Concerns grow for local children

Campbell River children vulnerable to poverty and delayed learning

Members of the Campbell River School District Board of Education normally concern themselves with the success of children attending their schools.

This week, they learned a little something about the students of tomorrow.

Trustee Joyce McMann shared with the rest of the board the freshly published State of the Child Campbell River 2014 report, compiled by Cheryl Jordan for the Community Council of Partners using early development statistics on the health and well-being of the city’s youngest children.

“In terms of creating strategies going forward, we felt we needed to create something of a benchmark in terms of where children are in Campbell River at this point,” said McMann. “These are the children who will enter kindergarten and enter Strong Start and other programs on school district properties.”

The wide-ranging, 16-page document explores demographics of Campbell River families and households and addresses economic indicators, child poverty, food security and food bank use rates, housing, transportation and health and wellness factors like prenatal health of mothers, immunization rates and physical activity.

Jordan, the local coordinator for the provincial Success by 6 initiative, drew on community reports compiled over the past few years, statistics from Stats Canada and personal research, including calls to area food banks.

“The idea was to create a starting point in terms of data, then set goals based on the data we have now,” board trustee Richard Franklin said. “For example, if you look here you see that 22.8 per cent of children less than six years old live in poverty in Campbell River. There’s a lot of room for improvement.

“But it will take a community working together, with all the partners, to develop a plan that will improve that.”

Many of the areas of concern raised by the report will need to be addressed well before these children enter the halls of local schools. But improving outcomes in early development can only aid the work of educators down the road, McMann said.

“What we know now is the trajectory for success for children is often set before they’re born,” she said. “The kind of food, nutrition, the emotional environment a woman is growing a baby in, has a profound impact on what potential that child comes into the world with and how they best use that potential.

“While we take charge of children beginning at age four-and-a-half or five, so much of the critical work is being done before they enter our doors.”

Franklin added that the report provides not only baseline information, but an impetus for community stakeholders to act to improve the statistics, either individually or collectively. That may take the form of a service club tackling a single area of concern, or municipal government using the information to help guide policy decisions on playgrounds, public gardens, food security issues, fresh water and more.