Children around the world are growing up in poverty and this has only gotten worse during the pandemic. We sentimentalize childhood, but practically speaking, we do not provide children with the tangible support they need.
A study completed in September 2020 by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) showed that there has been a 15% increase in the number of children living in poverty since the pandemic began. What is important about UNICEF studies on child poverty is that they look beyond household income to determine poverty, giving a much more complete picture of how countries and governments are failing children.
As well as considering household income, UNICEF uses a multidimensional approach that includes in its assessment a child or youth’s access to access to education, healthcare, housing, nutrition, sanitation and water. As well, this approach considers the relative safety in which a child lives since security from violence is also a factor in whether a child has access to necessary resources. This short youtube video explains clearly how this multidimensional approach works.
With this multidimensional approach to poverty in mind, I have been thinking about Canadian children, many of whom are also now poorer because of the pandemic.
Let’s start with household income, even though it’s not the only factor to consider. With many parents, and especially mothers, off work because of COVID-19, we know household incomes have been adversely affected in the pandemic. Also, everyone is aware of how much time children have lost from school. Those of us who work with children realize that, know matter what businesses and activities must stop because of COVID-19, we must do everything possible to keep schools open.
As well as providing the education so necessary for prosperity, most schools in Canada also provide many children with the nutritional benefit of a breakfast program, and even lunch. These programs have stopped or continued in much reduced fashion.
Schools are often the one place where a child or youth is free from violence, another factor related to their prosperity. As every teacher knows, educators and school personnel are often the first people to provide a child protection.
Because of income losses, many families are now housing and food insecure, especially indigenous families without access to the necessary sanitation and water. These already marginalized groups of Canadians often do not have access to the health care they need, as well.
The measures taken by governments across the country have likely helped children to a degree, but they are not the same as permanent solutions. Our focus on the economy from a comfortable middle class lens does not help most Canadian children who are already the largest group of citizens living in poverty. It is time that all levels of government in a rich country like Canada began to evaluate child poverty from the multidimensional approach used by UNICEF.
Canadian children deserve our best efforts to ensure that they can all feel like the young people in these self portraits.