Ending Poverty and Building a Child Care System: Supporting Children’s Well-Being in Nova Scotia

Last week, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Nova Scotia released its annual 2023 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Nova Scotia: Families Deserve Action, Not Excuses, which shows that child poverty rates in Nova Scotia in 2021 increased by 11.4%, the highest single-year increase since 1989. Nova Scotia has the highest poverty rate in the Atlantic provinces, and the fourth highest in Canada. Over 35,330 of Nova Scotia’s children—20% of all children under the age of 18—live in poverty, meaning more than 1 in 5 children struggle to meet their basic needs.

The report’s findings are shocking, and the reality it presents for our province is unacceptable. Child Care Now Nova Scotia calls on the provincial and federal governments to take swift action to support children and families who struggle to make ends meet across the province.

Children experiencing the highest poverty rates in Nova Scotia are under the age of two, with a rate of 24.6%. The report also found the cost of infant formula increased by 20% within a year—a staggering rise that adds to the difficulties for  families already living in poverty. The poverty rate for children under the age of 6 is 22.7%.

No one should have to live in poverty—but especially not children, whose lives are significantly impacted by living in conditions of poverty. Experiencing poverty at this critical stage of a child’s growth and development—without sufficient access to nutritious food, safe and accessible housing, and other basic necessities—can have profound and negative long-term consequences.

The report calls on the government to remove barriers to universal public services, and expand access to ensure all who want or need essential services—like child care—are able to do so. We echo this call, because investing in a publicly-funded non-profit system of early learning and child care means also investing in the health and well-being of families, and little ones across Nova Scotia during a crucial time in their development.

We know that too many families are not able to access a child care space for their child across the province, and benefit from the $10 per day child care program—but many families across the province would not be able to afford this cost anyway. Not only do more families across Nova Scotia need to be able to access a space for their child, but care should be available free of cost to low-income families—for whom paying $10 per day, or $200 or more per month, takes up over 11% of their monthly income, and does not leave much room for housing, groceries, transportation, and other essential costs.

Child care centres can provide vital services to families, connecting them to their communities and helping to identify resources and support, and represents a key element of a comprehensive strategy to reduce child poverty in Nova Scotia. Child care can play a key role in alleviating poverty, supporting primary caregivers to enter the workforce and break cycles of poverty. More than that, attending a high-quality child care centre means a child has regular access to nutritious food and shelter, as well as care and learning opportunities appropriate to their age and stage of development, from early childhood educators trained and qualified to provide the care and nurturing they need. But they need sufficient funding to do it. Centres need operational funding to ensure they can provide nutritious meals throughout the day; and early childhood educators need sufficient training and resources to support children and families living in poverty, and enriching programming and experiences to promote their overall well-being and development.

The Report Card not only presents statistical data, but incorporates community conversations held in Cape Breton and Halifax, particularly with young mothers whose stories shed light on the harsh realities they face. As Christine Saulnier—one of the authors of the report, and a member of Child Care Now Nova Scotia’s Steering Committee—shared these mothers’ commitment to supporting their children on Sheldon McLeod’s radio show:

Behind those numbers are real people. We wanted to bring those voices forward so that people understand what it means to be struggling, to be constantly stressed, to live in survival mode all the time, and to be caught in the cycle. When I think back to that conversation in Cape Breton, the most disheartening part was listening to the stories of young mothers who are watching their children grow up in the same way they did, and wanting to do everything they can to break the cycle of poverty. They are desperate to figure out what resources are available and what they can do, and they see how much the community is stepping up to help as much as they can.

Under-resourced communities can only do so much to support children and families living in deep poverty—it is up to governments to provide support to these communities, and invest in their youngest citizens. 

Though child care is provincial jurisdiction—meaning it is ultimately up to the province to deliver affordable, accessible, inclusive child care to families across Nova Scotia—the new $10-per-day program is a federal incentive, and costs for the rollout of this program are shared between the two levels of government. Child Care Now Nova Scotia calls on the federal government to increase its funding to provinces and territories—and particularly to Nova Scotia, to tackle its unacceptably high rates of child poverty—to ensure child care can be provided free of cost to all children living in poverty, supporting their well-being and development, and families as they work to make ends meet.

As the report notes, thousands of children are falling through the holes in Nova Scotia’s social safety net—and a strong system of early learning and child care presents one way to begin mending those holes.

The 2023 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Nova Scotia underscores the urgent need to tackle child poverty and its far-reaching consequences for children’s well-being and development—and we know governments can address it. Child Care Now Nova Scotia calls on the federal and provincial governments to invest in critically-needed resources and systems to promote the well-being and development of young children across the country—and in creating an inclusive, accessible, publicly-funded, non-profit system of early learning and child care as a crucial first step.

Read the report here: https://policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/2023-report-card-child-and-family-poverty-nova-scotia#:~:text=The

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