Opinion

Health Care: Child poverty the shame of Canada

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Candidates floated some lofty ideas and promises around the issue of child poverty to attract votes in the provincial election.

But anyone with a sense of history will realize that  most of those will disappear as soon as the new government is installed.

And that is a shame, since our country ranks 17th out of 29 developed countries in looking after our children. That ranking has not changed in the past decade, despite several elections with lots of promises, reports, plans, but little effective action other than doing more of the same – providing more money without a solid plan.

There is also a broader issue: measuring income alone does not capture the full breadth of the problem. For instance, in nine out of 10 poverty stricken families, there is one mostly female parent as a breadwinner. Then there are variations in the cost of housing, transportation and education, depending where one lives.

As a physician, I have seen what poverty does to the health of people, especially the children, and it is not a pretty picture.

The most disturbing aspect is that the situation is getting worse for the most vulnerable populations, despite our social safety net funneling more money and resources into the hands of the poor.

In my experience, a lot of those resources are wasted, not because of good intentions, but because of a multitude of rigid bureaucracies acting as silos. Most lack the authority or mandate of individualized comprehensive planning. Take a single parent of two children, basically unemployable, having dropped out of high school and lacking the most basic skills of budgeting, economical food preparation, and other essential life abilities. A person like that requires an entirely different kind of help than a homeless person who, through no fault of his own, cannot find work on account of the economic downturn and lack of skills to branch out in a different kind of occupation and, thus, ended up on the street. Then again, many of the poor got into that situation because of drugs or alcohol, posing different challenges for society to improve their lives.

I keep wondering if I am the only one questioning why the poor continue to have children. Anybody with any sense and a conscience would realize that they cannot provide for their offspring the way any child is entitled to. All they do is make things more difficult for themselves, closing any doors that otherwise would be available to better themselves and get out of the prison of poverty.

In the meantime, depriving too many children of the most important early childhood experiences of love, safety and security necessary for  a good start for a meaningful life. This scenario sets many of  these children up to follow in the footsteps of their parent(s), perpetuating the problem of lifelong poverty, from one generation to the next.

What most people do not realize is that we ranked a troubling 27th out of the 29 countries in health and safety for our children. Childhood obesity is rampant among the poor. Yet all too many arrive in school without breakfast, because there was no food in the home. Even if there is food, then it is often of poor quality, leading to the weight problem. As these children grow up, they place an increasing burden on the health care system.

Recent studies showed that even though the majority find their lives fairly satisfactory, Canadian children rate their relationships with classmates, mothers and fathers much lower than other ‘rich’ countries.

Canada’s ranking falls to 25th when children are queried on whether their classmates are “kind and helpful” and whether their mothers and fathers are “easy” to talk to.”

Bullying has gone unchecked until recently when some shameful consequences hit our social media.

After all this gloom and doom, a ray of light, that when a government really means business, impressive results are achievable.

It may surprise you that Newfoundland leads the country in a successful antipoverty policy, while B.C. with all its riches ranks number nine.

Newfoundland launched a sensible plan spearheaded by then Premier Danny Williams  in 2005 with five clearly defined goals to eliminate poverty within 10 years. As a result ,currently they have lifted nearly half the population previously living in poverty to a more acceptable standard of living and expect to reach their goal by 2015.

Let us hope we will collectively, government and citizens alike, find the will and resources after next week’s election to offer our children a life without poverty through education and skills training and guaranteeing meaningful employment in the future.

Dr. Marco Terwiel is a retired family physician who lives in Maple Ridge.

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