private companies, according to the OECD.
-more women are starting their own business but women tend to get less financial backing to do so, and generate lower turnover with them and employ fewer people

Lobbyists for childcare/daycare services provided by the state have often made the case that all parents need this type of care for their children and that it is as vital to the world as is medical care. Others however disagree. The editorial board of the Montreal Gazette on Dec 2 2011 observed that the Quebec universal daycare system,begun in 1997, has turned out to not be as originally promoted.
-the $5 a day price had to be increased to $7 a day for the program was costlier to run than expected
-the original intention was to help children of the poor who might need the extra early education. In fact the biggest users of the daycare system are the middle class and the wealthy
-many of those who get the low cost daycare could afford to pay but are not required to. Even a family earning $150,000 a year only has to pay $2.87 a day for care of a child under age 5, when all tax breaks are counted.
-the province is staggering under a debt of $195.6 billion and cannot afford to subsidize the rich
-recent problems allocating contracts for daycares have also come under scrutiny for less than honourable practice. Quebec Auditor General Renaud Lachance has criticized the minister of the department saying she lost control of the network. Of 18,000 daycare spaces handed out, 3700 were set up even though the department recommended against them, 35000 were rejected even though the department said they were needed. Nearly a third of daycare permits were renewed without inspection and 75% of projected locations were actually found to be substandard. Spaces were promised as a priority for children of First Nations, the poor, handicapped or immigrant but were not delivered.

Many nations aim to foster 'creativity ' and 'innovation' though how to do that is not always clear. Stephen Gordon writing a blog on the Globe and Mail site has observed that the term innovation has become nearly meaningless and is too often followed by generalized funding for big companies that the government already likes. He is concerned that the criteria for innovation are so vague that some firms just try to guess what government wants and then ask for public funding to provide it. Gordon says that the term 'excellence' as a government goal was equally vague and discredited a generation ago. (ED NOTE: Too often the definition is circular - a centre gets funding as excellent because it is not just funded by parents but gets funding from government. Quality of care is not based on criteria kids may feel intuitively like whether anyone is listening to them, but on ratios of adult to child and number of toys in the room. I am pretty sure that we do not generate innovation by lock-stepping young children to all do the same thing at the same time from age 2 and yet ironically in Canada, we do have people who claim that we will get more innovation if we have all kids in institutional and standardized care from age 2. In my experience with kids, you actually get more innovation and creativity if kids are raised in home-like settings till at least age 5. They need time to play, time to be creative around their house, 'creative leisure' undirected time in the garden, at parks, on outings that match the needs and attention span of the child. You simply can't do that in large groups Large groups actually do the opposite of fostering innovation.)

In the US though racial discrimination is banned, shifts in ethnic background are being studied to see if there is equal treatment and equal access to education for all. The Census Bureau reported that some ethnic groups seem to still be suffering disadvantage, and chief among those are Mexicans. In New York City 41% of Mexican students ages 16-19 have dropped out of high school even though across the city student dropout rate for all races is only 9%. Only 6% of Mexican students aged 19-23 even enrol in college. The number of immigrants from Mexico to New York city has gone from 33,600 in 1990 to over 5 times that, 183,200 by 2011. Yet these young people are not thriving. Dr. Robert Smith of City University New York says these young people are facing a "perfect storm of educational disadvantage." Their parents often work two jobs to make ends meet and have little time with their young. Language barriers make parents also less able to interact with teachers and many parents are in the US illegally and may be afraid of being noticed. Some are not aware that the children of illegal immigrants actually can get into public university free if they graduate high school. (CUNY is trying to help the students by setting up after school tutoring, giving financial aid counselling and setting up college fairs aimed at the Mexican population.)

ED NOTE: Is undermining parental involvement and parental responsibility n children's lives a form of child abuse? Another Christmas season is upon us, and another Christmas when many children are forcefully separated from their parents, or from a parent, such as children alienated from their "non-custodial" parents and one set of grandparents by "custodial" parents.  It is the complete lack of accountability that is most disturbing in these situations.  A major advantage of establishing shared parental responsibility as the legal norm, and ridding ourselves of the "winner-take-all" sole custody system, is the mutual accountability that shared parenting offers, and even, perhaps, leads to peaceful outcomes.


November, 2011


Despite the good intentions of many charitable organizations, scandals have arisen when it became known that a few charities spend a large proportion of their fundraising on themselves, on staff and on the effort to get contributions. To help the public determine what charities are in good standing an online service has been set up called Charity Intelligence Canada. It looks at the state of 100 charities. Bri Trupuc of the organization says there is a big business now in professional fundraising and some charities operate like 'major marketing machines'. There are 85,630 registered charities in Canada but the top 100 get 1/3 of all the donations. When Charity Intelligence asked for disclosure, 19 charities did not comply and the organization had to make an official request for information about them from the Canada Revenue Agency. The group hopes to eventually post information about 1000 charities on its site.

In Germany there are some school programs that involve nature hikes The Waldkindergarten forest preschool in Munich, for instance, lets children walk supervised in the forest regularly for 30 minutes, getting in touch with nature. Enid Elliot of the U of Victoria and Frances Krusekopf, principal in the Sooke School District of British Columbia have been working together to create an official outdoors program for BC schools. Though some non-mainstream programs offer nature experience, the new plan will apply to regular public school children in full day kindergarten. Under the plan as of Sept 2012, 22 kindergarten children will spend 2.5 hours per day regardless of weather, hiking in the Victoria woods. They will be accompanied by a teacher and a full time paid aide. Krusekopf is excited about how the new idea will teach children physical fitness, independence, patience, how to play in nature and how to 'pee outdoors'. Royal Roads University has offered use of its forest, lagoon, beach and stream property adjacent to Sangster Elementary school. There is also a budget for the 2 year pilot project to cove $177 per child for special rain gear, hiking boots and backpacks.
-ED NOTE: 4-5 year olds also need washrooms, water to clean up with, dry clothes, down time and something else to do if they are sick or the weather is very inclement and threatens their health. This idea seems a little simplistic.

Transat Holidays, a travel company, has recently conducted a market survey through Vision Critical. The survey revealed that in 2011
-a family vacation is essential to nourishing family relationships
-85% of Canadians say it is essential or very important to escape the daily grind and spend quality time on a family vacation
-54% of Canadians say the best part of a family vacation is sharing laughs with the ones you love
-80% of those asked say they take family vacation at least once a year
-57% of adults would spend a family vacation with their own parents
-45% would spend a family vacation with their in-laws
-ED NOTE: I recall the sheer delight--and laughter--of my own son Liam on his first family vacation, as he learned to walk and started running on the beach.  Family vacations are so essential to healthy child development.

Dr. Neena Chappell of the Centre on Aging at the U of Victoria has created a report for the Institute for Research on Public Policy. She is concerned that the general public may think that the elderly are the cause of rising health care costs. She found that new drugs and new technologies, plus high wages of medical staff are what really drive up costs. She says that the elderly are not all ill and that 80% of those over age 65 still live independently. She suggests that instead of blaming the elderly and promoting 'fear mongering,'government create practical solutions to rising health care costs. Chief among those is, she says, to recognize the value of the caregiver who helps someone stay in the home. She make the following observations:
-the first level of care is by the family. She notes that 75-85% of care is provided to seniors informally by family, friends and community groups. She wants this care level more valued.
-the second level is professional home care coming into the home. She says it is 40-75% cheaper than institutional care and should be encouraged.
-the third level is institutional level care but she says this can be streamlined and integrated into the other two so people can move into and out of the various care levels depending on their need. -that tying support only to the provision of formal care services, unfairly excludes those from benefit who are 'doing such a good job that the recipient does not need formal care services'.

Though it is commonly agreed that poverty is a sad thing and that a fair government should help the very poor, it has then been argued that some who claim to be poor aren't. The redefinition of poverty is one of the many contentious topics of government debate not only in Canada where we speak of low income cutoffs, market basket definitions or local cost of living and disagree widely about who are the poor. In the US too the redefinitions are taking place. Recently a controversy has arisen about the assumption that the elderly are all rich. There are two elements to this discussion:
1. The official poverty rate in the US in 2010 was 15.2%. and for children was 18.2%. However the Census Bureau in 2011 created recently a new tally that looks at other factors. The Supplemental Poverty Measure or SPM looks at income without current help received such as the earned income tax credit, a refundable tax credit for low earners. If the help is ignored the poverty rate is 16% and for children is 22.4% If the food stamp program is not counted, poverty is about 21.2%. Observers have expressed concern that cutbacks to tax credits would seriously harm a lot of people.
2. the elderly are not all rich at all. By the old standard 14% of young and middle aged people in the US are poor but only 9% of the elderly, given their pension benefits. However under the new measure when food stamps and other helps are adjusted, the poverty ate for the elderly is 14% and of the young and middle aged is 13%. A group called the Very Serious People has found that if the average 'wealth' of households at various ages is tallied, including the value of the home seems logical and yet if their only wealth is their home they can have very little else to live on. In current economic crisis, many seniors actually have a median total wealth that is less than the mortgage. The study shows also that Medicare premiums are increasing and a difficult situation for the elderly is going to get worse.

Sinem Ketenci is working on her PhD at Ryerson University in the department of social work. She wanted to do her research however on a topic that was not permitted. She chose a study of animal rights and in her proposal said that abuse of animals is not unlike abuse of marginalized humans. The university turned down this topic and Ketenci then asked the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to rule. She says she is being discriminated against because she is a 'radicalized ethical vegan'. National newspapers however are not all siding with her claim. The editorial board of the Calgary Herald wrote that 'social work is about helping humans not animals' and suggested that if she wanted to do an animal study she should pick another faculty.

When governments face financial crisis their first reaction is often to cut spending and first on the list to cut are services. A common tactic in some US states is to set more stringent criteria for help to the poor, to reduce the number who are eligible. However observers in the New York Times are noticing that some measures to cut spending may cause harm.
-Florida passed a law that those who want temporary assistance for needy families have to submit a urine sample and pass a drug test first. An Orlando judge however ruled that this move violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches. Judge Mary Scriven observed in her ruling that the state's research showed that drug use was less common among those wanting assistance than among the general population She also observed that the cost of administering the drug testing was more than the money it aimed to save.
-California, Texas, Arizona and New York City required those wanting food stamps to provide electronic fingerprints to prevent fraud. However after objections, California and Texas removed the requirement. The cost of testing was high and it was found that many needy law-abiding citizens were deterred from asking for help. Once in poverty, those who were poor then had more problems that ended up costing government.

A recent study by Truthout has looked at well-being of women and children in the US and in Afghanistan, noting with concern the problems in both nations.
-United States- One in 2100 women dies in pregnancy. In Italy and Ireland however the rate is less than one in 15,000 and in Greece it's one in 31,800. In the US poverty rates are so high that in the last 12 months the rate of people in poverty in the US has grown 2.6 million. The US used to be the fourth rated country for child well-being in the State of the World's Mothers report but it now is 345th.
-Aghanistan- There are 70,000 children living on the streets in Kabul and they can be seen begging, sleeping in doorways, sifting through trash, doing manual labor. One in five children die before age 5 and 41% of those deaths occur even before age one month. Diarrhea and pneumonia, both treatable, are not treated and many children die. 39% of children are malnourished and this number is actually higher than it was before the US troops arrived. 52% of the children don't have access to clean water and girls are still banned from schools in many areas and are sold to settle debts or married off as young as age 10. Children compose 65% of the population of Aghanistan and one in 11 mothers dies in pregnancy. Save the children founder Eglantyne Jebb, in 1919 noted "All wars, whether just or unjust, disastrous or victorious, are waged against the child". 


October, 2011


The Pew Research Center in the US has released statistics about birth rates, finding that recession there is linked to fewer people having babies. In 48 states births declined and in Arizona they were down 7.2%. In North Dakota, which has a high employment rate, births were however up slightly, about 3%. In 1936 birth rates fell 26% according to Gretchen Livingston of the research centre. In tough economic times it is common for couples to delay having offspring. The only exceptions may be those who cannot wait. In all age groups of mothers birth rates fell, except among mothers aged 40-44 years. Hispanics, who were also hit hard by the recession had a birth rate drop of 5.9% from 2008 to 2009. Among black women the drop was 2.4% and among white women 1.6%.

Statistics Canada has also released birth rate information for 2008, its latest data. It found that in that year there were 377,886 births, only slightly up from the 2002 number of 328,802. The 2002 figure was the all time low since 1921. The study also found that:
-the generational replacement level is 2.2 for total fertility rate but stood in 2008 at 1.68.
-the highest fertility rates were in NWT and Saskatchewan and Nunavut where averages were over 2.0 BC had the lowest rate in the country
-the age of mothers was most commonly 30-34 years (thirty years ago the most common age was 25-29)
-the total population of Canada in Jan 2011 was 34,278,400. There had been 280,000 immigrants the preceding year. However the drop in birth rate is not made up for by immigration.

Roy Romanow of the Canadian Index of Well-being Network, has recently released data about how the nation's GDP compares to other tallies of well-being. Though Canada's GDP has grown by 31.2%, his group also looks at 64 indicators of living standard and the environment. Under this CIW ranking, Canada actually has improved only 11% since 1994. The CIW ranking looks at social justice and environmental sustainability index and is not unlike other tallies that demographers have set up such as the Genuine Progress Index or the Gross National Happiness index, the latter being created in Bhutan 30 years ago. The network found that for CIW ranks, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland and Scandinavian countries score highest. Canada presents an irony. We aimed for more leisure but end up with less time with spouse and children. We have higher incomes in absolute terms but more income inequality, less economic security, less affordable housing and more stress and depression. Though high school graduation is up 6% since 1994, and university graduation is up 47%, and though property and violent crime rates are down, there is much lower 'life satisfaction', and higher depression rates, particularly among children and youth. (ED NOTE: caregiving is the element we sense is lacking. We need to feel loved, not just financially supported. Job creation is not going to fix everything.)

The pros and cons of providing mood- and behaviour-modifying drugs to young children have been widely discussed again lately. Though some people believe little children who fidget and can't sit still are just restless and need more activities and exercise, others think they have a medical problem. If a child has difficulty sitting down and concentrating there are behavioural therapy treatments that can be tried such as behaviour management strategies. However some doctors believe that drugs work well in such circumstance. Former guidelines for the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder were set up ten years ago and it was not recommended to make such a diagnosis till the child was aged 6 and up. However the American Academy of Pediatrics has now updated its guidelines saying that the diagnosis can be made for children aged 4 and up, and that drugs can and should be used. ADHD is now the most frequently diagnosed behavioural disorder in children as 3-7% of children are given this diagnosis. The symptoms are officially listed as ' inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity' that has lasted for at least 6 months. Dr. Allen Frances, US psychiatrist, says that the new guidelines are not a good idea and will just create a 'feeding frenzy' among drug companies anxious to get more customers. The common pills that are used for ADHD including methylphenidate found in Ritalin, have been associated with rare but significant health risks for the heart, as well as childhood depression.

It is not clear if being depressed makes you forgetful or if being forgetful make you depressed. However recent research on elderly women has found that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression. Dr. Nasreen Khatri, clinical psychologist says that having had depression can double the risk of later developing Alzheimer's disease. She found that women get much of their sense of self from their caregiving roles and if there are obstacles in how they can provide care of their children or their own parents, these hurdles create stress. She says women may also be more prone to depression than are men are because of hormonal cycles. Dr. David Conn, psychiatrist found that chronic untreated depression can reduce length of life. Having a negative attitude to life statistically is linked to living seven years less than those who have a positive attitude. Conn suggests that eating well, getting enough sleep, regularly exercising and maintaining close relationships, along with nurturing one's spiritual self, are all part of mood-enhancing.

In Canada if you have a baby you may quality for maternity benefits, depending on your paid work history the previous year. If you are seriously ill you may qualify for employment insurance benefits also, again based on earlier paid work. However recently a situation developed that questioned when those two situations overlap. Jennifer McCrea gave birth to her second child in July 2010 and took a year maternity benefits. Eight months into it she was diagnosed with breast cancer and chose a double mastectomy treatment. Told she would require 6 weeks recovery from the August 2010 surgery she applied for EI sick benefits. She was told that the criterion for such benefits was that she was 'available for work' but ill and she was denied the benefits since she was already on mat leave. That same summer however Natalya Rougas, a Toronto mother in a similar situation was able to win a court appeal to get sick benefits for her cancer treatment while on mat leave. Justice J. R. Main ruled that said a liberal interpretation of the EI Act or legislative change are needed to change the requirement that women asking for sick benefits be otherwise 'available to work". (ED NIOTE: it is very sad that being home with a child is still not recognized as socially useful work. Tying EI earlier paid work is itself unfair. It should be tied to the need of a child for car.)

Recent studies of pension and retirement plans have indicated that there is a demographic shift. Companies are not encouraging early retirement packages as they used to twenty years ago. The cost of living and longer life spans are nudging seniors to stay in the paid labor force longer. Towers Watson has set up a Retirement Age Index finding that 'pension freedom' day will now for most Canadians not happen till age 67. Diane Galarneau of Statistics Canada observed many recent developments:
-in 1976 30% of those aged 55 and over had paid work. That number dropped to 22% in 1981 as companies encouraged early retirement but it now is up to nearly 34%.
-people are living longer so they may still have 15-20 years in retirement even if they retire later TD Bank and the Canadian Payroll Association found that as Canadians enter retirement they are in greater debt than they used to be. Causes of this include: low interest rates on savings; having only defined-contribution not defined-benefit pension plans; supporting family members
-Susan Eng of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons says that many seniors now are still earning not because they prefer to but from economic necessity. Senior's advocate Barb Kirby says that those who wanted to retire at 65 and can't face exhaustion and depression. She found that in terms of income the 'middle class is becoming lower class'.
-Statistics Canada says that staying in the paid labor force has a few advantages. For workers it means more income and sometimes better general health. For employers it means more skilled workers and for government it means more tax revenue.

Under the 2011 tax code there are several items that the federal government permits people to claim as 'nonrefundable tax credits'. These are in essence, amounts that the earner does not have to pay tax on, forgivable costs that the state assumes you have and does not ask you to pay tax on. It has taken many years to set up these categories and get government to recognize some of these costs as required, nondiscretionary or of great social worth.  However a recent look at them suggests significant discrepancies and areas which some may feel need further work.
-basic personal amount - maximum is $10,527 federally. Provincially though it is as high as $16,977 in Alberta and as low as $7708 in PEI.
-spousal or equivalent to spouse - federal is $10,527. It is as high as $16,977 in Alberta and as low as $6546 in PEI. Though some jurisdictions now view the spouses as full equals, and Alberta, the federal government, North West Terrritories, Yukon and Manitoba do that, the other jurisdictions still see the spouse as worth less tax credit. (The assumption one is 'head of house' was removed from some tax codes but clearly some areas still think of the second person as lesser, and 'dependant' and by giving this person lower tax credit they actually create a greater financial dependency.)
-when to start cutting back the tax credit for a spouse - If the spouse has his/her own income, the tax credit for a spouse is reduced but the provinces differ widely on when you start to reduce that credit. Manitoba, Alberta, YT, NT and Nunavut, along with the federal government won't let the spouse earn above zero before their reductions kick in. However in Saskatchewan the spouse can earn up to $1454 before the benefit is reduced
-when to eliminate the spousal credit - if the spouse earns a certain amount, government decides he/ she is no longer entitled to any part of a credit. This amount of top earning allowed also varies. For the federal government it is $10,527 but in Alberta it is $16,977 while in PEI, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia it is under $8,000. This means that you can get more tax credit in some provinces than others for earning for instance $14,000
-age amount- - if you are 65 or over you get a tax credit in all jurisdictions. However the amount varies from $6537 federally to a high in the provinces of $8909 in Nunavut and a low of $3728 in Manitoba. The amount of difference of age credit from highest to lowest is a whopping $5,181 per year.
-disability amount - the federal credit you can claim is $7341. However in the provinces it ranges from $13,095 in Alberta, $11,878 in Nunavut to a low of $5035 in Nova Scotia.
-caregiver amount for in-home care of parent or grandparent aged 65 or more or of an infirm adult relative. the amount federally is $4282 but in the provinces ranges from a high of $9827 in Alberta and $8563 in Saskatchewan to a low of $2537 in Newfoundland and $2446 in PEI.
-the tax credit for dependant child under age 18 is $2131 federally and in the Yukon. It is however $5514 in Saskatchewan and extends to age 19. In all the other provinces the amount for dependent child under age 18 is zero. 
-the tax credit for dependant child under age 6 federally is zero and that is the same for every province except PEI, NS and Nunavut
-the tax credit for medical expenses applies to costs over 3% of net income or this maximum, whichever is lower. The maximum is $2052 federally. It is that amount in SK, YT, NT and NU also, slightly higher at $2194 in Alberta but is as low as $1637 in Nova Scotia
-tax credit for eligible adoption expenses is zero in PEI,NS, NB, SK, NT and NU. The federal government however provides $11,128 and Alberta the credit is slightly higher at $11611
-tax credit for full time education is $400 per month federally, matched by most provinces. However it is only $200 per month in BC, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. It is $660 in Alberta.

As the two big currents of economic thought confront each other across several nations- whether to have big or small government, lots of social programs or everybody fend for themselves, the media is also charged with comment. Robert Reich. professor of public policy at the U of California, Berkeley has written a list of what he dubs 'The seven biggest economic lies". He wants more Americans to know 'the truth' about the economy and is dismayed that the US president's Jobs Bill does not stand much chance in Congress and that the Occupy Wall Street movement is not a national movement. The seven 'biggest whoppers' he lists are:
-that tax cuts for the rich trickle down to benefit all. He says that tax cuts by Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush led to lower wages for ordinary citizens.
-that high tax levels slow down job growth. He says that from 1945-81 the rich were taxed at 70% of their income, and under Pres. Eisenhower 91% and yet the economy during those intervals grew very fast.
-that small government creates more jobs. He says that many government jobs such as teachers, police officers, fire fighters, social workers, safety inspectors and the military are vital. Mark Zandi, economist for Moody's says that the House GOP plan to cut spending will result in 700,000 lost jobs.
-that we must cut the deficit as top priority. He says that when unemployment is high, the economy shrinks, tax revenue shrinks and the debt to economy ratio actually gets worse.
-that Medicare and Medicaid are to blame for government deficit. He says that these plans actually only address medical needs that exist anyway and as group plans they can use their large bargaining power to get lower drug prices.
-that Social security is not solvent. He says that in fact there are funds in it for the next 26 years and would be fine for 100 years if we just raised the social security payroll tax the wealthy have to pay.
-that the poor should pay income tax too - he says that they do already pay sales tax, user fees and tolls and to tax them more would make them pay a larger share of their income than the rich have to pay.

In Lebanon parents have some freedom to assign to their young who to marry. An Australian girl, aged 16 was so worried her parents from Lebanon would send her there to marry against her will in a forced marriage, that she applied to officials to prevent them from doing so. An Australian court has ruled that her parents cannot remove or attempt to remove her from Australia to marry a young man she has met only once. Magistrate Joe Harman of the Federal Magistrates' Court also ruled that the parents must not molest, harass, threaten or otherwise intimidate the girl or take her out of school since she has expressed clearly that she does not want to go to Lebanon and does not want to marry the person proposed. Harman felt there was a risk posed psychologically to the girl if she was forced to marry.

Statistics Canada has released its latest census results noting that the median age of the nation is now 39.9 years. However it varies across the country with Newfound and Labrador having a media age of 43.8 years and the most seniors. The number of children across the country was also studied finding that only 14.8% of the population in Newfoundland and Labrador are children, while across the country the percent at 16.4% is still low. The population of Canada is now 14.4% seniors, or nearly five million people.

In India, a survey of 400 children under age 12 has found that while 70% of boys who had congenital heart disease got medical treatment for it, only 44% of girls with the same condition got treated. Dr. S. Ramakrishnan of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences says that of 180,000 children in the country born with congenital heart disease, about half need treatment. However Indian parents are less likely to invest money in girls than in boys. Dr. Amal Kumar Banerjee of the Cardiological Society of India says that parents seem to feel boys are a better investment, while surgery on a girl may cause scars interfering with marriage-ability and may not be necessary since the girl will become the responsibility of a husband later anyway. Birth statistics in India also seem to confirm a continued gender bias. For every 1000 boys born there were only 914 girls born in 2011.

The government of Denmark, in a move to reduce obesity, has announced it will now levy a tax on all products that contain saturated fat - including butter, milk, pizza, oils, meats and pre-cooked foods. Reaction has been swift with the Confederation of Industries saying that this will create a bureaucratic nightmare. The public also, anticipating the tax, has begun to hoard butter, meat, milk and pizza before the levy takes effect. The cost of the new tax administratively will be borne by consumers.

In Canada the law prohibits actual purchase or sale of sperm, eggs or surrogacy services to conceive and bear a child. Fines of up to half a million dollars and prison terms of up to ten years are possible consequences. However other nations do permit such sales and purchases. The result has been a trend of Canadians travelling to the US where ads online and in university newspapers have announced offers of $50,000 for egg donations. In Canada the assumption has been that only surrogacy and donations based on altruism are permissible. Dr. Robert Stillman of Shady Grove Fertility Center in Washington DC, however, says that assumption brings about ethical problems including the fact that thousands of infertile couples risk not being able to find anyone to help them. He would rather see universal standards in place for Canada and the US. He'd like regulations to set a limit on the number of times a woman can donate eggs, a standardized informed consent form on how many eggs a doctor can harvest, standardized prices for egg donation and standard pre and post medical and psychological checkups for participants. His solution, however, was challenged by Jennifer Lahl from the US Center for Bioethics and Culture. She feels that in the US many women are exploited, sign up to donate eggs not realizing how many eggs will be harvested from their bodies and not being told health risks such as stroke, organ failure, or ovarian hyperstimulated syndrome. Lahl admits she is against in-vitro fertilization itself saying that donor women usually get poor medical care and society is not better off for creating "babies without sex." Lahl has produced a film called "Eggsploitation."

Though many people believe that human rights laws have been a great protection for the public, a few voices have arisen lately claiming that such laws have a downside. John Carpay, of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is concerned that we may have gone too far. He thinks there is a conflict between some of the rights, for instance that freedom of religion sometimes runs up against freedom of speech. In 2001 William Whatcott distributed flyers in two Saskatchewan cities opposing teaching children in public schools about homosexuality. He objected to homosexual behaviour in these pamphlets. Four people complained, feeling personally hurt by the message of the fliers and complaining about their human rights being violated. They won and Whatcott was ordered to pay $17,500 to them and to not distribute such fliers again. The Supreme Court however is now going to hear Whatcott's appeal claiming that he was only expressing free speech. Carpay feels that Canadians need more open debate and discussion on such social issues, and too much suppression of what people think denies them that. MP Brian Storseth is trying to eliminate Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, a provision that lets the human rights commission hear complaints about hate speech on the Internet. If we suppress hate speech are we also interfering with free speech? The editorial board of the National Post says that protection for vulnerable groups against racism or violence-promoting websites was a good idea but lately the law has been used mostly by minorities to silence those who don't agree with them. At human rights tribunals ordinary court rules do not apply. There is no presumption of innocence, complainants can stay anonymous and still be heard, and third parties with no interest in the case are allowed to filed complaints. Under criminal law the standard for fair comment is whether a statement is true or not but in human rights law that is not the standard. The NP editorial board concluded that when human rights law permits censorship it actually handicaps human rights.

A Prince Edward Island father recently was frustrated that his four year old daughter kept biting her brother. He tried taking her toys, talking to her, giving her time outs but nothing worked so he demonstrated to her on her back what a bite felt like. He left a small bruise and unfortunately the grandmother noticed it and reported the dad to police. The 24 year old father was convicted of abuse and sentenced to five days in jail and probation for one year and was barred from any physical discipline of his child. When the public heard of the judgment however, a backlash ensued. Judy Arnall, writer of Discipline without Distress admits that parents in the past also have shown a child what a bite is like by biting and she feels Judge Jeff Lantz came down a little hard on the dad. Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada does allow physical punishment of children ages 2-12 but the definition of 'physical punishment' is not made clear. Nico Trocme of the Centre for Research on Children and Families at McGill University says the vagueness confuses parents and the legal profession since it does not stipulate when force is allowed, what kind or how much. His research found that sometimes children are confused when a parent, while trying to teach to not hit or bite, hits or bites. Mary Ballantyne of the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies admits that parents showing a child how it feels is not uncommon. Lawyer Mary Birdsell of Toronto says the standard might be whether a bruise is left, in which case this may seem to be bodily harm.

When people try to raise awareness of what they perceive as a discrimination, one way to do it is to find a discrimination and the other is to oneself discriminate blatantly. In Los Angeles the Campus Republicans at Berkeley hosted a bake sale where they charged for items depending on identity of the purchaser. Whites paid $2, Asians paid $1.50, Hispanics were charged $1, blacks were charged $0.75 and native Americans and women were charged only $0.25. The reaction was swift. The group has been charged with racism and sexism thought their president Shawn Lewis said the Increase Diversity Bake Sale was to raise awareness of a legislative bill to let public universities in California consider race and gender when deciding admissions.

When the laws become harsh for sentencing and when as a result more people are accused and waiting for trial, something odd happens. A recent study in the US has suggested that overcrowded court dockets lead lawyers to start to pressure the accused to plea- bargain, to avoid the cost of a day in court. The pressure to plead guilty to a lesser charge sometimes comes despite the bad record such a plea may create for the accused and may even come with a veiled threat of worse charges unless the accused pleads guilty. A New York Times story has reported that fewer than one in 40 cases now makes it to trial, given the new high rate of plea bargaining. If the laws have made a sentence mandatory for some crimes, much effort is made to avoid getting that penalty, and so a case is made to manipulate the client to admit to a lesser charge. So in the US though there has been a reported steep drop in crime rate for 20 years on the major charges, the number of people in prison has ballooned. Senior Judge John L. Kane Jr. of Denver fears that in some cases prosecutors have now grown more powerful than judges, using a mandatory sentence threat to 'coerce a plea". In 1977 the ratio of guilty please before Judge Kane was four to one. In 2010 that ratio was 32 to one.

Though through history it was often said that 'the middle class is rising', recent moves have suggested that for one of the first times ever, the middle class is falling, its wellbeing is declining and the gap between rich and all the rest is widening. In the US this realization has spurred a new social movement, "Occupy Wall Street". Protesters have been demonstrating for several weeks in the fall of 2011, starting in an encampment in Lower Manhattan, New York City and moving now to Chicago, Boston, Las Vegas, Austin Texas and dozens of other US and Canadian cities. The chief concern is that in tough economic times, while there is high unemployment and job insecurity, the very rich are still getting favoured treatment. Protesters are unhappy that banks still get huge profits and that the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street in 2008 did not help the ordinary citizen. Statistics being cited are that in New York City the top 1% of households get 44% of all income, while the other 99% suffer. The percentage of profit American corporations paid in 1961 was 40.6%;  today it is 10.5%. The theme of the protest has been to acknowledge the needs of the "other 99%". VP Joe Biden says that the protesters compare to the American Tea Party and "in the minds of the vast majority, the middle class is being screwed". The protest so far has included a march past the White House, rallies outside the Chamber of Commerce, blocking traffic on K street where lobbying firms are located, as well as mini rock festivals and drumming circles. Vancouver-based Adbusters set a goal in July 2011 of activists occupying Wall Street and then for 50 million people to rally October 29th to demand a 1% tax on financial transactions. Adbusters founder Kallie Lasn hopes the movement becomes international. Numerous Facebook sites have been set up to spur the public on including, Occupy Together, and Twitter accounts such as occupywallstNYC. The blog WeArethe99Percent on Tumblr is proving popular. However the very diversity of these media outlets may create a lack of focus. In Egypt where an uprising in Jan 2011 protesting police brutality garnered international attention, there had only been one Facebook page for all protesters to consult.


September, 2011

In what may be a chicken and egg dilemma, researchers have recently looked at 500 middle school students and their video game habits and then asked them about their relationship with their parents. The study found that those children who spend a lot of time playing video games feel less connected with their parents, and report a negative relationship with the parents. It is unclear however which came first. Dr. Linda Jackson of the U of Michigan says that it is possible that playing a lot of games makes the parents critical and the child feels distanced from them, but also possible that children already dealing poorly with parents escape to the games. Dr. Nancy Lee Heath of McGill University says that video gaming does give children a sense of control, a social connection to other gamers, and helps them escape from situations in the home. Dr. Wendy Craig of Queen's University in Kingston says many parents consider playing video games a type of rebellious behaviour. However Craig says that positive parent-child relationships keep the communication open even about amount of gaming time.

Though in earlier times taking a child out behind the barn for a spanking, or giving a child 'the strap' in school were the norm, the opposite view, of never touching the child for discipline is also being reassessed. In New Brunswick a father was driving with his wife and three children to a Fredericton museum. The 6 year old boy started bickering with his brother, yelling at passing cars and kicking the back of his mother's seat as she drove. The father tried to reason with the boy and when that did not work, they stopped at a parking lot and he took the boy out of the car and spanked him 2 or 3 times on the buttocks. Though no bruises or marks resulted, a person living nearby reported the incident to police and the father was apprehended. He was charged with assault and was convicted. However the case was appealed and a new trial has been ordered by the Court of Appeal. The Criminal Code does say that force may be used to correct a child as long as it does not exceed was is reasonable.

UNICEF, the children's fund of the United Nations, has released Sept 2011 result of its study about children's well-being in member nations. It found that in the UK materialism has come to dominate family life. It says consumer goods are being amassed to create happiness and to try to compensate for the long absence of parents from the home while they are earning. Unicef says this emphasis on consumer goods is a key reason for the riots and looting of last month and it urges the UK government to ban ads aimed at children under age 12, and to encourage parents to be home more. It also warned local authorities that children's playgrounds should be better maintained. The UN report found that in areas where family time is prioritized, such as Spain, there is less consumerism and children register as happier.

In Markham, Ontario drugstore staff noticed a toddler getting his hand stuck in the entrance door and there were two other toddlers nearby but no adult. The children aged 18-24 months were herded together by staff and police were called. A nearby daycare was found to be the site they came from, and though 11 toddlers had been on the playground with 3 staff members, 8 apparently got out. Five of them returned on their own but the 3 at the drugstore were returned to their parents by police. The daycare, Markham Village Childcare Centre, has had its license suspended for non-supervision, for failure to adequately feed the 18 children enrolled, and for not having on staff a qualified supervisor. The centre has however in the past won awards for its care.

With the growing use of sperm banks, women choosing to have babies without a man in the picture, for instance by artificial insemination, a strange thing is happening. A given donor whose traits seem appealing or a clinic wishing to make most use of what it has, has led to creation of dozens sometimes hundreds of children from the same donor father. Cynthia Daily used a sperm donor seven years ago and searched a web-based registry just to see if she might help her baby one day contact siblings. She was surprised to find out that there are 150 children now conceived from his sperm. She contacted some of them and found that many look alike. Medical experts have now expressed concern at the risk of a very small gene pool creating so many babies. Debora Spar, writer of "The Baby Business: How Money, Science and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception" says that the US lacks rules for the fertility industry. Some sperm banks get huge profits off use of one donor's sperm. In Britain, France, and Sweden a given donor's sperm can only be used a certain number of times. In 1982 Britain set up the Warnock committee to look at the issue and it recommended a maximum of 10. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has recommended a limit of 25 births per donor for a population of 800,000. Lack of limits risks making undiagnosed genetic defects widespread and poses the risk that unbeknownst to them siblings and half-siblings may marry.

China has for many years had a one-child policy, to keep down birth rate in an overpopulated nation. However recent studies have found that other countries also are voluntarily moving to a one-child preference. 43% of Canadian families now have only one child and the number in Spain and Portugal is 30%, while in England it is 46% UN figures cite that in 25 developing countries including Cuba, Iran and North Korea, birth rates are also below replacement level. Reasons speculated in the west include lack of money, older age of mothers at first giving birth, paid jobs that make pregnancy for women inconvenient as well as high divorce rate. While some economists and demographers raise warning signals that a low birth rate creates lower income stream for the future and likely longer paid career obligations, lower pensions, higher taxes, others still make the case that having no children or only one is a good choice. Psychologist Susan Newman in 1990 wrote "Parenting an Only Child' defending the choice and arguing against the stereotypes she has found that only children were assumed to be lower achieving or less socially adjusted. In her new book "The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide' she says that though only children may be indulged and spoiled sometimes, that is not because they have no siblings and is more because over-parenting and over-protectiveness are becoming more common throughout the culture. Newman believes that those who have large families also get criticized and feels the resolution to how many children to have is to have the number that makes you happy. (ED NOTE: That is fine except it is not the way the tax department sees it. In most western nations there is a tax penalty for having children, because in essence having a child reduces ability to pay tax and if that is not recognized, the more children you have, the poorer you end up financially. Though some nations like Australia and Singapore have a birth bonus, many still, like Sweden, Norway and Canada, significantly fund only non-parental care of children and strongly urge and reward parents to have paid work instead of rearing the young. This financial and social pressure keeps those who would like more children from being able to have them. So the playing field is not at all level and it's not just yet about 'do what makes you happy'.)

The US State Department has reported that 64,043 Chinese children have been adopted to the US from China between 1999 and 2010, making the US the country receiving the largest number of such adoptees. However since 2005 rumors have surfaced that some of those children were not as originally believed, orphaned or voluntarily given up by parents. In 2005 Chinese and foreign media reported that one orphanage in Hunan had sold children to other orphanages for foreign adoption. Rumours also have spread about children taken by force from their parents, or bought by orphanages that reaped thousands of dollars in 'donations' from American parents. In 2010 the US State Department said there were no reliable estimates of children who had been kidnapped for adoption but one Chinese news outlet estimated the numbers at 20,000 per year. Though in earlier times parents were willing to give up children in poverty for a better life elsewhere, Dr. David Smolin of Samford University in Alabama says since the early 2000s China has had a higher standard of living, adoption within China has been made easier and fewer families abandon their babies. However US parents who adopted are reluctant to now make enquiries or feel torn between wanting the truth and to let their child know their genetic roots, and the desire to keep the child they love. Brian Stuy of Utah has set up a Research-China website to help adoptive families learn about the origins of their Chinese adopted children. In August 2011 however more news is surfacing that some Hunan Province government officials seized babies and sold them to the black market for children. Adoption agencies are reluctant to question if the baby was given up willingly in China since such inquiries can anger government there.

Dr. Mairi Harper of the U of York in the UK has released results of research on 1000 bereaved parents. She found that in the first 15 years after the death of a child, a parent is more than twice as likely to die as are parents who have not suffered bereavement. In some areas the risk was 4 times as high. The stress of the loss may be a factor in weakening an immune system though the study did not examine which deaths were actually suicides. Another factor may be negative lifestyles following bereavement including dependence on drugs, alcohol or unhealthy diets. Harper would like to see more support systems to help people cope. Many interviewed said that societal pressure to get over the death and move on is not necessarily helpful and more appropriate is to incorporate the memory of the deceased into your being.

Sometimes it may seem that if you have a family member to take care of long term, you can either do it at home with nearly no financial help from government, or you can use a government- funded facility and have nearly no input thereafter about the care. In Calgary a new concept has emerged which may solve the dilemma. Sharon Cobb was not happy with the care her daughter Brenda got in institutional settings in Red Deer and Calgary so she brought her home. She was able to fight for support to provide the care she felt her daughter needed, at home. Today a Darrel Cook Managed Support Resource Centre helps those with developmental disabilities have a life in the community. With the help also of the Alberta Association for Community Living, Brenda Cobb, now 48, lives in a bungalow, has staff funded by the centre and can go shopping, swimming and to sports games with help. The new concept lets parents and family employ and direct the staff that support the person needing care.

Statistics Canada has made available to the National Post its current study of suicides and public interest is high given the sudden deaths of five First Nations people and of hockey players like Wade Belak. Though suicide is still not common, it does have its peaks and valleys and the genders and age groups involved starkly differ.
-the suicide rate is 11.0 per 100,000 population - 3611 Canadians in 2007
-the suicide rate of men is 15.7 per 100,000 while for women it is 4.9 per 100,000
-of the women, 4 % use poisons, 40% use drug overdose, 34% use suffocation or hanging, 2% use a firearm, 6% jump from a high place
-of the men -7% use poisons, 12% use drug overdose, 46% use suffocation or hanging, 19% use a firearm, 5% jump from a high place
-of the women, suicide numbers are highest at age 40-49, next highest at 50-59
-of the men, suicide numbers are highest at age 40-49, next highest at 50-59.
-the highest rates of suicide of women are in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The highest rates for men are in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Quebec and Newfoundland
-parental deprivation is highly correlated with child and youth suicide
-the suicide rate is highest among parents not living with their dependent children.

Research has found that while adult melatonin levels peak at 4 AM, teen levels peak at 7AM and don’t even start rising till 11 PM. This means that teens operate on a different clock than do adults and their reason for having trouble waking up has a logic. Dr. Teny Maghakian of the U of California Davis found that of 6100 students over four years, academic performance was strongly linked to how early they were made to attend their first class each day. Not only did the marks of early classes stay low, but those who had to start early had lower marks all day. Changing start times of classes for secondary and college students has been recommended as a way to help enhance their learning though critics argue this leaves less time at the end of the day for clubs and sports. At Eastern Commerce Collegiate Institute in Toronto, moving the first class from 9AM to 10AM resulted in fewer absenses, higher grades and students sleeping 30 minutes more each night. (ED NOTE: For students from grade 7-12, the first class often has a lot of kids yawning while little kids are wide awake. Some school districts not wanting little kids heading to school in the dark however, have the buses pick them up later while the older kids are made to assemble sometimes as early as 7:30 or 8 AM. The problem is this is the exact opposite of how body rhythms work. The earlier classes would work better for the littler kids. A factor key to these decisions of class time though is not about children. Many schools arrange times based on bus availability and many also consider parental schedules and when parents can drop the kids off. Some kids are dropped off at schools before 7 AM and not picked up till after 6 PM.)

The recent youth riots in the UK have led to much discussion of exactly who is rioting. The Centre for Social Justice' s director Gavin Poole says that the social breakdown evident is due to high levels of family breakdown. The number of young people who are not in employment education or training is nearly 20%. PM David Cameron has told parents "You need to get hold of your kids before we have to" and has said that fathers should be more than just a "sperm donor or human ATM," not recognizing the forced removal of many fathers from children's lives after separation and divorce. In a parallel way analysts of US social culture have been looking at violent flash mobs in Philadelphia. Mayor Michael Nutter imposed curfews and harsh police measures recently when roving gangs of teens beat up ordinary citizens. Columnist Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail, Canada has commented that the solution is not just parents being stricter, and it is not 'more social programs' since those have not worked well in forty years of trying them. She says "the state is totally unable to compensate for broken families" (ED NOTE: I would urge that the state then stop penalizing families that spend time together and that it stop trying to replace families with institutional care. The best solution is to fund and value families and to create policy that gives birth bonuses, maternity and paternity benefits, universal funding for care of a child that flows with the child not just directed only to 3rd party care, encouraging home-based parental care, and pensions for the caregiving years. These are big changes to make but big problems nudge us to dramatic and creative solutions.)

Many people are concerned about the negative effect of advertising on young children and laws have been passed to restrict advertising to that group. However Joel Bakan has written "Childhood Under Siege" outlying even more areas where he feels that children are victims of an 'undeclared war' waged by corporations. He cites several examples:
-video games and online entertainment that manipulate a child's love of excitement and need for company, in order just to sell games
-marketers that sell sex clothing and gadgets, pornography and sex chat to the underaged
-viewing of violence on TV. He estimates that 90% of 4-6 year olds watch TV two hours a day and that tweens watch it 8 hours a day.
-companies manipulating doctors into diagnosing more illnesses of a mental nature and manipulating pharmacists into selling medications to treat them, selling psychotropics to children whose brains are still developing
-corporations using child labor especially in agriculture
-corporations adding strong chemicals and pollutants to products with the result that the leading cause of childhood hospital admissions now is asthma
-charter schools operating at a profit and yet still being subsidized by tax dollars
-corporations advertising to young children urging them to nag parents to make purchases.

Dr. Dacher Keltner of the U of California-Berkeley has released a report studying income and social empathy. He found that though it is often assumed that the wealthy are more generous than the poor because they have more money, in fact the rich tend to hoard their resources and 'trickle-down' economics does not work. He found that the poor tend to have more health problems and difficulties with income but they also tend to develop great empathy, altruism and sensitivity to others. He also found that observers are able to accurately judge education and income level of videotaped strangers after only one minute. If the speaker uses a cellphone, doodles, avoids eye contact they seem rich while those who head -nod, laugh and are more attentive to the speaker are more likely to be middle or lower income. Statistics Canada found that those with household incomes over $100,000 give 0.5% of their income to charities but those with household incomes under $20,00 give 1.6% of their incomes to charities ( I think donations to charity are an interesting but imperfect gauge of this. The very poor often help each other with lodging, food, childcare, elder care while the very wealthy don't have to bail each other out as much if their family is all rich. Such donations of your own time and sweat-labor are not counted in charity donations. So, long story short, I suspect the observations are correct and maybe even understated but of course there are glowing exceptions. It's just that sometimes when the rich give they do get a lot of media attention and buildings named after them - editor)

Those who are concerned about the 'greying' of the population and the 'birth dearth' often use statistics about seniors that assume once you turn 65 you are a net drain on the economy and that those under 65 'support' you. Susan Eng, VP of the CARP seniors group has written in national newspapers her observation that the calculation of a 'dependency ratio' needs to be changed. Just because a person is 65 or over does not mean this person is dependent, she says. People are living longer and healthier so are not necessarily a cost to the health care system. They are less disabled and many are still earning. She says if we get the calculation of dependency wrong we may create 'bad public policy' and says" change is necessary but if we're going to cite science to make policy, then let's start with good science"

In some nations, parents forego having big families and pour all their energy and resources into having only one or two. In India wealthy parents have lately become interested in ensuring the health of their children by paying to stock genetic material in case illness requires it later. The stem cell collection can be made from embryos, fetuses, menstrual blood, from umbilical cord blood or now even from dental pulp of baby teeth. In some cases healthy canine teeth have been removed from a child to enable the family to store the stem cells within the teeth for 'just in case'. Such storage of cells is expensive but there are few laws to monitor collection. The stem cell industry in India offers a lot of therapies to medical tourists and is worth about $500 million a year. Dr. Rakhi Pal of Advanced Neuroscience Allies in Banglore cautions however that even if you do have stem cells, those are not a miracle fix for all children's illnesses. Stem cells have been used in clinical trials to repair heart muscle, regenerate a cornea, treat blood disorders or help regenerate bones. The collection process itself is expensive. It costs $215 to just register then $1100 to process on extracted tooth to get the pulp cells out, and then $130 a year to store them.

Though many people think of life insurance as income replacement when a person dies suddenly, some insurance providers are noticing that what might need to be replaced might be foregone income. If a woman or man is home tending small children and passes away suddenly, to replace their work would cost funds for a full-time childcare provider, housekeeper who cooks, a driver to transport kids to school and medical appointments, according to Some insurance providers are now offering policies for at home parents. A 27 year old mother for instance could get a death benefit of $500,000 for a cost of $19 a month.

With the recent economic collapse of several large financial institutions, and investments of many going into a tailspin, a call has been issued for the financial industry itself to be better regulated and for a program to be set up to alert the general public to better money management and wariness about risks. Though many have advocated for a neutral program not run by financial institutions to provide 'financial literacy' to the public, first to step up to offer such a course tend to be such institutions. In Canada an Investor Education Fund has been set up to provide Ontario school curriculum material from grades 4-12. The organization spends about $3 million annually on programs, videos and an Internet presence though its president Tom Hanza says that the original push was to send out investment information just to those planning for retirement. Hanza says that people have blindly trusted those who handle their money and not having fees up front and transparent has misled many investors. He says that young people now are leaving college or university with an average debt of $19,000 - $25,000 so they face 'minefields' right away. Before the school program his group aimed at those aged 35-50 who were 'in the market' already but lately they have tried to teach a younger demographic. Hanza is 39 years old. His group gets its funds from fines and penalties imposed on financial institutions and individuals by the Ontario Securities Commission. (ED NOTE: I still feel that we really need a focus on schools and daily purchases and mundane things like mortgages, credit, interest rates, rent debt, not investments and the market. I am not sure this group is as concrete about kids and money as it needs to be.)

Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin urged lawyers to make their services more affordable noting that funding for the wealthy corporation or the low income person charged with a serious criminal offence is easy to get but everyone else faces hurdles of affordability. She recommended more free diagnosis of legal problems, expanded legal insurance plans and having lawyers provide more services pro bono.
-The Canadian Bar Association in turn chastised the government of PM Stephen Harper for its tough-on-crime policies. The bar association criticized the huge cost of new prisons, the inappropriate jailing of mentally ill offenders, and the lack of flexibility in imposing mandatory minimum sentences.

From Bev Smith: As elections and leadership talks ramp up this fall, some candidates are turning attention to caregivers. Gary Mar, who wants to head the Progressive Conservative party in Alberta and become premier, has promised that if elected he would provide job protection for family caregivers when someone in the family has serious illness. He would provide unpaid compassionate leave for up to 8 weeks in a 26 week period. He would also give seniors more day programs while their families are away from home earning and would give more respite beds so families who are caregivers could have a break from caregiving. He would also have more family caregiver resource centres and would like seniors ' facilities set up so married couples could live in the same building (ED NOTE: Actually I am irritated that politicians so often value not doing a job instead of doing it. They give you breaks from caregiving but not funding while there. They give you pamphlets but no money. They give you unpaid leave to be a caregiver but not any funding to be a caregiver which still means than that you are poor based on your commitment to tend someone you love. What we need is money, not platitudes, not substitutions for ourselves. The same dilemma happens re care of children. It is easy to get funding if you leave the kids with a stranger but nearly impossible if you stay with them. If funding flows with the person who needs care, we would more fairly fund caregiving itself.)

If you give birth in hospital there are forms to sign to register the birth. Proof of the mother's identity is easy given that the birth itself was in hospital. However a legal glitch has surfaced in Quebec for mothers who have home births. Anyone who gives birth without a doctor or licensed midwife present has to prove the biological link between mother and child when they present the child. The Quebec government through spokesperson Marie Godbout says that the requirement was set in place to prevent child trafficking. However Heather Mattingly was not happy with the rules. She gave birth in March 2011 at home using an unlicensed midwife. As required she contacted the government agency to register the birth certificate. To prove the baby was hers she also send in an ultrasound, a doctor's letter and an attestation of birth but the agency in charge said she would also need to have a vaginal exam. Mattingly was angry and appealed. She says she needs the birth registered because she wants maternity benefits but that the vaginal exam should not be required. Agency spokespeople, after media attention to the issue have waived t he need for the exam.

The rights of schools to search the text messages of students have been called into question recently in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. It is alleged that a 12 year old student's cell phone rang in class and he started to reply by text and did not stop when asked to do so by the teacher. He was sent to the office and the vice principal questioned him and examined the cell phone. It is alleged that the vice principal read the text message and noticed mention of a stolen vehicle, questioned the youth about this and threatened to contact police. Police were contacted and did come to the school to question the boy. The boys' grandparents are angry at how the situation was handled and have filed a statement of claim against the school division. They claim that their son is now in fear of violent retaliation from those who feel he was an informant and they are angry that they feel they have had to take him out of school and incur costs of driving him out of the city to stay with relatives. They are claiming the school officials had no right to read the text message. and want a $50,000 settlement for breach of the boy's privacy.

When governments try to address deficits they usually consider either raising taxes (money in) or reducing spending (money out). What is often not mentioned is a category of accounts where money could have been brought in and was not, money foregone. This category is called 'tax expenditures' and is all the tax breaks government gives to certain groups, what some call tax loopholes, according to Glen Hodgson of the Conference Board of Canada. Government by allowing such tax breaks is trying to change behavior of individuals, to target some classes of voters to win their support, but the 'cost' is not listed as government spending. The Parliamentary Budget Officer admits that there is about $100 billion per year in foregone tax through this policy, what amounts to 40% of government revenues. There is however no statutory requirement to regularly review and evaluate these tax expenditures. Hodgson would like the system to be more transparent and for the state to place these expenditures under the column of spending. He would prefer a simplified personal tax system with a higher basic exemption, lower tax rates, fewer exceptions and loopholes, and the elimination of many of the tax expenditures. There are currently 189 different tax breaks including a tax free savings account, tax credits for kids' sports, public transit use, use of labourers' tools. (ED NOTE: I agree with Hodgson. For years I noticed that tax breaks for those with children for instance are not at all universal. Targeting benefits only to signing the child up for a sports or arts course for instance benefits mainly the middle class and wealthy and does not recognize that if you buy the child a keyboard or a bike you also encourage sports or arts.)

Though many people complain that they are overtaxed, some do not and recently a few very wealthy people have urged each other to look again at the privilege they have had. Though the law does not require them to pay heavy tax, some are now even urging the laws be changed. Billionaire Warren Buffett has written to his 'mega-rich' friends and in the media outlining the argument for more tax on the rich. He points out
-last year he paid only 17.4% tax on his income while the other 20 people in his office paid 33-41% of their income in tax
-governments get 80% of their income from personal income tax and payroll tax. The mega rich pay nearly nothing in payroll tax though, and only about 15% on personal income tax. The middle class however pay high payroll tax and a personal income tax of 15-25%
-Since 1993 the IRS has tracked returns of the 400 superwealthy. In 1992 they earned $16.9 billion but paid only 29.2% tax. In 2008 with government taxing them less, they earned $90.9 billion but paid only 21.5% tax.
He is aware of policy arguments that say that taxing the rich very little creates jobs, that it encourages investment and that because they have a lot, they will be philanthropic. He criticizes each of those claims
-He has worked with investors for 60 years and even when capital gains tax rates were 39% in 1976 people still invested. He says nobody shies away just because when they get rich from investments they may have to pay tax
-40 million jobs were created between 1980 and 2000 but since then, when tax rates dropped, fewer jobs were created
-Many of the super wealthy have joined his GivingPledge to donate most of their wealth to philanthropy, aware fellow citizens are suffering, but he notes that not all do this. US Congress has assigned 12 members to rearrange America's finances. Buffett recommends that this group in trying to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years do the following
-pare down promises for spending
-keep the tax rates the same for 99.7% of taxpayers
-reduce the employee contribution of the payroll tax
-increase tax rates for the 236,883 millionaires in the US, taxing also their dividends, capital gains
-further raise taxes on those 8,274 who earned over $10 million a year
In France 16 company executives and business leaders also recently signed a petition that they should have to pay more tax. Christophe de Margerie of Total Oil, Jan-Cyril Spinette of AirFrance KLM and Liliane Bettencourt of L'Oreal, say they are 'conscious of having benefitted,' and want to give back.

In China the cost of living has been skyrocketing. Shanghai property now can cost $8200 per square meter though annual salaries have not kept pace and average $10,000 a year. When some young women marry they are often considering financial stability and by some reports favouring men who already own a house and possibly a car. Such an arrangement, dubbed a 'naked marriage' is not focused on love and in a country where divorce rates are also soaring, government has now stepped in. The Supreme Court has ruled that the avenue of marrying just for money will be blocked because on divorce whoever paid for the family home gets to keep it and the asset will not be shared. Lawyer Hu Jiachu says that he hopes this move will help young women not worship money and will nudge them to themselves become more independent. On the men's side, it is reported that many young Chinese men are distressed if they cannot even rent a lodging, let alone buy one. and because of that, cannot attract any women. Traditionally in China the groom's parents purchase the marital home but the bride's parents furnish and decorate it. The court ruling amends the Marriage Law written 31 years ago and officials have hinted that its goal is to protect the rights of parents. China lacks a social safety net and financial security is often set up only through family assets. Some women do not applaud the new law however saying that the law tells women to earn their own money, buy their own house, get artificial insemination and have a baby alone.
-ED NOTE: Wouldn't it be wiser to address this issue by reducing the cost of living, the high cost of property, and low salaries?

August, 2011

In Los Angeles California there has long been criticism of the love-affair with cars, the smog of the city, the fact that the city sprawls out so much even the subway system and buses do not speed up commutes. A new law has been passed recently to enable cyclists to be better protected from anger of motorists. In July a key section of highway in the LA area was shut down experimentally in what was dubbed 'car-mageddon". Though many anticipated forcing people to not use that road would result in anarchy, for a few days at least the public embraced the slowing down mentality. County supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that closing the freeway for a while generated much public discussion about carpooling, scootering, walking, biking and you could hear children playing.

Often you hear of heroic efforts to save lives, some ending in tragedy for the victim as well as the person trying to help them, and others ending up in the survival of the one at risk, but death of the person helping. Occasionally however you hear a truly happy ending where everybody lived. In Langley BC a 44 year old woman was driving westbound on the TransCanada highway around 9AM on a weekday when the driver behind her noticed her car suddenly moving erratically. Her VW Golf ran alongside the highway barrier than back on the road, swerving at 80kmh. Behind her was Courtenay Smith who assessed the situation and realized its huge potential for harm. The driver had slumped over sideways into the passenger seat and Smith raced his car up in front of hers and tried to physically get in its way, to let her bump him and then, as he slowed down, to slow her down. This worked and as soon as both cars stopped and he pulled over, he got out to see how she was. Ron MacLeod was nearby, pulled his truck over and turned on his emergency lights to warn others. Both men used a tire iron to smash open the locked Golf and got the unconscious woman out of the car. Other motorists helped and noticing she had no pulse, started CPR while someone called for help. RCMP arrived, and then an ambulance and the CPR efforts resuscitated the woman. She was taken to hospital and is recovering from a massive heart attack.

A Bolton England fitness club now offers a class that has raised public ire. The class is pole dancing for girls from aged 7. Photos of the girls will be posted on the Internet though JLN Pole Fitness says that parental permission is required. Teacher Jess Norris, aged 18, says nothing rude is going on but Mother's Union spokespeople are upset. One has said children are being targeted 'with an activity that's part of male club culture' and that 'objectifies women'. Local councillor Nick Peel is responsible for children's services in the area but is not taking action against the club. He only warns parents to 'be aware of' the situation they may put their children in once such photos hit the Internet. (ED NOTE: The fact that this has raised public ire is a reflection of how troubled a society the UK is right now. I don't think our decisions regarding children's well-being should be affected by "male club culture."

Governments that believe in care roles nonetheless sometimes disagree on how to show support. Some fund parents and family caregivers directly but many governments instead fund only 3rd party substitutes for parents. This preferential funding for only one style of care has come under fire internationally by many parents' groups and even led to a UN complaint in 1997 from a Canadian delegation. In response to the mounting pressure, some governments have changed funding formulae. Norway now funds parents at home as well as childcare centres. Some cantons of Sweden do the same. Italy provides not only pensions for paid workers but pensions for homemakers whose work is unpaid. Australia and Singapore provide bonuses to all new parents, via a universal birth bonus. Some nations were so deeply mired in the funding of 3rd parties however that they were also funding big unions and advocacy groups for such 3rd party care. In Canada the federal government has announced it will phase out funding for 30 sector councils including the Child Care Human Resources Council that advocated for 3rd party care. Such childcare groups are incensed and lobbying government to restore their funding as a vital service. The Canadian Union of Public Employees is also expressing desire to get the funding back. Many daycare workers are members of CUPE.

New government and community recognition is being given to caregivers. In the past few years caregiver awards in some areas have been restricted to paid care providers, for instance daycare/childcare workers who have this as their career. Recently however the net to value care roles has widened and now encompasses family-caregivers who actually make up the majority of caregivers and who are not paid.
- Manitoba is debating a new law to recognize family caregivers. Minister Jim Rondeau praised those who provide elder care so seniors can live in their own homes as long as possible. The Caregiver Recognition Act names the first Tuesday in April as Caregiver Recognition Day. It sets up principles for government of how to treat caregivers, and sets up a study of how better to support them in what they do. Manitoba is also increasing the Caregiver tax credit to $1275 per person from $1020.
-The VHA gives annually a Home Care Award to someone who has shown remarkable efforts to provide care of a family member or friend and gone 'beyond the call of duty'. 
-ED NOTE: I appreciate the theory of awards and would not turn them down but we need to move past tokenism to concrete tax recognition, re-categorizing of such selflessness as a real role, 'work' that benefits others, and challenging government policies that only value paid work and only nudge adults out of the home.

In city districts plagued with violence, it is common for people to adopt a survival lifestyle, not mixing much with others, turning a blind eye to problems and just taking care of themselves. That approach however does not fix street violence and some theorists want another solution. Apart from beefing up policing, a community -based solution has been considered in Chicago. Dr. Gary Slutkin who worked for a time with the World Health Organization had the idea that violence is actually a public health issue and when he found out about children murdering children in Chicago, he wanted to do something. He set up a project for violence prevention so outreach workers get training in 'CeaseFire' negotiations and then go out into the streets, putting themselves ' in harm's way'. The 'interrupters' have been recognized in a 2008 article in the New York Times Magazine and now in a movie called "The Interrupters". The real life people who take on this task, some of whom have been gang members earlier, or with ties to them through the family. 

In history many people have felt called to try to make a better world, and while some do it through political routes or charitable service, others leave a message often powerful in music or art. In the UK social messages have been appearing on public walls in a style mocked as graffiti by some but viewed by others as a new form of valid art. Though many graffiti writers around the world put hate or pornographic messages on walls and fences, quickly cleaned up by the authorities, a few do no harm, do not seek fame even if it is offered, and present over night stunning works of art and social commentary in playful and thoughtful ways. One such artist of the latter category who still is anonymous and not clearly identified, has been called Banksy. He has stencilled humorous, whimsical anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-establishment images first in Bristol and London England and then in the US and Palestine. He made nine images on the Israeli West Bank wall in 2005 and held exhibitions of his work at warehouses. Some of his work includes:
-a painting in Detroit with a little boy holding a can of red paint next to the words" I remember when all this was trees"
-a painting in the London Underground with the caption "Forgive us our trespassing"
-a mural next to a conference on global warming where a sign "I don't believe in global warming" was p