High child poverty rate sends message to new Kelowna city council

A new report that highlights a high rate of child poverty should be viewed by local politicians as a call to action.

A new report that highlights a high rate of child poverty should be viewed by local politicians as a call to action, says a member of the organization that penned the document.

“One in five children live in poverty. All levels of government need to hear this information because family friendly policies are a huge part of the solution,” said Myrna Kalmakoff, a representative of Community Action Toward Children’s Health, which released the State of the Child report on Friday.

The document examines rates of pre-natal smoking, teen pregnancy and obesity, among other things.

Key to the entire report, however,  is the plain fact that 22 per cent of local children lived in poverty in 2009—a slight decrease from the 26 per cent child poverty rate in 2000.

Some of the root causes for the high, albeit improved, rate of poverty is the Okanagan’s much lamented high cost of living contrasted against typically low wages.

New to the last decade, however, are global inflationary pressures.

“Between 2004 and 2010, food prices have gone up 43 per cent,” she said. “Child care costs have also risen. So when you put those things together,  you can see there’s a huge struggle for young families.”

Struggles often lead parents of young children into longer work hours, to make up the shortcoming. That, in turn, leads to other problems said Kalmakoff.

“If both parents have to work, they have a thing called time poverty, and often it’s easier to do fast food, which does contribute to obesity,” she said.

“Obesity isn’t just overeating, but also engaging in less physical activity. We’re driving places, instead of getting out and walking and sometimes our children are spending more time on screens, because we need to get dinner ready.”

Although there are dismal aspects of modern realities, Kalmakoff said there have been improvements in many of the test areas and government policies have helped.

For example, the percentage of women who smoke while pregnant has dropped as education campaigns ramped up.

More locally, council policies that put an emphasis on green transit have also helped families.

“Improved transit services, more sidewalks and bike lanes, are good news,” she said. “Our ability to move around without cars, helps with our health and is more cost efficient.”

With that and the recent election in mind, Kalmakoff said she’s hoping the good-work already done, continues on into the future, despite the municipal shake-up.

“When we support children  and families now, there are longterm and short-term benefits to business,” she said, acknowledging that a number of newly elected councillors ran on a business first platform.

For empirical evidence supporting Kalmakoff’s claim, United Way education director Harry Grossmith offered up some of his organization’s research.

“Our research has shown, for every dollar we invest in children 0 to 6, the return is roughly $7,” he said. “By acting on prevention early, we have an opportunity to invest in children to ensure that they don’t use those services that are required later on when they experience difficulties. “

For example, children who have strong support in their early years are less likely to engage in detrimental behaviours, and avoid drug and alcohol addictions. “They have the greater potential to be productive adults, and in turn are a real plus for any society to have,” he said.