Children growing up in poverty is talked about more and more each day. “Levels of relative and absolute child poverty was expected to reach twenty-four percent and twenty three percent by the year 2020/2021.” (Peter Adamson, 2012) “In 2015, there was nearly 1.2 million Canadian children under the age of eight living in a low-income household. Children represent almost one quarter of low-income persons in Canada.” (Statistics Canada, 2017) No parent wishes to have their children brought up this way, but in today’s society poverty is a serious issue. “Millions of children miss out on their childhood as a result of poverty. It deprives them of their capabilities needed to survive, develop and thrive. It prevents them from enjoying equal opportunities and makes children more vulnerable to violence, abuse, and discrimination.” (UNICEF, 2005)
The Consequences of Poverty
Children growing up in poverty usually come from a single parent, one income household. Children are at higher risk for health problems, developmental delays, behavioral disorders, lower education, and more likely to live in poverty as an adult. This is due to the environment they grew up in. “Children living in poverty are more likely to have low birth weight, asthma, type two diabetes, poor oral hygiene, and suffer from many other health, social, mental, and self-esteem issues. They will also likely experience addictions to alcohol or drugs growing up.” (Orpana, Heather M, Lemyre, Louise, and Gravel, Ronald, 2009)Parents try their hardest to provide for their children, but it is tough especially living with a little to no income. Everything has a price and parents struggle to support their families. Most low-income families live pay cheque to pay cheque or are on some sort of government assistance. Parents struggle every day to decide to pay the bills or buy food for themselves and their children. It is cheaper to buy a happy meal at Mc Donald’s than it is to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. Trying to save as much money as they can, parents will likely choose the cheaper route.
Children not being able to have nutritious meals will become malnourished, and their immune system will be a lot weaker which means they will get sick easier. If this happens and they get sick, it is really hard for a parent to get them to a doctor’s clinic or the emergency room. This is due to them not having any transportation or having any money for medication, so they usually do not go unless it is an emergency.
There are also Salvation Army’s for those in need to go get food, clothes, and even shelter if needed but as mentioned above it is hard to get there due to living far away and having no transportation. Most of the time parents and sometimes one of their children will walk to the food banks in all sorts of weather. This is also how they get sick as they are not properly dressed for the weather most of the time.
Mental Life of Children
A child’s mental health is a major concern living in a low-income household. This is because they are always faced with discrimination on where they live, what they wear, from kids at school because they are not in any extracurricular activities, etc.… This usually leads to depression. A child should never be made fun of because of their lifestyle. “Most children living with mental illness grow up facing barriers in attending school and finding employment. As a result, they are most likely to die prematurely compared to the general population. People with mental disabilities are not only missed by development programmes but can be excluded from them. This is because an explicit goal of development is to reach the most vulnerable.” (World Health Organization)
Mental illness, substance abuse, and poverty are all linked together. Most children that grow up in poverty will end up turning to alcohol or drugs at some point in their life. “reports show that one in ten Canadians fifteen years of age or older have consistent use of alcohol or illicit drugs.” (Salvation Army, 2012). Most adolescents turn to substance abuse to numb the pain of them being different, not fitting in, and the physical or mental abuse they may or may not have went through. This is all due to them growing up poor. Alcohol and drugs can also lead to a lifetime of violence, being in and out of prison, or even worse death.
Children will also experience low self-esteem and lack of confidence and that can mess up a child’s entire future. Children with low self-esteem as well as being malnourished, tend to not do so well in school and will likely end up dropping out sometime in high school. They are less able to make decisions, plan, and pay attention. Low self-esteem can trigger many mental illnesses; anxiety being one of them. This will make a child want to keep to themselves. They are too scared to go to social events where other kids who are not in poverty are because they are afraid of what others may say about them. They think they aren’t good enough, and they give up really easy because of the way people portray them as different. “By discriminating their participation in society and inhibiting their potential, poverty is a measure not only of children’s suffering but also of their disempowerment.” (UNICEF, 2005)
The emotions of children living in poverty are all over the place. Some children can become very angry and start lashing out for many reasons. They can be upset that they are not in any sports, they cannot have brand name clothing, they don’t live in a nice house, they know they are poor, or even that their parents spend more time with a younger sibling that needs more care and attention. This may make a child feel left out and unloved. Children are usually too scared to verbally express how they feel. Some may draw pictures, or some may bottle all their emotions up inside and act like nothing is wrong until one day when they all come out.
The Canadian government is trying to help low income families. There are some benefits the government gives families each month to help them out. Some of these benefits are the Canadian Child Benefit, Canada’s Workers Benefit, Low Income Supplement, and Saskatchewan Assistance Program. These programs will not get rid of families living in poverty but will give them extra money to help them raise their children, pay bills, and buy food. “In 2018 the Canadian government released a strategy which targets a twenty percent reduction in poverty by 2020 and a fifty percent reduction by 2030.” (Government of Canada, 2018)
Reducing child poverty can also be done if there were more jobs out there that didn’t require a higher level of education, minimum wage was increased, and for employers to have a schedule that would work with their employees. Most single parents cannot work because of this due to not having childcare or making enough money to put their children in daycare. Child poverty will always be an issue in Canada. There will be times when it is at a lower rate, and times when it is at a higher rate. We all need to work together to put stop to this. Do not judge a book by its cover; an old saying that is so true and important. We are all human on the inside, we deserve to be treated equally.