Poverty, school readiness problem at Lake Cowichan

The Cowichan Lake area learned on May 4 that children in the area are disproportionately not ready for school, many are living in poverty, and retaining youths in the community is also an issue.

Cindy Lise of Our Cowichan Communities Health Network, the new name for the group that emerged after Cowichan Lodge closed, said the group has been helping to spread the word about a massive 207-page state of the region report from Island Health, covering the 12 determinants of health.

"We’ve now got this network. But we need to find out what we need to tackle," she said.

"We’re bringing the profile to you. We need to know if we’ve missed anything. What else can we do?" Paul Hasselback, Medical Health Officer for Vancouver Island, went through the sections of the document that were most germane to the Cowichan Lake area, noting that income and social status is one of the most important and that a weak, less sustainable economy is more sensitive to problems.

No area in the Cowichan Valley is successful in retaining its youth but Lake Cowichan is especially hard hit in this regard.

And in Lake Cowichan "one in every three children is living in poverty."

There’s been a huge jump in that; the area really got hit harder by the recession than other parts of the Valley, he said.

However, the Cowichan Lake area is pretty good when it comes to children in care; it has the second best rate on the Island, he said.

Lake Cowichan Mayor Ross Forrest, one of a group of high-level representatives of governing bodies and agencies who attended the meeting, told Hasselback that more availability of affordable housing at the Lake may be skewing the area’s demographic to include more low-income families.

Hasselback agreed but said that an important part of helping people achieve a better social environment overall is a community that takes time to focus on the family.

Civic participation in elections is also good in Lake Cowichan as is satisfaction with public transit, and residents’ standards of personal health practices and coping skills, he said.

But when it comes to getting children ready for school, Lake Cowichan is in trouble, with their little ones seen as the most vulnerable on the Island.

It’s not the first year he’s pointed that out but he reiterated that there is a need to tailor programs to what the community needs.

Comments from the public after his presentation showed that there was a lot of concern about the community’s young children and distress at discovering how many students at Palsson Elementary School had been going to school hungry.

Food bank representatives say they don’t necessarily see those families and the meeting also heard that there are more children using the "hungry kids cupboard" at that school.

However, it also appeared that now the community had heard about that situation, there’s a willingness to try to address it.

In addition, school district efforts already underway and programs planned to start in the fall should have a beneficial effect on the area’s children.

Another subject, aging in place, also came up, as over the years Lake Cowichan people have expressed a wish to be able to stay closer to the area they love.

Again, Forrest said that the Town of Lake Cowichan was looking at the situation.

"We got a grant to hire a consultant to look at this. There is an age-friendly workshop for everybody on Saturday, May 23 from 2-4 p.m. at the Over 50 Centre in Lake Cowichan. It’s not just about getting Lake Cowichan a home or housing, it’s everything to do with aging. I would encourage everybody of all ages to attend the workshop," he said.