Adrienne Montani speaks at the recent Child Poverty Forum in Vernon sponsored by the Early Childhood Development Coalition

Adrienne Montani speaks at the recent Child Poverty Forum in Vernon sponsored by the Early Childhood Development Coalition

Rate of child poverty in B.C. slammed

Shameful rate of child poverty in B.C. deserves awareness

“We need to raise awareness of the shameful rates of child poverty in this rich province and this rich country,” Adrienne Montani told representatives of community organizations at the recent Child Poverty Forum in Vernon.

Montani, provincial advisor, First Call BC Child and Youth Advocacy Association, and Sharon Gregson, of Child Care Advocates of BC, talked about the negative effects of child poverty and what could be done to change things and benefit the entire community while saving public money. First Call, with 90 partner organizations, promotes children’s rights and well being through public policy advocacy.

Montani said about 16 per cent of B.C. children live in poverty, a rate that has remained unchanged for the past three decades.

“This is a systemic issue that shows the impact of public policy. It doesn’t change no matter what the economy is doing. It seems that the government thinks that it is never the right time to invest in our children,” she said.

While the provincial minimum wage is increasing to $10.25 per hour, a single parent working full time would still be below the poverty line.

“We change poverty rates by getting incomes up or the cost of living down. B.C. is one of the worst provinces in the country for having children living in poverty,” said Montani.

“High poverty rates for young children are cause for alarm. The majority of B.C.’s poor children live in families where at least one adult works full-time, full-year.  One of the reasons for children living in poverty is the feminization of poverty. Women’s average wage is 66 per cent that of men’s and more women are in minimum wage work. Another hostile aspect is that there is no universally accessible, affordable, quality childcare system in Canada. There are judgments made about women, that they bear individual responsibility for their income disadvantage by making bad choices, by having children they can’t afford, or by not knowing how to budget. These are the excuses the government gives and this creates more women and children in poverty.”

She sees changes in government social and economic policies that lead to greater income equality as a just solution to offset social ills like poor health, lost productivity, crime and addictions which are costly to society as a whole.

“It would cost less to fix the problem than to maintain the status quo. It’s a lie to say that we can’t afford to take care of our children,” she said.

Some solutions include indexing the minimum wage to inflation, raising welfare rates, providing affordable childcare, increasing the chid tax benefit, and making taxation policies more fair.

“We need to look to what other provinces and countries are doing and catch up. What we are doing is unsustainable in human and economic terms. When families thrive, children thrive,” said Montani.

Gregson spoke about the changes that need to be made to integrate early childhood care and early childhood learning. Her information comes from extensive briefing from early childhood caregivers and educators around the province.

“What we have done builds on but does not repeat well-established evidence. We have been getting a wildfire reception. People see that this is solution to crisis,” she said.

The Child Care Advocates of BC provide a response to what is now a gap, with child care  in the Ministry of Children and Family Development and early learning in the Ministry of Education. The suggestion is to bring these together in the Ministry of Education which would provide funding to all communities and allow them to make individual adaptions through boards of education.

“This is a made-in-B.C. plan which adapts other plans. It would see $10 a child a day care open to all children of all needs,” said Gregson.

As well as new legislation, the plan also provides for the establishment of an early years centres network and investment in the education of early childhood educators with a Bachelor of ECE program and improved wages.

“We are focusing our efforts on May 2013. No matter who is elected government, there is a childcare crisis and we’re going to help the government to implement to plan. We have provided draft legislation with targets, timelines and stable budgets that prioritize the early years,” she said, “There has been a lot of support from municipalities around the province, unions and anti-poverty groups, as well as health care professionals and academics and universities. There is a way to make a significant difference in child poverty and a significant part of the solution is the $10 a day child care plan.”