Poverty and even homelessness can be an invisible condition— it is not always seen, and even when it is, it is too often ignored. A persistent issue even in prosperous countries like Canada and the USA, the complexities around poverty continue to present challenges for the lawmakers, nonprofits and community workers struggling to improve outcomes. Of course, nobody is more deeply impacted than those experiencing poverty themselves.
On the other side sits those of us who are privileged with security: shelter, warmth, food, love, all the creature comforts necessary to cultivate a stable life. Many of us have been fortunate to have never grappled personally with poverty at all, and can extend that same privilege to our children. At the same time, many of us do feel a sense of responsibility to improve the lives of others in our broader community.
So how can we talk to our kids about poverty so they develop awareness, empathy and a sense of agency to improve the lives of those around us who have less?
Dr. Jillian Roberts, founder and CEO of FamilySparks Inc recently teamed up with Jamie Casap, Google’s Education Evangelist, to coauthor On Our Street: Our First Talk About Poverty, a book for children based around the tough topic of homelessness. With a portion of the proceeds going directly to UNICEF Canada, the book aims to raise awareness around poverty while giving parents the tools to start conversations that will nurture ‘moral agency’ in their kids.
“In children, moral agency starts with seeing or observing a problem, followed by curiosity about that problem, and finally, caring.” says Dr. Roberts, “And from caring comes the motivation to take action. These are the qualities our 21st century so desperately needs in its citizens. Cultivating moral agency and a problem-solving mindset in our kids today is the first step.”
The book takes the form of a conversation between an adult and a child, after a child has observed a homeless person while out on a walk. As the story unfolds, the child learns a little bit about some of the reasons people end up on the street, leading to the natural moment where the child asks “What can I do to help?”
Unfortunately, this is the point where many of us experience the paralysis of compassion without confidence. We care, but we aren’t sure if we can really make an impact. The intersection of problem-solving and moral agency—the belief that one CAN take action and initiate change—is the critical component that Casap and Roberts hope to ignite in young minds. The book concludes with some suggestions for how families can get involved in a meaningful way.
Says Dr. Roberts, “We hope the book will serve not just as a catalyst for parents to talk to their kids, but to show families what they can do now to make a difference in their corner of the world.”