June 2, 2004
In light of the events in the past two weeks, the findings of a report released last week the Northumberland Children’s Aid Society by consultant Robert Fulton need to be read carefully by every politician, senior civil servant and anyone who cares deeply about the future of our community.
The report was meant to help the society in its long-term planning. What is really does for the community is provide a stunning insight into social and economic trends, both good and bad. That is what makes it mandatory reading.
Looking at census data from1996 to 2001, Fulton, a Toronto-based consultant, drew some powerful conclusions. Because some of the data was gathered prior to amalgamations, he uses many of the old municipal names.
The report says violent crime in Northumberland County is 50 per cent higher than the provincial average. Cobourg has the largest burden of crime. That alone should change the tenor of recent debates around policing.
Also, the statistics around young adults and teenagers were particularly notable. While the number of teenagers having babies was less than the provincial average, but inside the county trepidation was raised about the high numbers in Alnwick, Brighton, Cobourg and Port Hope.
There was also a deep concern about the number of people who do not finish high school One-third of Northumberland residents who should have graduated from high school did not. This is a warning. As Fulton says, “low education achievement predicts serious emotional and behaviour problems”.
Youth unemployment in the county is higher than the rest of the province. Fulton points out the need for encouragement to stay in school. Places like Alderville, Campbellford, Cobourg and Cramahe bear the greatest burden in this area.
To compound the situation, the number of teenagers in the county is growing, as more families with children between 15 and 19-years old. And those families are settling in West Northumberland. In fact, the number of teenagers in the rest of the county is dropping, the report says.
“Unfortunately, a surge in the population of young adults also bring a surge in risk taking behaviour, including substance abuse, crime and domestic violence,” Fulton says.
But it is not just youth. Families are also under siege. The number of stay-at-home moms is dropping, placing a greater burden on childcare services. The number of lone-parent families is increased by 12.6 per cent to 2,810. Northumberland also has the highest number of common-law families in Ontario, twice the provincial average.
Finally, there is a growing gap between the wealthiest and the poor. Most of Northumberland households earn less than the provincial median income of $61,000. The number of rich people, those earning over $80,000, doubled, but it was not enough to offset the overall trend.
This will all be complicated as the total population grows to 91,000 people in Northumberland by 2006 Fulton predicts an increase of 13,000 people by then.
All the news is not bad. An increase in population can be a good thing. And the county watched its infant death rate go down. There are lots of small nuggests of positive news. But there are worrisome trends in the report, which must be addressed.
Several years ago, all the agencies and government officials in Northumberland came together in an effort to better co-ordinate children’s services. It was meant to build stronger ties between the organizations and to share vital information.
It is time for leadership from politicians, civil servants and agencies in Northumberland to address the concerns raised in the Fulton report. Through the leadership of the Children’s Aid Society, the report should be thoroughly circulated and read.
Then, municipal leaders must organize a summit to address these findings. The group must be broad, from police to the YMCA to service clubs. A strategic plan, to be implemented over the next five to 10 years, must be put in place or else we will watch a serious decline in our community.
We all sustained a serious shock with the death of Constable Chris Garrett. In light of this and the results of the report, it would be an incredible act of irresponsibility to not respond concretely.
It will take an investment of time, energy and money. creative people with determination must step forward to ensure the political platitudes will not smother this important next step. Residents are tired of watching politicians penny-pinch budgets and fight with citizens over development.
These social and economic problems cannot be swept away with 10-second sound bites about how safe our community is or that nothing is wrong. Shame on community leaders who the lack of courage to take on tough problems with more than a public relations exercise.
Nobody can hide. Our achievements can be measured by updating the statistics from the next census. Rarely do such opportunities exist.
We are luck enough to glimpse into our future. Let’s do something about it rather than wait.