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The Consequences of Child Poverty on the Educational Development of Canadian Children

Info: 2000 words (8 pages) Essay
Published: 3rd Nov 2020 in Education

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In contemporary Canadian society child poverty is a rising social problem that affects 1.2 million (17%) Canadian children under the age of 18 (Statistics Canada, 2016). UNICEF (2012) defines child poverty as children, “who lack two or more of the following 14 items because the households in which they live cannot afford to provide them“ (see Appendix A for a list of UNICEF’S 14 items), while Canada defines child poverty as children living in a household with an income less than half the median (Statistics Canada, 2016). In 1991, Canada formally recognized child poverty by ratifying the “United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child”, and implemented measures to combat child poverty through policies and procedures, with intent to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000 (Howe & Cowell, 2003). Despite the measures implemented, child poverty remains a social problem for Canada.

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The effects of child poverty in Canada are observable in a child’s educational development. Specifically, Ben Levin and Jane Gaskell (2012) state that, “Socio-economic status continues to be the most important single determinant of educational and social outcomes”. In all resources reviewed for this paper there is a positive correlation between child poverty and inferior educational development. This paper will explore the correlation between how child poverty affects educational development due to a low accessibility rate of services (extra-educational, extra-curricular, technology, etc.), a lack of essential resources provided by caregivers, and creates a home and community environment not suitable for proper educational development.

Literature Review

Childhood Poverty, a Lack of Services vs. Educational Development

Beginning at a young age, the lack of services available to Canada’s impoverished youth are detrimental to their educational development. According to an article written by Bryce, Blanco Inglesias, Pullman, & Rogova (2016) early child care plays an important role in a youth’s educational development with direct impacts on later income, health, and life-expectancy. The article goes on to state that child care costs are nearly $50,000 CDN, from the parental leave to the start of kindergarten. In turn, Canada’s top earning families can afford “licensed child-care facilities where children are taken care of by professionals with degrees in education, who not only provide a safe and comfortable environment but also teach pre-literacy and numeracy skills” (Bryce et al., 2016). In 2016, the Canadian Paediatric Society (2016) found that there were 5 million children ages 0-12 in need of child care services, but Canada only had 990,000 regulated child care spaces. A lack of regulated child-care spaces increases the premium on regulated child-care, thus raising the prices (Canadian Paediatric Society [CPS], 2016). Families unable to afford full-time licensed daycare look for cheaper options, which often include less regulated environments, that may present health and safety risks, and lack of physical and intellectual development. By sourcing affordable options, parents must choose between their child’s likely academic segregation or maintaining household essentials (Bryce et al., 2016). 

Lack of quality daycare is considered a social toxin which “threatens the child’s health development” (Covell, K., Howe, B., & Blokhuis, J.C., 2018). Social toxins was a term coined by psychologist James Garbarino to describe conditions such as poverty and violence. Social toxins are any social environment conditions that threaten healthy development.  Psychologists have noted particular importance of the first three years in determining later educational outcomes for a child. In order to maximize cognitive function, an infant must be stimulated through nurturing behaviours such as cuddling, talking, and smiling. In addition, to develop self-worth infants must learn to control their environment, be encouraged to explore and learn, and understand social functions appropriate for independence away from home (Covell et al., 2018). In unregulated daycare systems, there is overcrowding, and a lack of opportunity to develop motor, social, language and cognitive skills through play and in-centre resources (Bryce et al., 2016).

Though Canada ranks among the highest achieving and equitable education systems, there is a divide in educational development caused by inability to provide extra-curriculars services for school-aged children. The Canadian Teachers Federation emphasizes the importance of daily reading, and participation in sports and physical activity. Parents with students in low-income situations must choose between academic and extracurricular support, and basic necessities such as warm clothes, shelter, and sufficient food. Students in low-income environments also have low choice in school options, and may not have access to privatized schools that offer specialized services for special needs or support for behavioural problems (Bryce et al., 2016). Childhood poverty increases young children’s behavioural disorders such as aggression at school, lower academic performance and achievement, poor peer relations, and adolescent antisocial behaviour (Covell et al., 2018). The result of physical, social, and school environments that lack opportunities to fix these behaviours often result in lower educational performance. Low-income students are two times as likely to take applied courses through-out their secondary education, then their wealthy counterparts. This leaves low-income students ineligible for most post-secondary education opportunities (Covell et al., 2018).

Childhood Poverty, a Lack of Resources vs. Educational Development

Low-income parents face challenges to meet basic financial needs, and are often cash constrained due to a lack of savings and ineligible for sources of credit. Parents in low-income situations often must cut back on goods such as food when met with financial constraint (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019). Childhood poverty poses a risk to food security causing decreased educational development. Since 2012, 12% of families in Canada suffer with food insecurity. Faught, Williams, Willows, Asbridge, & Veugelers (2017) studied food insecurity with regards to student success on standardized testing. The study followed grade five students over the course of a year in Nova Scotia where a Canadian high of 15.2% of children are food scarce, and determined that academic achievement correlated with food security. Students who reported low food security had a 0:65 odds of meeting reading expectations, and a 0:62 odds of meeting mathematic standards. The study concluded that children who experience household food insecurity are at risk of inferior educational development due to behavioural and emotional issues that affect their ability to be engaged at school, get along with peers, and increase the rate of absenteeism (Faught et al., 2017).

Childhood Poverty, Environment vs. Educational Development

A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty” determined two pathways for a child’s educational outcomes from child poverty. The first pathway, “the investment pathway”, emphasizes what money can buy, and how poverty undermines a parent’s ability to provide goods and services for their children, to create an environment suitable for educational development. Without the ability to purchase books, computers, extra-academic help, a child will suffer academically. The second pathway, “the stress pathway”, refers to the conflict created in a household environment due to poverty. The book indicates that there is an increase in psychological distress for parents during economic hardship. This spills into parenting and interactions may become more hostile. Parental hardship is linked with harsh, inconsistent, and detached parenting methods. The book concludes that the environment created by socio-economic hardships within the stress pathway result in harm to a child’s cognitive and socio-emotional development resulting in decreased educational development (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019).

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James Garbarino considers parental stress to be a social toxin that threatens healthy child development. A child’s basic developmental need is to be raised in conditions that allow them to grow dysfunction free (Covell et al., 2018). This is maintained in the “United Nations Rights of a Child” (Howe & Cowell, 2003). Currently, Canada maintains a fundamental belief that parents are responsible for their children, meaning authorities are reluctant to intervene unless toxicity levels are chronic and high. Laws and public policies leave parents underemployed or unemployed with inadequate parental leave and resources to create safe home environments (Covell et al., 2018).

Children are born into a family, which is embedded in a community. Social toxin environments within the community are unsafe play areas, inadequate housing, a lack of early childhood care, and overcrowding in schools. All four of these community environments are products of laws and public policies that create cyclical poverty amongst low-income children (Covell et al., 2018).


  • Bryce, R., Blanco Iglesias, C., Pullman, A., & Rogova, A. (2016) “Inequalities Explained: The hidden gaps in Canada’s educational system”. Ottawa, ON: Open Canada Organization
  • Canadian Paediatric Society. (2016). “Are We Doing Enough? A status report on Canadian public policy and child and youth health” 2016 edition. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Paediatric Society [CPS]
  • Covell, K., Howe, B., & Blokhuis, J.C. (2018) The Challenge of Children’s Rights for Canada, 2nd edition. Retrieved from https://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=kJJ5DwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PT9&dq=child+poverty+AND+education+AND+Canada&ots=gpAJ0zmi78&sig=RVt_rzslVDPSZeZZasfErVlds1s#v=onepage&q=child%20poverty%20AND%20education%20AND%20Canada&f=false
  • Faught, E., Williams, P., Willows, N., Asbridge, M., & Veugelers, P. (2017). The association between food insecurity and academic achievement in Canadian school-aged children. Public Health Nutrition, 20(15), 2778-2785. doi:10.1017/S1368980017001562
  • Gaskell, J. S., & Levin, B. (2012). Making a difference in urban schools: ideas, politics and pedagogy. University of Toronto Press.
  • Howe, R., & Covell, K. (2003). Child Poverty in Canada and the Rights of the Child. Human Rights Quarterly, 25(4), 1067-1087. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/20069705
  • National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Division of Behavioural and Social Sciences and Education; Committee on National Statistics; Board on Children, Youth, and Families; Committee on Building an Agenda to Reduce the Number of Children in Poverty by Half in 10 Years; Le Menestrel S, Duncan G, editors. (2019). “A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty” Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US);  Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547371/
  • Statistics Canada. (2016), “Census in Brief: Children living in low-income households”.  Catalogue no.98-200-X. Ottawa, ON: Government of Canada
  • UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre. (2012), ‘Measuring Child Poverty: New league tables of child poverty in the world’s rich countries’, Innocenti Report Card 10, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre. Florence, IT: UNICEF.


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