It's tough to show up on the first day of kindergarten, keen, hopeful, nervous and then realize that you're already behind.
Yet that's reality for almost 30 per cent of children heading to kindergarten in this province.
It's not fair. In fact, it's cruel.
And it's wasteful. All our children should have a chance to succeed - for their sakes, and for the province's future.
In the community-services sector, local organizations work every day to strengthen families and ensure every child arrives in kindergarten ready to learn. We work with families on parenting skills, help with job searches and provide children with the supports they need to overcome challenges.
It hasn't been enough. We're stretched, communities are stretched and children are paying the price.
The provincial government deserves credit for recognizing the problem. In 2003, it launched the "Success by Six" program.
In 2009, the government made a bolder commitment. The "15 by 15" initiative set a goal of having only 15 per cent of children starting kindergarten not ready to learn by 2015.
That would be a tremendous achievement. But the efforts have fallen far short.
The University of British Columbia's Human Early Learning Partnership tracks school readiness across the province. In 2006, it reported 29.6 per cent of children were entering school not ready to learn.
Last year, it reported 30.9 per cent of children arrived in kindergarten not ready to learn. Despite the efforts, and welcome innovations like Strong Start Centres, the situation worsened.
Children aren't ready to succeed in school for many reasons - emotional immaturity, lack of language skills, poor social adjustment or physical problems.
But the UBC research found that with appropriate help, the percentage of children not ready to learn could be cut from 30 per cent to 10 per cent.
And while poverty is a factor, researchers discovered most vulnerable children are middle class. All children and families need access to services and support.
Our sector provides that help. Our organizations and agencies work with families in need. We help them find jobs, be the best parents possible. When families face bigger problems - emotional, addiction or lost housing - we help with the crisis and provide the skills to avoid future problems.
Take one example. Burnaby Family Life Association offers educational and support programs for parents of preschoolers. They share and learn about their children's health and development, and grow stronger together. There are programs for families new to Canada, or facing financial problems.
We need support to let us do more.
That makes economic sense. When children start school behind, they often never catch up. The Human Early Learning Partnership estimates reducing the percentage of children not ready to learn to 10 per cent would boost B.C.'s economy by 20 per cent over the next 60 years.
It's also a question of the kind of province we want.
When a five-year-old girl shows up for her first day of kindergarten, it should be exciting. She shouldn't face the harsh realization that, through no fault of her own, she is already behind the other children, with no idea how to catch up.
Our sector wants to change that. We believe all British Columbians feel the same way.
Carol Matusicky is vice chairwoman of the Board Voice Society of B.C., a voice for volunteer community based boards. She wrote this on behalf of the Roundtable of Provincial Social Service Organizations.
© Copyright 2013