Poverty reduction plan needed to help B.C. children in classroom

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To the Editor:

(Re: “B.C. government is helping children in poverty, says Children and Family Development minister”)

The issue of child poverty in British Columbia is no secret. The need for a poverty reduction plan is clear. We are heartened to see many citizens speaking out about this issue, but were disturbed by the recent letter that seems to provide information regarding the monies spent by the current government in an attempt to reduce child poverty.

The outline of the funding spent is impressive; the argument that child poverty has been addressed is false. Shamefully, our province continues to have one of the highest rates of child poverty in Canada — despite the claims of money being spent on the issue. These are the staggering facts:

•BC has had the worst child poverty record of any province for seven consecutive years. The child poverty rate in B.C. is 10.4 per cent — that’s 87,000 children living in poverty, based on the Statistics Canada after-tax low-income cut off.

•The national poverty rate for First Nations children was 49 per cent in 2007 (First Call).

•In B.C., 24.2 per cent of children in female lone-parent families live in poverty.

•Fifteen per cent of children in two-parent families live below the poverty line in B.C.

•Most low-income families have gross incomes significantly below the poverty line, with many of those working at minimum-wage jobs.

•The vast majority of poor children in B.C. live in families with some earned income, and over half live in families where at least one person has a full-time job.

As teachers, we see the impact of these statistics. Why do teachers care?

Children living in poverty start school with many disadvantages in addition to chronic hunger. According to research, poor children are twice as likely as non-poor children to repeat a grade, be suspended from school, or drop out. They are 1.3 times as likely to have a developmental delay or learning disability and require special education services.

These difficulties translate into the classroom, where teachers are more likely to assess poor children as poor students with more academic and behaviour problems.

Poor children are also more likely to be hyperactive, suffer from emotional disorders, exhibit disorderly conduct, get into trouble with the law, be in the care of child welfare services and engage in risky behaviour. As teachers, we play a critical role in helping these children to be successful in school and thus in life.

Have you ever asked a teacher about poverty in their classrooms?

If you have, you will hear from them about the food they bring for their students. Hungry children cannot learn.

You will hear about the clothing they provide for their students. Children who are cold or wet do not learn easily.

You will hear about the concerns they have when they know that the additional costs in school, such as extracurricular activity costs — or even bus fees — cause stress on the family budget. Teachers know that social issues stem often from the differences between children who “have” and children who “have not”. Poverty does not create a level playing — or learning — field in our classrooms.

You cannot just claim that money spent on the issue will resolve it. If an engine needs repairs, you do not just lay money on the hood and claim it is fixed. You need a plan of action, an organized approach that deals with the issue.

We are calling on the government to make a plan to ensure that children are not living in poverty. And that plan needs to be a systematic plan to deal with the wide-ranging causes of poverty — a poverty reduction plan.

Rebecca Blair, President

Creston Valley Teachers’ Associaiton


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