By Merissa Myles

Parenthood is a role that brings a host of new responsibilities and choices that can make even the most prepared person feel overwhelmed. Children need a healthy home and community to thrive, yet today in Canada many parents find that crucial resources such as clean, safe and affordable housing and quality child care remain outside of their reach. For young parents the challenge of securing these key resources is particularly acute.

Affordable Housing | Young Parent OutreachAmong young parents, teen mothers face some of the most difficult personal and financial challenges. They often lack a partner to contribute to the household income, and with relatively limited resources and experience they must complete in the market for housing, jobs and child care spaces.

At the same time that they are learning to care for their children, they are becoming adults. They are learning the basics: how to make responsible choices, get adequate sleep and nutritious food, follow a household budget and prepare for the future. Their experience stands in sharp contrast to the average new family in Canada, where dual incomes have become the norm and women wait on until they are 30 years old to give birth.

Janet Austin, YWCA of Vancouver CEO, points out that “Single-mother led families are amongst the most economically impoverished people living in Canada.” In today’s market, the cost of rental housing is high and many low-income families are pressed to live in substandard conditions or move around in search of a better place to raise their children.

Young families need access to safe, clean and affordable housing to support their family’s growth and development. “Without stable housing, it’s hard to get your life together,” says YWCA Housing Director Arthur Mills. “It’s a common concern for many of the women who we see at the YWCA.”

The YWCA helps women build brighter futures for their families by providing a range of integrated services ranging from affordable housing to quality child care and innovative employment, wellness and leadership programs.

YWCA Semlin Gardens is one of four YWCA housing communities for single-mother led families. With 28 units of subsidized housing, it offers a safe, affordable place for single mothers, ages 18-35, to live until their children graduate from high school or complete post secondary education. They benefit from the support of the Housing Manager and Community Developer and can access other YWCA programs such as Single Mothers Services, which helps women make personal action plans, focus on their personal growth and work towards economic independence.

“Living in affordable housing gives women a chance to go back to school or work towards securing more lucrative employment,” explains Althea Grimm, Semlin Gardens Housing Manager. “Once a woman’s income hits $35,000 per year, she is paying close to market cost to live in YWCA housing. At this point, many women consider moving on.”
The Economic Reality of Moving Forward

In BC, a single mother living on Income Assistance with one child receives $11,628 per year, which works out to $969 per month; $520 of which she can use for housing and $449 for other needs such as food, clothing and transportation. After her child turns three, she must look for work or go back to school, and is then faced with the high cost of child care.

Joy Chakraborty manages YWCA Emma’s Child Care, a centre for the children of teen mothers who are completing their high school education in the Vancouver School Board’s Tupper Young Parent program. She explains that teen mothers need access to affordable housing and quality child care. “Without these two basic resources it is almost impossible for them to move forward into work or higher education.”

While teen moms are in the Young Tupper program, a combination of subsidies from the YWCA and Ministry of Children and Family Development covers the cost of caring for their children at Emma’s Child Care. Emma’s is located in an adjacent portable and provides children with nutritious snacks, positive reinforcement and play that facilitates physical, emotional and cognitive development.

“Once they graduate from high school, teen mothers no longer qualify for the same subsidies and things change quickly,” say Chakraborty. “They need to decide what to do next, but are faced with difficult decisions.” It cost $950 per month for children to receive full-time care at Emma’s and even more at other licensed infant care centres. If a child is between three and five years old, graduates of the Young Tupper program must find a space for her child at a new centre, where care could cost between $650 and $850 per month.

Young mothers can apply for a provincial subsidy for parents who make less than $38,000 per year, but there is no guarantee that they will be able to find a space for their child. The provincial government currently provides subsidized child care spaces to 25,000 low-income families in BC, but due to the federal government’s new child care benefits program, they are capping the number of subsidized spaces in the province.

If a mother is successful in finding a child care space, she can receive a provincial subsidy of up to $500 per month towards the cost of child care, depending on her income. She must then use her limited income and $100 per month from the federal government’s child care program to pay for the difference in the cost of child care.

The high cost of child care and housing puts many low-income families in a challenging predicament. Long waiting lists for services underscore the needs of single mothers and the lack of available community resources. Without additional support from provincial and federal governments and organizations like the YWCA of Vancouver, young families will continue to experience financial and personal stress in raising the next generation of Canadians. Many women will choose to prolong child birth, and many of those who have children at a young age will continue to live in poverty.

Through over 100 years of experience, the YWCA of Vancouver knows that affordable housing and quality child care are fundamental to women’s ability to move forward and achieve independence. As a result, the YWCA is committed to creating more housing options for single mothers through community and government collaboration. It will also continue to strongly advocate for a high-quality universal child care program in Canada that creates affordable and accessible child care services for all families.

Article written for the BC Council of Families. Published in Family Connections Volume XI Issue One Spring 2007