Children and teens need greater attention 

Single parent families a particular concern, according to health officer

One in five children in Sea to Sky country is being raised in poverty and, in single-parent families, one in two kids is living below the poverty line.

"We have significant hardship and significant concerns about single parent families in Sea to Sky and their ability to provide for their kids," said Coast Garibaldi Medical Health Officer, Dr. Paul Martiquet.

"I think it is important for the community to know this."

Martiquet was quoting figures from the Provincial Health Officer’s latest report on the health of British Columbians.

The report, which is compiled annually, was first released late last year and is based on 1999 data. Martiquet is now taking the information on the road in this health region.

He recently made a presentation to Whistler council and he will be talking to the Pemberton and Squamish councils and to the Howe Sound School Board.

The report rates all the health regions in the province using 93 health indicators. Martiquet said, in relation to the rest of the province, the Coast Garibaldi region – which also includes the Sunshine Coast and Powell River areas – ranks better than average. "But only just."

Although this health region is doing okay with 42 indicators of health, there remains much work to be done, noted Martiquet.

He said the key areas that need attention relate to children and teens and establishing "connectedness" with youth in both family and school environments.

He said, particularly in Whistler, there has been an upward trend in heavy drinking and binge drinking in adolescents, combined with an increase in other "risk-taking" behaviour which includes smoking, marijuana use, early sex and unprotected sex.

This in turn leads to other problems, including a high rate of teen pregnancy and abortions. The suicide rate for this health region is also on the high end. "And the majority of cases are of youth, which is even sadder," noted Martiquet.

"I think essentially what we are seeing is a failure of communication between youth and adults."

Martiquet said recent studies have shown that this type of adolescent risk-taking behaviour correlates directly with how connected young people feel with their families and in their school environments. The more connected, the less the risky activity.

To feel connected, said Martiquet, youth need to feel respected by their parents. They need to feel nurtured and safe at home and be able to talk to parents. Students who feel connected at school feel respected. And those who have teachers they see as role models also indulge less in risk-taking behaviours.

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