Published February 11, 2017, in the Vancouver Sun
by Adrienne Montani, Faith Bodnar, Sherry Sinclair and Sharon Gregson
As families across British Columbians celebrate the 5th annual B.C. Family Day, it’s a welcome opportunity to spend extra time together, have some fun and celebrate all the wonderful reasons our families are important to us.
Families matter. As individuals, our families hold our hearts. Families give us strength by supporting us when we need it. B.C.’s families, in all their wonderful diversity, shape our province’s vibrant social fabric.
They are the heart of our communities. Strong families raise healthy, resilient children. When all families have the opportunity to thrive, we build strong communities that are caring, inclusive and welcoming to all.
For generations, British Columbians have invested in supporting children and families. We’ve built public schools, community centres, child care programs, early intervention and youth programs, social and community living programs for adults with disabilities and supports for seniors. We’ve always known that B.C.’s families are the heart and foundation of our province, and that investing in them means investing in a stronger B.C.
But while we’ve always known that, it hasn’t always been the priority. We’ve increasingly taken families for granted. As investments in child, family and community supports have lagged, our most vulnerable families, children and individuals have suffered. Our communities have been weakened and we are all paying the price. Our children are paying the highest price because they only get one chance to grow up. Kids can’t wait for us to get it right.
Take early childhood intervention. Community-based providers have the expertise to transform the lives of children with special needs and their families, with significant long-term social and economic benefits.
The early years offer a critical window, but too many children are missing the chance to achieve their full potential because we’re trying to stretch too little to meet the needs of too many.
Gaps in child care also present a growing crisis for many young families. The labour force participation rate for B.C. mothers is the second lowest in Canada, reflecting their inability to afford or find quality child care. Too many have no choice but to use unregulated or even illegal care—at times with tragic results.
Inadequate family supports and services, along with low wages, contribute to high levels of family poverty. Poverty undermines child health and learning and crushes parents under damaging levels of chronic stress.
When B.C. children don’t get a good start, it further burdens our underfunded schools, where more and more children are being left out and left behind. Children are forced out of school and the costs of failure compound, not just in dollars, but in complexity, lost opportunity and lost humanity.
When families fall apart due to lack of support or poverty and the responsibility for child welfare falls on the state, no one wins. And the tragic story of Alex Gervais shows once again how far we still need to go to give children a fair chance when families break down.
Older families are struggling too. Families are losing the fight to support their adult relatives with developmental disabilities as supports for community living and inclusion are insufficient and increasingly being rationed. Seniors who spent a lifetime working to build a strong province feel isolated and forgotten, at home or in understaffed facilities.
We know we can do better. We are all family and we will build a better world when we are inspired by love. Our vision is a province where we all truly belong and where we all share in opportunity. We must learn from what is working, while refusing to accept as inevitable the ways that we are increasingly failing children and families.
Community groups like ours have taken the lead in working to understand the challenges facing B.C. families and to propose evidence-based solutions. We represent successful, cost-effective services such as free family support programs and child development centres. We’ve developed a comprehensive $10aDay child care plan that is affordable and assures children will receive quality care. We’ve recruited public and private employers who commit to paying living wages. These proven solutions are waiting for the commitment and added investments to support more children and families to thrive.
We invite all British Columbians and our provincial government to join us in making investing in families our top priority. We know this is a success story just waiting to unfold, and one that we will all be truly proud of, if we seize the opportunity.
Faith Bodnar, Executive Director of Inclusion BC
Adrienne Montani, Provincial Coordinator of First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition
Sherry Sinclair, Executive Director of the BC Association of Family Resource Programs
Sharon Gregson, Media Contact, Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC