Child Poverty in B.C.: A Refugee Perspective

December 3, 2015

The annual BC Child Poverty Report Card was released on November 24th at the downtown YMCA by First Call BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition. As part of a panel that spoke on child poverty from a range of perspectives, from research to lived experiences, Dorla Harris, Senior Manager of Children and Family Programs, related how B.C.’s refugees and newcomers struggle with and try to overcome poverty.“Child poverty impacts BC families. First Call’s report card states that BC’s child poverty rate is higher than the Canadian average and over half of the British Columbian children living in poverty reside in the Metro Vancouver area. This includes refugee and immigrant families.”Dorla shared the story of a refugee Kurdish family who had come in 2012 to Canada from Iran as Government Assisted Refugees. The story shows how poverty can arise from circumstances beyond the control of families and at the same time, existing support systems can unintentionally keep families in the poverty trap. The family is currently working with staff from MOSAIC’s Newcomers Centre for Children and Families in order to successfully navigate the challenging centralized phone system of the Ministry of Social Development, so they can maintain the insufficient income they are live on.Both parents are trying to learn English so they may better integrate into Canada. However, chronic heart problems and trauma pose continued challenges for the father, leaving the mother as the primary caregiver of the family of four. As is the case with Government Assisted Refugees, the family also needs to repay the refugee travel loan (the Immigration Loans Program) that is accruing interest. Although the family is supported by Income Assistance, recipients are required to be actively seeking work. Yet, without access to affordable and safe childcare and dealing with chronic physical pain, it is impossible for the mother to work, care for her family and learn English.According to Dorla, “The irony is that English is the first prerequisite for integration and finding gainful employment that could move the family beyond the poverty line. Newcomers come with the intention of building a new life. We need systems that encourage newcomers’ efforts to thrive, not systems that hold them back.“MOSAIC has been involved with the First Child Coalition for many years, having participated in ECD and child and youth committees and providing information from an immigrant and refugee perspective. Visit the Coalition’s YouTube channel to watch videos of the news conference.