Child Poverty, Campaign 2000, and Child Welfare Practice: Working to End Child Poverty in Canada
Hughes, Colin, Child Welfare
Canada's response to child poverty--one of our most disgraceful and pressing social problems--has been contradictory. Six years ago, the Canadian House of Commons unanimously resolved "to seek to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000." One would expect that action would be taken on the underlying causes of child poverty--high unemployment, not enough good jobs, and an incomplete and inadequate set of child and family social policies. Instead, the federal government has cut federal social policy supports [Kitchen et al. 1991; Battle & Torjman 1993]. This has shifted more of the burden of rearing children onto parents, and has abandoned families to a volatile labour market.
Using Statistics Canada's Low Income Cut-offs (LICOs) as a measure of poverty, almost 1.3 million (18.9%) of Canada's children are poor. Standardized international child poverty rates indicate that although the rates in the United States were double those of Canada, Canada's were twice as high as those of many European countries [Lochhead et al. 1993; 1994].
Nations who make greater provision for social security through their tax and transfer systems have lower rates of child poverty. Canada is among the wealthiest countries in the world, with taxation and social spending as a proportion of GDP below the average for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries (figures 1 and 2) [Lochhead et al. 1994; Phipps 1993]. (Figures 1 and 2 omitted) Clearly, Canada has the capacity to act. Despite the 1989 resolution to end child poverty and our capacity to act, our dismal policy record makes it clear that the federal government must be pressed to put the nation's children first.
Campaign 2000 is a unique, pan-Canadian campaign intended to achieve implementation of the 1989 House of Commons resolution to end child poverty. The campaign has been important in building a high public profile regarding child poverty. It has also kept child poverty on the political agenda by holding the federal government to its 1989 resolution. Public support for action has been reaching unprecedented levels. In a recent national poll, 89% of Canadians believe that child poverty should be a priority for the federal government [Angus Reid Group 1994]. As part of its extensive review of federal social security programs, the federal government has stated that addressing child poverty is a priority [Standing Committee on Human Resources Development 1994; Government of Canada 1994].
This article discusses the link between child poverty and child welfare practice, describes the activities and contribution of voluntary sector organizations in Campaign 2000, and concludes with a discussion of practical strategies to enhance and increase interventions in public policy by child welfare organizations.
Child Poverty and Child Welfare
Research and service data confirm the pervasiveness of poverty and disadvantage among families involved with the Canadian child welfare system [Armitage 1993; National Council of Welfare 1979; Novick 1990]. A provincewide Ontario Incidence Study (OIS) [Trocme et al. 1994] on reported child abuse and neglect found that groups most likely to be poor (e.g., welfare recipients, lone parents, young families) were overrepresented among families reported to the child welfare system. The OIS also found a strong relationship between neglect, which comprises about a third of child maltreatment investigations, and child poverty. As already noted, the U.S. has twice Canada's child poverty rates, and this may largely explain why the OIS found that child neglect in Ontario is less than one-half the rate in the U.S. Indeed, when New Zealand demolished its social welfare system and allowed unemployment to double, reported cases of child abuse doubled [Hewlett 1993]. Children pay a terrible price for poverty and for the failure of nation states to make adequate public provision for social security. …