Poverty defined by a child: “Not having breakfast sometimes; being afraid to tell your mom that you need new shoes is sometimes really hard because my mom gets really scared and she cries; not being able to take swimming lessons; not going on school trips and being teased about the way you are dressed” (Grade 4 – 5 children. ISARC 1998)
Extreme poverty exists all over the world but one would think that a very civilized country such as the one we live in… Canada … would have a national strategy on how to fight poverty. Right here in Halton Region we are experiencing poverty even in homes where both parents have full time jobs! You may ask yourself how is this so? It is because many workers are paid minimum wages and are unable to provide the necessary needs for themselves and families.
Children represent the hopes and dreams of our future. Did you know that children who live in poverty have many unrealized dreams? Every child has the right to fulfill his / her dreams. Ask parents what they want for their children and they will all say, “I want my children to be successful”. Poverty hinders healthy development in children. It is very important for schools, communities, parents, caregivers and all those serving children and family such as the various levels of government, to clearly understand the impact of poverty.
Let’s look at four ways in which children are impacted by living in poverty:
1. Inadequate Nutrition:
- Hunger, even the food banks cannot always meet their needs
- Obesity; no access to nutritious meals
- Slow learners; the brain needs adequate nutrition for optimal development
- Premature death, may be due to sensitivity to infections
2. Poor Health and Social Well being:
- Lower functioning emotional and mental health
- Undiagnosed medical conditions
- Heightened sensitivity to infections and diseases
- Decayed teeth and infected gums, sometimes leading to heart disease
- Inadequate interactions, social activities and isolation
- Limited opportunities to access effective health care… e.g. medications not covered by health plans
3. Unstable Housing:
- Highly concentrated and impoverished housing that is sometimes unsafe
- Finances are used to pay rent, leaving very little for other required needs
- Exposure to violence, and are unable to leave the abusive environment.
- Sometimes living in shelters or other unsuitable environments
4. Lower level education:
- Limited opportunities to enhance education such as access to tutoring
- Recognized as slow learners
- Anxiety, stress, hunger and little or no social support impedes learning
- Lack access to extra curricular activities such as piano lessons, ballet, dancing and other recreational services
It is very hard to disentangle the many factors that influence the outcomes for children growing up in poverty. Today, open your hearts and think of the 300,000 children that live in poverty in Ontario, this rich Province of ours.
We must strive to assist our communities out of poverty so that we have healthy children who are ready to face their future with confidence. Healthy children build healthy and vibrant communities.
Written by Norma Nicholson RN BA MA (Ed)
Author, speaker, educator and youth expert