TORONTO, 3 September 2019 – A comprehensive new report from UNICEF Canada asked children how their lives are going. The results show that Canada is a tough place to grow up. 

Only 55 per cent of children in Canada report a high level of life satisfaction, with 27 per cent feeling sad or hopeless for long periods of time and 1 in 3 reporting weekly symptoms linked to mental distress, including headaches and stomach aches. 

These alarming statistics are part of the key findings from the first baseline report of the Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being, released today by UNICEF Canada’s One Youth initiative.

The adults deciding on the policies and actions affecting young people must start listening to them to better understand their challenges while also relying on their insights to design effective solutions. Most Canadians, though, think that Canada is a great place to grow up. 

“You usually ask people how they are instead of telling them how they are, so why should it be different with children and youth,” asked Kamar, 16, a volunteer with UNICEF Canada’s One Youth. “Canada will only become the best place to grow up if we do it together with the young people who are facing the current challenges of growing up.”

The Index measures 125 indicators of the lives of children and youth, from birth to 18, using the most recently available data. It explores nine dimensions of life for kids – happiness and respect, belonging, security, participation, freedom to play, protection, learning, health and connection to the environment.

Young people under 18 helped build the Index, with 60 per cent of the indicators based on how children and youth report their own well-being. The central question young people want the Index to answer is: “Are we happy and respected?”  

Findings from the Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being include:

  • 1 in 4 young people sometimes goes to bed or school hungry;
  • More than a third of young people experience discrimination;
  • 27 per cent are often bullied and 28 per cent get in fights;
  • Only 43 per cent feel supported by teachers and merely 3 per cent feel comfortable being themselves at school;
  • 23 per cent say they never or hardly ever meet their friends outside of school;
  • Most young people (81 per cent) meet or exceed international achievement standards at school;
  • 17 per cent feel time pressure and a quarter say they are overwhelmed with school work;
  • Only 21 per cent of kids 5 to 11 engage in at least 1.5 hours of play or unstructured activity a day.

UNICEF Canada concludes that rising income inequality and economic insecurity is negatively affecting all aspects of life of the kids in Canada, including mental health, relationships and happiness. Canadians must improve this reality by creating public policies and other actions designed using the perspective and input of young people.

“Canada’s kids are telling us what childhood is like in today’s society and we all need to start listening,” said David Morley, President & CEO of UNICEF Canada. “Our dismal performance on key indicators is rooted in income and social inequality. We must confront these issues head-on so our young people have the childhoods they deserve.” 

The Canadian Index of Child and Youth Well-being is made possible through the support of our founding and enabling partners: Canadian Index of Wellbeing, University of Waterloo; Lyle S. Hallman Foundation; Lawson Foundation; Intact Financial Corporation; and Overlap Associates.


About UNICEF Canada’s One Youth

From 25th to 1st place, UNICEF Canada’s One Youth is working to make Canada the best place in the world to grow up in. As the global UN agency for kids, UNICEF has worked to improve conditions for every child around the world for more than 70 years, and has saved more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization. UNICEF Canada’s One Youth brings that work to Canada, by building the new gold standard for measuring child well-being, and developing and testing innovative solutions to the challenges they face. We are calling on Canadians to take action and do better for children and youth.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations. For more information about UNICEF Canada’s One Youth, please visit For updates, follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.


UNICEF is the world’s leading humanitarian organization focused on children. We work in the most challenging areas to provide protection, healthcare and immunizations, education, safe water and sanitation and nutrition. As part of the United Nations, our unrivaled reach spans more than 190 countries and territories, ensuring we are on the ground to help the most disadvantaged children. While part of the UN system, UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary donations to finance our live-saving work. Please visit and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

To arrange interviews or for more information please contact:
Emily O’Connor
Communications Manager, UNICEF Canada
Tel./Tél.: +1 416 482 4444 ext/poste 8866 | +1 647 500 4230