Child poverty on the rise

Nanaimo poverty advocates are not surprised that the B.C. child poverty rate is on the rise.

Nanaimo poverty advocates are not surprised that the B.C. child poverty rate is on the rise.

The provincial child poverty rate rose to 12 per cent in 2009, from 10.4 per cent in 2008. The B.C. rate is also higher than the national average of 9.5 per cent.

The provincial figures were released last month by First Call, the B.C. child and youth advocacy coalition, based on 2009 data from Statistics Canada.

“I was predicting it,” said Gord Fuller, chairman of the 7-10 Club Society. “That doesn’t surprise me in the least.”

The 2009 rate is probably higher now, he said, because unemployment in the city has gone up despite a “so-called” economic recovery – the city’s unemployment rate was 16 per cent in May, up from 9.1 per cent in May last year.

The number of people accessing the 7-10’s breakfast program increased 25 per cent in the last six months, Fuller said.

“We’re averaging 150 people coming in for breakfast,” he said. “We’re seeing more and more families coming in. A lot of the schools are providing better lunch services, but when you’re on a fixed income, the need is there.”

Erin van Steen, executive director of the Nanaimo-Ladysmith Schools Foundation, which raises money to provide food, clothing and financial assistance to needy students, said the organization provided about $40,000 to schools this year to help pay for food programs, field trip fees, bus passes, shoes, glasses and emergency health expenditures.

“I’m not surprised the rate has gone up,” she said. “There’s no decrease that I am seeing. Because our need is so great in this community, it’s going to take a lot to see it decrease.”

Thanks to a three-year, $110,000 commitment from Breakfast Clubs of Canada, the foundation launched full-service breakfast programs at Brechin, Fairview and Park Avenue elementary schools this year and programs at Nanaimo District Secondary School and Forest Park Elementary School will follow in September.

These programs either upgrade existing programs or start new programs at schools, said van Steen.

John Horn, City of Nanaimo social planner, said the Nanaimo child poverty rate is probably higher than 12 per cent because this is one of the poorer regions in the province.

“It’s disappointing that the number is rising,” he said. “Poverty is linked with poorer outcomes in terms of completing high school, lifetime earnings, health and some of the things like self-esteem.”

Adrienne Montani, First Call provincial coordinator, said B.C. child poverty rates reached a high of 19 per cent in 2003 and while the rates were improving in recent years, they are creeping back up again.

“We want the public generally to care about this,” she said. “Growing up in poverty can be a really toxic assault on your chances of success.”