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Teaching Children to Care for Others

By Trish Garner, Published on the BC Council for Families blog

Instead of teaching our children to show they care for others by fundraising, how about we teach them through the power of democracy?

My twins started kindergarten a couple of years ago. By the end of the year, they had taken part in two food bank drives and multiple bake sales to raise money for all sorts of good causes. I am glad that the school is fostering a sense of social responsibility and that my children are thinking about others. However, I am concerned that the only solution they are learning to address issues of poverty and hunger is to donate.
 
The slogan of our schools has become “bring your money.” Where are the lessons about the structural causes of these societal problems and what our political institutions can do about them?
 
About 1 in 5 children live in poverty in BC, according to the 2016 Child Poverty Report Card released by First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition. That’s 163,260 children!
 
The statistics are dismal, but the overwhelming response provides hope. Clearly, people are concerned about child poverty in our province and want to take action to address it. However, just like in our schools, our response is often to donate. In fact, BC is one of the most generous provinces in Canada in terms of giving to charity. And yet, for the past 15 years BC has had one of the highest poverty rates.
 
Don’t get me wrong; giving to charity is necessary in this time of great need in order to address the immediate needs of people living in poverty. However, charities, like food banks, can only provide short-term relief that addresses the downstream symptoms, and we need long-term solutions that go upstream to fix the root causes.
 
Food banks were initially meant to be a temporary measure, but they have now been around for over 30 years. They have become such a normal part of society that we never question their role and the extent to which they can address these big issues. We give year after year without wondering why children are still going hungry in BC. Perhaps we should start asking that question and look to our government for answers.
 
When I talk to my children about these issues, I tell them that the government is a group of people that has the power and responsibility to make the big rules or policies that could really help children in poverty. I tell them that we vote for them to represent our concerns and they are (or should be) always interested in listening and making change for the good of all.
 
They are especially eager to listen right now as a new government, so let’s tell them that we support their commitment to a comprehensive poverty reduction plan for BC with legislated targets and timelines to really make a difference for families, communities and our province.
 
Poverty is a heavy issue and we need everyone to share the weight. Giving to charity is the community stepping up, and now we need to ask government to share the weight with us.
 
We are teaching our children to be charitable givers, and fostering social service from a very young age. Let’s also teach them to be democratic citizens and think about social justice by engaging with their government. At the same time, let’s learn that ourselves.