'Cheaper to invest in kids and families,' says report

In February 14, Campaign 2000 released their report on Manitoba’s child poverty rates, outlining that one in five kids in Manitoba is living in a family below the poverty line. This places Manitoba last amongst all provinces in Canada and second only to the Northwest Territories.

Created in 1991, Campaign 2000 is a national coalition of organizations that work on child and family issues across Canada. Its creation was an attempt to hold the Federal Government (and subsequently Provincial Governments) to their 1989 promise to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000.

The report outlined a decline in child poverty for the first time in years, due to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) payments that were made available during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic; but the presentation by community advocates sought to highlight continuing systemic failures in addressing the needs for support by children who reach adulthood while under the care of child and family services.

“Every level of government treated the pandemic as a crisis,” said Michael Redhead Champagne, a founder of the advocacy group Fearless R2W in Winnipeg's north end. “Our services and our service delivery, our economics, everything transformed because of a crisis. Poverty is a crisis. We need to start looking at poverty as a crisis the same way we looked at Covid as a crisis.”

“Because if we can change everything… find money where none of it supposedly existed before when there's a crisis called Covid, we should be able to do the same thing for child poverty.”

The report also called the eligibility requirements of the Manitoba government’s 2022 Family Affordability Package ( families earning up to $175,000 are eligible ), into question. Targeting low income families only, suggests the report, the child poverty percentage would have diminished by up to eight per cent more than it did.

Through her work at Voices Manitoba, an organization that advocates for youth in care, Marie Christian has seen many Winnipeggers needing more help than what Child and Family Services (CFS) currently offers. Christian, along with Voices’ Program Coordinator Jainna Cabral, say there’s a need for better support systems for young adults aging out of CFS care.

“We shouldn't be aging them out into poverty,” Cabral said of youth in CFS systems. “They're not getting transitioned out. I hate when people say that they transitioned out at 18. They're getting the boot and being told ‘Good luck.’ It's costing us more by doing that.”

“The weirdest, funniest thing about it all is that it'll actually be cheaper to invest in kids and families, ” said Christian. “It’s a hand up, not a hand out,” Christian said. “You can't legislate love, but you can legislate the conditions under which love can flourish. So I think by making these changes and by collaborating among systems, we may not be able to legislate love, but we can create spaces where young people feel loved, cared for, and part of the community.”

Cabral points to programs in Alberta, Dauphin and the United States that have shown success for youth aging out and providing better guaranteed incomes for families.

Champagne hopes that the same energy and effort to support families through the pandemic could be used to drop poverty levels in Manitoba, but believes that will only happen if the Manitoba government is interested in listening. “I love the realness of young people that have been in poverty or been in Child and Family Services,” Champagne said. “They can smell the bullsh-t and know how to get us out of there. So if we can listen more to the people that have lived experience and put them into leadership positions… Then we can get better.”

“Don't let the statistics that you'll read in this report make you feel like that's the way it'll always have to be,” Christian added. “If you are able to build your own network of support, if you're able to advocate for yourself or let others help [you] advocate for change, you can be whatever you want to be.”

Daniel McIntyre-Ridd, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leaf