Child poverty has a negative and long-lasting impact on a child's ability to learn, build skills, find employment and avoid poverty. It is well understood that poor, uneducated children often grow up to be poor, uneducated adults. A lack of healthy food, health care, and a stimulating environment lowers a child's ability to learn for the rest of their lives. A child's experience during the early years of development (prenatal to 8 years of age) sets a critical foundation for their entire life course. All aspects of Early Childhood Development (ECD) - including physical, social/emotional and language/cognitive domains – strongly influence basic learning, school success, economic participation, social citizenry, and health. The environments where children grow up, live and learn – with parents, caregivers, family, and teachers – have the most significant impact on their development.
Children living in poverty show almost 3.5 times the number of conduct disorders, almost twice the chronic illnesses and twice the rate of school problems, hyperactivity and emotional disorders as children who are not poor. Canadian children that live in poverty often suffer from iron deficiencies, which lead to difficulties in cognitive development. Poor children that have such health, social, and cognitive disadvantages - in relation to their better-off counterparts - are generally less equipped - socially, emotionally and physically - to undertake school programs. If their disadvantaged position and different day-to-day experiences are not taken into account by school education, they are unable to benefit fully from the school system. Numerous studies have consistently shown that the strongest single predictor of educational achievement and attainment is the socio-economic status of the student's family. Education - in close co-operation with health care; guidance and counseling services; and, income generating activities - is pivotal in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and social exclusion that is the reality for many families.