Nordic vs. Canada Child Poverty Term Paper

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Sociology

Comparison of the Canadian and Nordic Social Models:

Is Canada Losing the Fight against Child Poverty?

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Child poverty is a major issue as it speaks to the well-being of future generations. Defined narrowly, the problem consists of children living in materially-deprived circumstances. The traditional definition; however, has been expanded by the United Nations and many other groups to include a variety of factors that are believed to relate, in some measure, to general welfare, material, physical, emotional, and mental. According to this measure of child poverty, many economically advanced nations suffer from serious deficiencies in the way in which children are cared for and raised. Canada is no exception to this rule. Despite considerable spending in the areas of financial assistance, education, and health, and the encouragement of positive family and peer relationships, many children suffer considerable poverty when compared to members of the same age cohorts in countries such as the Netherlands and Sweden. The all-encompassing social welfare of the Nordic countries, in particular, tends to support a holistic approach to solving the problems of child poverty in all its forms. The difference in approach between Canada, on the one hand, and the Nordic countries, on the other, can be explained largely in terms of the historical context. Variant experiences and values have produced relatively distinct situations today. No doubt, the comparatively stronger Canadian emphasis on individual freedom, self-reliance, and private property can explain many of the negative indices as regard child poverty. In contrast, almost the entire modern experience of the Nordic lands has been one of socialism and group responsibility, of a great value being placed on people helping other people, through active and aggressive government intervention if need be. The Canadian model must be explored in order to understand how it can be improved and the broader measures of child welfare brought more into line with those nations deemed most successful according to these standards.

The Canadian Background to the Fight against Child Poverty

Term Paper on Nordic vs. Canada Child Poverty Assignment

The fight against child poverty has a long history in Canada. National and provincial governments have worked hard to eliminate the worst of the problems brought on by economic disadvantage. As in most countries, the Canadian campaign began with a focus on the financial factors that constitute poverty in the traditional sense. Reacting to the national traumas of the Great Depression and the Second World War, Canada's politicians built a social safety net that appeared to provide for Canadians of every background; a system that was based on the idea that, "social security - particularly health care - is a right of citizenship and should be universally accessible to all Canadians" (Barlow & Clarke, 1996). In the same period, reacting to municipal shortfalls and bankruptcies, the Federal Government took over what, until that time, had been a local responsibility (Wolfe, 2003). As also in other industrialized societies, Canada's child welfare programs have been shaped by the changing conditions of the modern world. The large scale entrance into the workforce of women with children, which first began in the 1960s, has made the issue of who cares for and raises children more critical than ever before. Traditional assumptions have been challenged, but the battle remains. The fact that the majority of mothers now work outside the home radically alters care and educational choices, threatening the family's traditional absolute control of childrearing decisions. In 2004, Prime Minister Chretien found himself caught in the middle of a battle between those who believed government should stay out of childcare, and those who insisted on the urgent need for government-funded and supervised programs intended to help working mothers. Chretien was able to deflect a considerable amount of criticism simply by renaming - and therefore changing the emphasis of the program: National child care became "Early Learning and Child Care" (White, 2004). The change in title underscores the importance of education in helping children to succeed in the contemporary world.

Free public education, universally available to all, can serve as a model for a host of child welfare services, all of which contribute to a goal of eliminating child poverty in all its aspects. In the 1990s, arguments continued over whether projects for the amelioration of child poverty should focus solely on raising the income levels of poor families or whether the government should use its influence to attack the wider causes of poverty. Many saw the government's child-at-risk program as little more than an attempt to impose neo-conservative values, stressing instead, the need to help lift families out of the economic morass (Crane, 1994, p. 72). The rift between supporters of purely economic remedies vs. those favoring social remedies brings to light very real differences of opinion that exist regardless of the political position of those concerned. Expansion of the definitions of poverty necessarily raises the question of who establishes the new definitions. The family and social problems that are widely seen as contributing to child poverty and problems in later life do not have fully agreed upon remedies - at least not in the political realm. The liberal and the neoconservative see things very differently, and much of the recent history of childcare in Canada has revolved around the argument over these different points-of-view. Both sides can support shaping a policy that amounts to so much radical social engineering, but in which direction? For the neoconservative the plan must include programs that emphasize and reinforce "traditional" values like family, private enterprise and ownership, parental rights, traditional sexual mores, etc. At the opposite end of the political spectrum, liberals look to other countries, particularly those of Scandinavia, and also the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child for what they see as progressive solutions to the problems of child poverty. Essentially the goal of the Convention, and of those Nordic countries that are most in line with its provisions, is the elimination of things deemed "socially toxic" to children and childhood development (Covell & Howe, 2001, p. 2). Necessarily, the question of defining and overcoming social toxicity depends on a solution that itself demands an entirely new way of looking at childrearing, and an entirely new understand of government's role in childrearing and childrearing decisions.

Approaches and Programs: Nordic vs. Canadian

The purpose of social welfare programs can be described as the correction of inequalities in distribution of wealth and resources after their initial allocation by the market (Forssen, 2000, p.5). The Nordic system, which is taken to include the nations of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland, is characterized especially by an early, aggressive, and wide re-distribution of wealth and resources (Forssen, 2000, p.6). More notably than other child welfare plans, the Nordic system attacks the problems of child poverty very early on and from a very wide range of angles, including most of those dimensions recognized by the United Nations and its Convention on the Right of the Child. Specifically, the United Nations looks at six dimensions of childhood well-being, each of which can be considered an element in possible child "poverty" as viewed from a broad sociological perspective. The six dimensions studied include the following factors influencing childhood and adolescent development:

Material Well-Being

Health and Safety

Educational Well-Being

Family and Peer Relationships

Behaviors and Risks

Subjective Well-Being (UNICEF, Innocenti Report Card 7, 2007, p. 2)

Making use of government funds and management skill, the Nordic system crafts programs that are designed to improve these varied aspects of a child's life. The Nordic systems is funded by public taxes, as are most other wealth systems, but it is the comprehensive nature of the use of these taxes that differentiates it from Canada's and other systems. Also notable is its three-pronged approach that breaks down expenditures into "money," "time off," and "services" (Forssen, 2000, p.10).

If poverty is measured strictly in terms of disposable income, then Sweden's system far outperforms Canada's, with a child poverty rate of only 1.6% as compared to Canada's 9.3%, according to recent figures (Olsen, 1999). Education figures prominently in determining levels of poverty and affluence. Countries that invest heavily in education have been shown to possess notably lower levels of economic inequality. For example, in the Scandinavian countries, where economic disparities are not as prominent, the state intensively invests in and promotes public education as opposed to in the United States where the income gap is notably wider (Esping-Andersen, 2002, p. 27). Swedish family law, as well, ignores differences in family form that in Canada, and many other countries, can prejudice childhood development and lead to increases in poverty. The basic principle of Sweden's social welfare system is that couples who have children together, or who have been married to each other before are treated as married couples (Hatland, 2001, p. 130). Such an approach has the effect of encouraging loving and supporting home environments. if, in Canadian terms, a non-traditional family can raise a child to be happy, healthy, and productive adult, so be it. Furthermore, the inclusiveness of the Swedish policy makes financial assistance available equally to… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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