Children in affluent West Vancouver ‘vulnerable:’ report


West Vancouver may be one of the most affluent communities in Canada but a recent report shows that are some “hidden” issues like poverty among single parent families and seniors and a high percentage of children entering kindergarten who are considered “vulnerable.”

“We’re sometimes viewed as the smug village of West Vancouver but we’re not like that at all. We have a lot of work still to do,” said Nancy Farron, the chair of the West Vancouver Community Foundation.

The community’s recently released annual Vital Signs report showed the number of kindergartners in the West Vancouver School District considered vulnerable, on an Early Childhood scale measuring school readiness, continues to rise.

In 2013, 22 per cent of students starting kindergarten in the West Vancouver School District were deemed vulnerable according to the scale’s five measurements, which are linguistic preparedness, socialization, physical health and well-being, general knowledge and emotional maturity.

That figure increased to 33 per cent this year and in the British Properties specifically it’s 43 per cent — which is significantly higher than the overall provincial vulnerability rate of 32.5 per cent.

“In the British Properties you have people able to afford the big gated homes but there’s a lot of isolation up there. If you don’t have community what do you have?” said Farron.

“We need to do better work so these people feel they belong. When we have the same shared language it’s easier but when you don’t have that it’s harder to fit in.”

Farron said the report showed there’s a higher percentage of immigrants settling in the area who are not accessing family support and educational services. As a result, many of the preschool children are not taking part in library reading programs or parent-tot drop in programs that help get kids ready for school.

She said her sense is once children enter the school system they can pick up quickly and the West Vancouver Community Foundation knowing this was an issue from past years research has been investing in this area. For instance, a program called the Properties Family Hub was created offering multi-generational community health and education programs for families, seniors, singles and children.

Sandra-Lynn Shortall, district principal of early learning for the West Vancouver School District. said the school district donated a portable for the Properties Family Hub program three years ago when this issue was first identified in the community. Previously, she noted, other than a private country club in the British Properties there was no community gathering place for residents there.

“It takes time to grow roots and we are seeing more and more families using this space to come and gather together and for young children to play together. It helps families to connect and engage both at the preschool level, the school level and the adult level,” she said.

Shortall said that with a continued focus on this issue within the next few years the vulnerability rate for children in West Vancouver will decrease.

Another challenge identified by the Vital Signs report is the high number of working poor in the community. According to the report, 7.5 per cent or 1,407 people living in West Vancouver who are working age have earnings below the poverty line — an increase from the 2006 rate of 6.5 per cent.

West Vancouver’s rate of child poverty, of 18.5 per cent of children aged 0 to 17 living in low income families is also comparable to Metro Vancouver’s child poverty rate of 19.5 per cent.

“We have had a lot of net immigration and there’s this perception that everyone who comes to Canada are wealthy and that’s not true. Many large families here are living in a one or two bedroom home because they want their kids to go to our schools.”

She said many seniors on a fixed income are also struggling.

The report found 10 per cent of West Vancouver seniors are considered low income, compared to the Metro Vancouver rate of 15.5 per cent and the provincial rate of 13.9 per cent

“There are people living in need and we have no idea,” she said, noting a personal example where she learned of a senior who couldn’t afford a gardener to help so she traded goods she already owned for that service.

© Copyright Times Colonist

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