Poverty and children

It’s official – BC has the highest rate of child poverty in Canada for the 7th year in a row.

Not exactly the advertising we want for our beautiful province, but there it is. According to the 2010 Child Poverty Report Card, there were 121,000 kids (or one in seven children) living in poverty in our province as of 2008.

The report card uses the most recent data available from Statistics Canada and although this still ranked BC worst in the country, the numbers are actually down from previous years.

Although some are quick to celebrate the decline, many experts warn the numbers will likely be worse in the next couple of years due to the economic slowdown, which hit toward the end of 2008.

Obviously, persistent poverty is not good for individuals or our society. Children who grow up in poverty encounter more hurdles in life and have fewer opportunities for education and development. Statistically, poor children will have more illness, shorter life spans, more healthcare costs, less productivity, more social problems and a greater need for social assistance than those who do not grow up in poverty. All of these contribute to a higher likelihood of mental health problems.

Not only can poverty increase the likelihood of mental health issues for children, but mental illness is also a common feature among parents raising families in poverty.

A recent study of 14,000 children in the US found that more than half of babies in poverty are being raised by mothers showing symptoms of depression. In this study, one in nine had a mother with severe depression.

Unfortunately, even severe depression often goes largely untreated among low-income mothers of infants – only 30 percent reported speaking to a professional about mental health issues.

Children of depressed parents are at three times increased risk of developing anxiety disorders, depression and substance abuse disorders compared with children of non-depressed parents. They are considered a high risk group for psychiatric and medical problems beginning early and continuing through adulthood.

Some of this is likely due to genetic factors, but it is believed there is an environmental component as well.

Education about mental health and the elimination of stigma will go a long way toward helping families deal with mental illness and feel comfortable seeking help when it is needed. It is also very important to deal with the societal issues leading to poverty and despair.

In BC, we still have the lowest minimum wage in the country at just $8 per hour. It would be pretty difficult for a single parent earning minimum wage to find a decent place to live and support their child. Advocates are calling on government to increase the minimum wage to least $11. Other steps that could be taken include increasing welfare payments and providing more funds for social housing.

Whatever else they may have accomplished during their extended period in power, Gordon Campbell and the Liberals should not be proud of this legacy.


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