Dr. Vicki Schwean gives keynote address at Children's Aid Society's Bright Futures Breakfast

By: Cory Habermehl
November 5, 2014

The national statistics are shocking.

  • 20 per cent of children under the age of 17 – approximately 1 million kids – live in extreme poverty and significantly struggle to meet basic needs
  • 10 per cent of girls have experienced some form of sexual abuse before the age of 17
  • between 14 and 20 per cent of children under the age of 17 have a social, emotional or psychological disorder, yet only 1 in 10 can access the appropriate supports.

Dr. Vicki Schwean, a child psychologist and Dean of Western’s Faculty of Education, delivered these numbers today as part of her keynote address at the Bright Futures Breakfast hosted by the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) of London and Middlesex. The breakfast raises funds for the Bright Futures Bursary Fund, which helps CAS youth pursue post-secondary education. For Schwean, working to change these types of statistics is a vitally important mission.

“Helping children and youth in these types of vulnerable situations to succeed has become my passion, personally and professionally,” she said.

It is help that is desperately needed. Cumulative risk factors including poverty, abuse, neglect, mental illness and addictions are directly tied to compromised outcomes for children, said Schwean. In addition, if these risk factors are present during significant developmental periods in a child’s life, the interference with normal developmental expectations is even more profound.

And yet, many of the vulnerable children who experience these types of challenges are able to experience success, and thrive. The reason, said Schwean, is the concept of Ordinary Magic.

“Ordinary Magic is the idea that all children, given the right protective factors, have the innate ability to develop the strength and resilience they need to flourish,” she said. “With the right supports in place, no matter what the initial obstacles to growth, it’s amazing to see a child’s capacity for resilience grow, and to watch these dynamic children recover from the significant challenges that once threatened their development.”

The necessary supports include things like family, education, stable environments and supportive relationships.

“Warm, attentive, responsive relationships provide children with confidence,” said Schwean. “A strong caregiver is a phenomenally powerful asset.”

And when that caregiver is not in place, or other obstacles to these supports exist in the child’s life, it is the role of not only organizations like the Children’s Aid Society, but the entire community to step in, offer help and provide these supports, said Schwean. It is something any one can do, and something everyone should do.

“We are all capable of helping put in place positive, adaptive processes to help these children thrive,” she said. “These children are our future. An investment in their health and wellness must be my priority, and it must by yours.”