Comment: Families could use some help on Family Day

Family Day in B.C. is meant to recognize the value for working parents and other caregivers of spending time with their children, their extended families and friends. First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition believes this to be a worthwhile and important recognition in public policy.

It’s also worthwhile to think about the well-being of B.C. families the other 364 days of the year and ask ourselves: How are families with children doing? The answer: It depends on the family.

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From a financial perspective, some families are doing well, many are just barely making it, and too many are being left behind and left out because they are living in poverty in a wealthy community. Many young families are having a hard time juggling the costs of raising children with piles of debt and precarious employment.

One in five B.C. children is living in poverty. Some families with children are showing up in these poverty statistics more than others. Children in single-parent families have a 50 per cent chance of being poor. The vast majority of these single parents are women. Some other factors that increase the risk of poverty for children are aboriginal identity, being a new immigrant or having a disability.

That fact that these specific population groups are over-represented in child-poverty statistics is evidence of the ways our economic and social systems still discriminate or fail to support these families.

For example, the pay gap for women in B.C. remains significant. Women make up almost half of the province’s income earners, but their median employment income is only 65 per cent of the median income for men.

Families with children living in deep poverty include those with parents in the workforce and those on income or disability assistance. These facts add the issues of both low wages or insufficient work and low income and disability assistance rates to the poverty picture.

Child care continues to loom as a huge issue for families who need to earn a living. Parent fees are incredibly high, spaces are in short supply even when you have the money, and quality suffers because early-childhood educators are underpaid.

For many aboriginal families, poverty is labelled neglect and is still translating into having their children taken into foster care, perpetuating the intergenerational trauma flowing from the residential-school experiences.

When the combination of the labour market and government policies continues to fail so many children, and particularly those in such well-defined groups, we have to recognize that these are failures of our systems, not individual failures. There are no good excuses for allowing, even facilitating, the growing inequities in life chances between children in have and have-not families in B.C.

There are lots of examples from other countries and provinces of actions we can take now. It’s not rocket science.

We need improved parental-leave policies that all parents can access, higher child-benefits payments that go to those on low incomes, a provincial non-profit child-care system that costs parents only $10 a day and is fee-free for low-income families. We need to have higher minimum wages, more public and private employers paying living wages, pay-equity commitments, investments in affordable housing, making post-secondary education barrier-free for low-income families, inclusion of dental and vision care and pharmacare in our public-health system, and higher welfare rates.

We also need to shore up our lagging investments in public education, in early-childhood and parent-support services other than child care, in mental-health services and in child-protection services. We need to stop under-funding services for aboriginal children.

These are all elements that can form the legs of a provincial poverty-reduction strategy. The signals from the new federal government on many of these issues raise hopes of a more robust federal-provincial partnership to help achieve the bigger-ticket items.

Investing in keeping children and families healthy will have a huge payoff for public services and the economy in the long run. High poverty rates are expensive, because we’re always paying for the damage done and the lost potential. Let’s hope the upcoming provincial budget recognizes the importance of these upstream investments.

On Family Day, we can enjoy our families and pledge to ensure all B.C. families are getting the help they need for their children and our province to thrive.

Adrienne Montani is the provincial co-ordinator of First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition.

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