A growing number of Okanagan children are living in poverty, according to First Call B.C.
The child and youth advocacy coalition released its 2017 BC Child Poverty Report Card Tuesday, highlighting that income inequality is causing many British Columbia families to struggle with basic living expenses. It’s become so difficult, that one in five Central Okanagan children now lives in poverty.
“The Kelowna CMA had three census tracts with child poverty rates between 30 per cent and 40 per cent. West Kelowna had the highest rate in the Kelowna CMA with 35.3 per cent suffering,” reads the report.
The results are of no surprise to Myrna Kalmakoff, an early years community developer with the Central Okanagan Early Years Partnership.
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Through her work, she’s seen the high price of local housing, childcare, food and transportation put more people at risk.
The trouble with child poverty, however, is it’s not like homelessness in that it’s hard to see—especially if you aren’t looking.
“We’ve recently done community consultation and I can say public awareness about the impact of child and family poverty is the biggest barrier,” she said. “It’s often hidden. There’s a lot of shame and fear that surrounds us if we are a family that lives in poverty and it’s difficult to make systemic change around child poverty when we as a community aren’t accepting that it’s here.”
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All you have to do to see how it’s taken hold of the community, she said, is speak to an elementary school teacher in a vulnerable area because they are seeing the effects daily.
“Families living in poverty are under a lot of stress, that impedes child development … nutrition suffers and it’s very difficult to go into the workforce if you can’t afford childcare,” she said.
She added that in the Central Okangan, only one-third of childcare spaces are licensed and regulated.
While many are struggling, Kalmakoff said the good news is that the community is coming together to create a strategy to spark systemic change and both provincial and federal governments have taken a proactive stance toward the issue.
First Call B.C. would like to see specific action.
Using data from the 2016 census, First Call BC found that child poverty rates for visible minorities, Indigenous kids and those living with other relatives were about 18 per cent across the board.
First Call urged the government to increase funding for First Nations children and community health services, and to implement a poverty-reduction strategy focused on Indigenous kids.
For the past 15 years, half of the children living in single-parent, often female-led, families have been poor. This year was no different, with 48 per cent of kids in single-parent families living in poverty.
The median after-tax take-home income for a single-parent family living in poverty is $15,470—$10,000 below the low-income cutoff.
Single-parent families, as well as other low-income families, struggle to afford childcare.
First Call called on the B.C. government to introduce $10-a-day childcare, an NDP campaign promise, as well as make childcare free for families earning less than $40,000 per year.
The NDP had made $10-a-day childcare a central campaign promise during the 2017 election.
However, the initiative was left out of their fall budget update and has caused division with the BC Greens.
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