Special to The Morning Star
The 2013 Annual Child Poverty Report has been released by the First Call Child and Youth Advocacy organization.
For the past decade, British Columbia has had the dubious distinction of having the highest child poverty rate for almost every year and this year is no exception.
The child poverty rate in B.C. is now at 18.6 per cent, the highest in Canada. For children under six the rate is 20.7 per cent. For lone family homes headed by women, it is 49.8 per cent; 31.8 per cent of families living in poverty have at least one working adult in the home. There are many factors contributing to this including low wages, high housing costs and the lack of affordable child care. Often, for families living in poverty, food security is a real issue — it is not a fixed cost like housing or child care, so cuts to household expenses tend to be made at the grocery store. With low disposable incomes, and the current high cost of food, many families are struggling to provide their children with good nutrition.
We know that the early years, before the age of five, are critical years for healthy brain development, and that optimum brain development requires good nutrition. Families with little income left for food or without a vehicle find it hard to stock up on sale or bulk items, so they often pay more for individual items when buying in small quantities, or having to purchase at the closest store rather than shopping around for the best deals.
The Early Childhood Educators of BC is the professional association of people trained to work with young children, families and communities in diverse early years settings such as child care, preschool, Strong Start, parent education, Supported Child Development, Child Care Resource and Referral, Community Care Facilities Licensing and Early Years Community Development.
The North Okanagan Branch of ECEBC has been in existence for more than 20 years and provides professional training and support in our communities. For a number of years, our branch has committed to supporting the realtors’ food drive as a practical way to give back to our community and support the healthy development of young children. We provide teams to collect donations and this year are providing food collection boxes in early years facilities to focus on healthy nutrition for young children living in poverty.
As our community prepares for the holiday season and considers donations to the Salvation Army Food Bank, we would like to encourage a focus on the needs of pregnant and nursing mothers and children under the age of five.
Recommendations include protein foods such as canned fish, beans, peanut butter, nuts and seeds. Dried legumes and whole grains can be a nutritious way to stretch a meal on a tight budget. Also recommended are whole grain pasta, brown rice and rolled oats. Unsweetened applesauce, canned fruits and lower sugar cereals are welcomed by families. When purchasing canned goods look for lower sodium and sugar varieties.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are often lacking. Consider a donation to the Good Food Box to supply a box of fresh fruits and vegetables to a family for your charitable Christmas giving. This can be done for just one month or monthly for a whole year. Go to http://foodaction.ca to donate.
Good nutrition builds healthy brains and healthy bodies. The impact of good nutrition in the early years lasts a lifetime. A well-fed brain helps a child to have success in school, leading to positive outcomes in adulthood. We all have a stake in ensuring that the children of our communities have the best possible start in life. Success in school and in the community results in reductions in poverty, physical and mental health issues and criminal behaviour and a healthier and more vibrant community for everyone.
Lynne Reside is the co-chair of the Early Childhood Educators of BC – North Okanagan Branch.