By Shawn Bayes, Executive Director
One in five BC children live below the poverty line, according to First Call’s report issued this week.
The impact of child poverty is more than having a family short on money, living in a less than desirable neighbourhood and wearing hand-me-downs. A Princeton Study found that what child poverty really does is shortchange children on brainpower. Remove the financial stress and IQ improves by an average of 13 points. Thirteen points is enough to differentiate an average IQ from a low IQ. That’s a world of difference, because people with lower IQs have greater difficulty thinking and making good decisions.
Most of BC’s poor children live with a sole giver–their mother, which is how EFry came to support more than 1,600 children last year alone.
A Permanent Impact
Our work with homeless and poor children is important to us – not only because we work with their mothers but because we recognize they are more likely to have lower IQs, do less well at school, and have long term poor health and development. The children EFry works with aren’t just poor, they live in severe poverty-$14,000 a year. Studies tell us these children will suffer the most of all–the effect on them is cumulative and irreversible. These children are very unlikely to catch up on their developmental delays. They will have ongoing cognitive, emotional and behavioural struggles.
The Season of Greatest Need
Winter is the hardest time to be poor. Food is more expensive and can’t be grown in the cold. The boots that fit your child last year now don’t. It’s harder to keep warm and the electricity bill is higher. And to top it all off Christmas is coming. So that means this is the time of year more women come through our doors asking for help– shelter–and something to give their children for the holidays.
“The effect of child poverty is cumulative and irreversible”
Year-round, our shelters are virtually full so we have no greater ability to respond at this time of year when more asks come for a place where mother can be safe and warm with her children. What we can offer are our two drop-in centres: one in New Westminster and the other in Surrey. EFry’s drop-in centres are the only ones that can be found outside the Downtown Eastside. We served 900 children through them last year, providing shoes, boots, coats, help with school supplies and doing school work, food, free laundry and even new Christmas gifts mothers can select and wrap to take for their children.
A Recipe for Change
There is no easy fix to child poverty but there are very real ways to reduce it. EFry works to alleviate the impacts in two ways. First, we help with the crises of daily life through our drop-ins, shelters, aid in accessing affordable housing and JustKids initiative. We do this because we know it’s important to keep the candle for the future burning and we are grateful for the donors and volunteers who help make this work possible. The second approach we take is just as important. We strive to facilitate systemic change with activities like calling on the BC Government to not deduct child support from social assistance payments that custodial parents of poor children receive. We’re also a member of First Call.
Child poverty affects us all. It’s dimming the future of over 150,000 children a year–roughly half the population of the Fraser Valley–and is diminishing the future contributions they will be able to make to their communities as adults.