I recently read a statistic that broke my heart. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to read and hit so close to home for me. 50% of single parent families in Canada earn less than 17k a year. There are nearly 6 million children in Canada. 19% of those children belong to a single parent family. That means nearly 1 million children are being raised by single parents. And half of those children, approximately 500 000, are living in poverty.
I started to wonder what it would be like to have to try and raise a child on such a small income. What would that mean? For me, it would mean a lot of things. It would mean that I would not be able to save for a house. It would mean that I would not be able to make contributions to my daughter’s RESP. It means I wouldn’t be able to save for retirement. It means my daughter probably would never get a chance to go to swimming lessons. It means we probably would never be able to take a trip. It means we would live in less than adequate housing. And it means we would often go hungry.
I am beyond lucky. I do not fall into that category. I make a pretty good living and am able to provide for my daughter without stressing over things like how am I going to pay the rent or where is our next meal going to come from. I cannot imagine having to worry over such huge issues. As a parent, it must be awful to have to worry about food and shelter. And that made me think further, how do we fix this?
How does our society make sure that children (and not just children from single parent families; all children) in our country are safe, warm and full? How do we make sure that parents don’t have to choose between turning on the heat in the winter and buying groceries? How do we make sure that parents have what that need to adequately provide?
I don’t know the entire answer. But I do know that something needs to change. Children who live in poverty have devastating long term effects. They have higher rates of illiteracy, less of a chance of graduating high school, a higher chance of needing community based assistance programs as adults, lower levels of self-esteem, higher percentages of drug and alcohol abuse as adults and more of a chance of continuing the cycle and living and raising their own children in poverty.
This hurts my heart. Where did Canada go wrong? Why are we not handling this issue more aggressively? Why is it that Statistics Canada produces this information over and over but it never seems to get better? How do we fix this?
It starts at home. If you see a family living in poverty, you can help. You don’t have to write them a cheque for a thousand dollars but little things can make a difference. Invite them over for dinner once a week. Can you imagine what a huge relief that would be for a family who has a strict grocery budget? It could free up money for them so that their kids can have snacks with their school lunches. It may not seem like much, but it could mean the world to a struggling parent. You can also help by giving school supplies when school starts back up. If you’re worried about embarrassing someone you can always leave it on their doorstep or donate to a family centre that can help distribute to families in need within the community. Little things can have a big impact.
And I’m also calling on our government. Mr. Trudeau, I am looking at you. You promised us real change, so please; make some real changes for these families. No parent should ever have to make those kinds of heartbreaking decisions. I also think that our government needs to crack down on those who are thousands of dollars in arrears with child support. Deadbeat parents in Canada owe more than 3.7 BILLION dollars across the country in support orders. These parents have been court ordered to pay support and help with childcare costs and extraordinary expenses, but simply choose not to. What is the punishment? Based on what I can tell, it’s nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Sure they can have their license revoked or their pay cheque garnished, but some deadbeat parents purposely work under the table to avoid helping with child support. How sad is that? Purposely making sure your biological child can’t receive support that (in a lot of cases) is desperately needed. We need stricter enforcement in regards to this so that children don’t have to suffer the devastating consequences.
Our Canadian children are worth so much more than 17k a year. They need more than just the bare minimum to succeed in life and break the cycle. But without some form of help, without some form of government crackdowns and without someone advocating for them, they’ll continue to be a statistic. And that’s just heartbreaking.