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Child poverty and early learning and child care in Canada

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It has been over twenty years since the 1989 pledge to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000 was announced in the House of Commons. Women and children have consistently been at the top of the list for those either living in or vulnerable to poverty. Canadian advocacy groups, coalitions and public service providers that work with women and children have continued to push for poverty reduction plans from both the federal and provincial government that include increased investments in early learning and child care. ELCC is a critical component in any plan to address child poverty because it provides benefits both to the children through quality programs and to their parents by allowing them to continue participating in the labour force while their children are properly cared for.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation's comprehensive report Starting Strong II (2006) identifies child poverty as one of the challenges policymakers face while focusing on the task of enhancing the well-being and learning of young children. Addressing child poverty not only meets the broader goal of social equity but is also essential to developing good early childhood policies:

The reduction of child and family poverty is a precondition for successful early childhood care and education systems. Early childhood services do much to alleviate the negative effects of disadvantage by educating young children and facilitating the access of families to basic services and social participation. However, a continuing high level of child and family poverty in a country undermines these efforts and greatly impedes the task of raising educational levels. (pg. 206)

More specifically, the OECD recognizes that ELCC services alone can not reduce child poverty. Rather, it recommends reducing child poverty and exclusion through upstream fiscal, social and labour policies while increasing resources within universal programmes for children.

Although providing care and education to children from "at-risk" backgrounds, early childhood programs cannot substantially address issues of structural poverty and institutional discrimination... The challenge of reducing child poverty needs also to be tackled upstream by governments through energetic social, housing and labour policies, including income transfers to low-income groups, comprehensive social and family policies, and supportive employment schemes and work training. Preventive, anti-poverty measures can significantly reduce the numbers of children arriving at early childhood centres with additional learning needs. (pg. 213)

More than twenty years after the House of Commons pledge, child poverty remains a persistent problem in Canada. In 2010, Campaign 2000 reported that 1 in 10 children in Canada lives in poverty; amounting to 610,000 children and their families nationwide. 1 in 4 children in First Nations communities live in poverty. Furthermore 1 out of every 3 mother-led lone parent families lives in poverty. In this Issue file online readings and resources related to and connecting children and women's poverty and early learning and child care are listed.

This Issue File is composed of four sections:

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