Despite much of the gloomy news we hear about families these days, evidence from the McCreary Center BC Adolescent Health Survey (AHS) suggests things may not be as bad as sometimes conjectured. The survey results, which include responses from thousands of young people across BC, can be broken down by region. It found that 91% of youth in the area from Surrey to Hope report living with their mom most of the time and 70% with their dad. Despite relatively stable high divorce rates, only 5% of youth in this region are living with a stepfather most of the time and 1 % with a stepmother. This suggests that most kids have some stability in their relationships growing up. Of course, these figures only refer to who kids live with, not the quality of those relationships.
It is concerning though that only 70% of kids live most of the time with their dads. This means that 30% of BC high school aged youth living between Surrey and Hope don’t live most of the time with their dad. In most cases father absence is not good for young people, or for society. Of course, dads that don’t live most of the time with their kids can still play an enormously impactful positive role. Also, some youth may have reported not living most of the time with their dad because he works away, perhaps in the oil patch, logging camp or in the military. However, there is a sense that there are far too many young people living without influence from fathers.
I’ve recently been involved with a research project about violence towards women. We’ve been studying the Ann Davis Transition Services in Chilliwack to see if what they are doing is progressive and leading practice in their field. While the findings are preliminary, what we’ve found is that while remaining true to its core commitment to supporting women, Ann Davis Services has a growing outreach towards the transformation of men. Since men are the main perpetrators of violence in relationships there is awareness that prevention and healing must involve them. Many victims too report wanting help for the offender. This growing emphasis, services for men, highlights the issue of what men offer in family relations. My own anecdotal experience is that the young dads of the new generation are much more egalitarian and involved than men of my generation and the generation before me.
Another concern arising from the survey is that 8 % of the young people report having no parent at home when they wake up and 4% having no parent at home when they go to bed. Ten percent (10%) of the youth reported going to bed hungry because there was not enough money to buy food. It is no surprise that youth reporting they went to bed hungry are also less likely to report having good health, more likely to have considered suicide and had low levels of extra curricular activities. Poverty has a pervasive negative effect on the lives of these young people.
Another interesting tidbit from the AHS survey results in the Surrey to Hope report is the number of young people speaking a language other than English at home; 51%. Also 21% of youth report speaking a language other than English all the time at home. This is not likely the case in Chilliwack but it reminds us what a multicultural world our young people are growing up in.
Dr. Rob Lees, R.Psych, is the community psychologist for the Ministry for Children and Family Development in Chilliwack.