Children must be a higher priority for county council

First published: April 26, 2009

It is hard to understand why we punish children for our economic woes.

That is a pretty stark statement. And, it is one that is upsetting for most people. Children always represent our future. Politicians love to spout platitudes about investing in young people. Yet, the numbers tell a different story.

Alan Vallillee, program director for Kinark Child and Family Services Peterborough and Northumberland, said job loss and economic uncertainty impact children, depending on how parents handle the situation. Kinark would know best, since it supplies frontline services to many families across the county.

Quoting a recent four-year study, Valliellee said children from higher income households experience better mental health compared to those from lower incomes. Increases in household income are associated with improved mental well-being, he said.

In 2008, almost one in every nine children and youth in Ontario live in poverty or about 90,000 children. Ontario lost 35,300 jobs, mostly in February alone as part of the ongoing economic crisis, hitting a provincial unemployment rate of 8.7 per cent. This is the highest Ontario has seen in 12 years. The impact on children can only be described as catastrophic.

Mercifully, the provincial government is raising the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour starting March 31, as part of its annual increases. This could provide some small relief. Yet, we know there will be many businesses that will decry this move, arguing they cannot afford such an increase in such economic times. The result will be lost jobs, not wealth creation, they will say.

In another small step, Northumberland MPP Lou Rinaldi announced funding for young people needing urgent dental care only last week as another program aimed at alleviating some of the suffering faced by children.

It is not all bad news in Northumberland. During a recent address by respected author Dr. Gina Brown, the number of progressive services offered in Northumberland place it far beyond many other communities in terms of social capital and programs to help the poor. While this is a point of pride, it also means the county could be bypassed for its share of the $1.3 billion in annual provincial funding for poverty reduction programs. Rinaldi must ensure this does not happen.

While job creation is the best way to deal with many of the issues identified by the experts, it should not be at the expense of children living in poverty. Building bridges, roads and sewers is a quick fix for stimulating the economy, but every effort must be made to create some kind of social net to assist those who are struggling.

The cost of ignoring this problem goes far beyond eating decent food and having proper housing, but the social costs our community will pay. A recent study by the University of Alberta says children living in poverty display greater levels of anti-social behaviour. So, it would seem we would end up paying for the lack of action through a rise in crime and other social costs.

Mr. Rinaldi and his federal counterpart, Rick Norlock, must urge their leaders to stop the current myopia blinding their respective parties to the plight of low income families. There must be immediate action taken to increase welfare and employment insurance program, along with developing new funding programs to provide direct financial assistance to these families in order to end the suffering of children. It is up to residents to apply the necessary pressures to ensure this takes place; otherwise, we are hypocrites mired in a fantasy of a bright future for some young people, but not all.