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Vancouver forum probes child poverty

Report notes B.C.'s high child poverty rate

Seymour elementary school teacher Carrie Gelson sparked a massive fundraising effort for inner city students last year by writing an open letter to Vancouverites about needy children struggling to learn without sufficient food, clothing and support.

That evolved into a mid-November child poverty forum at the public library. Now, Langara College instructor Frances Grunberg is organizing a second forum on Jan. 25 called End Child Poverty Now!

"I thought we've got to keep this issue front and centre. I approached my colleagues here and we all agreed it's a good idea to put on a forum," explained Grunberg who teaches in the social service workers program.

"I've worked in the child abuse and sexual abuse field-child welfare, and I feel very strongly about the impact of poverty on children, that we really have to do something at the policy and program level. We can only plug the dike for so long. We really need to look at systemic change in this province."

Grunberg cited the Campaign 2000 report released in November, which indicated B.C. continues to have one of the highest child poverty rates in the country.

"It's just unacceptable. A lot of what social workers do is they deal with the effects of children living in poverty, but we really need to get at how do we prevent it because the damage is just so severe. There's new research coming out about brain development and how it is affected by the stress of living in poverty," she said.

Grunberg has been involved in advocacy for many years, but she said the November forum convinced her more and louder voices are needed to bring attention to the issues and to educate the public. Seymour students aren't alone with their struggles, she added.

"[Child poverty] is just pervasive. There are middle class families where people have lost jobs and their children are living in poverty-we'd be surprised by how many there are that are not as visible. We need an anti-poverty strategy. Every province but B.C. and Saskatchewan has one."

Forum panelists include Gelson, pediatrician Dr. Barbara Fitzgerald, Dr. Clyde Hertzman, director of the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) at UBC, and Seth Klein, B.C. director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative and co-chair of the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition.

The event runs from 7 to 9:30 p.m in lecture hall A130 at Langara College, Jan. 25. Registration is at 6:30.

noconnor@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Naoibh