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Report: To Beat Poverty, Help CA Parents, Kids in Tandem

PHOTO: Programs and services to help families emerge from poverty work best when they help the whole family, rather than focusing on either children or adults. That's the finding of a new Annie E. Casey Foundation report. Photo credit: Nelosa/iStockphoto.com
PHOTO: Programs and services to help families emerge from poverty work best when they help the whole family, rather than focusing on either children or adults. That's the finding of a new Annie E. Casey Foundation report. Photo credit: Nelosa/iStockphoto.com
November 12, 2014

Young families have a better chance to break the cycle of poverty when there are better-coordinated efforts to help them succeed as a family unit, according to a new report.

The new Annie E. Casey Foundation report stresses the need for a "two-generation approach" to policies aimed at lower-income families with young children. In California, nearly half of kids under age 8 live in low-income households.

Patrice Cromwell, director of strategic initiatives for the Casey Foundation, said what's needed is to integrate job, education and parenting programs for adults with high-quality early learning for their kids, so the family benefits as a whole.

"It's not enough to invest in early childhood and parenting skills," she said. "We're encouraging states and local practitioners to look at both the parent and child needs together, to help parents bring up their children in a stable environment."

Jessica Midnick, director of research for Children Now, said the home-visiting programs being piloted across California are good examples of what works. Trained professionals check in with young parents, helping them gain skills in a number of areas.

"It is that two-generational approach, making sure that parents are receiving their education," she said. "A lot of times, there's a GED component to that. It also is focusing on parents' mental health and making sure that they have strong parenting skills."

Midnick said young families in past generations also struggled, but had the advantage of parents' paychecks that increased over time. Today, she noted, the combination of more single-parent households, stagnant wages, fewer benefits and high child-care costs have made it much tougher to climb out of poverty.

Cromwell pointed to a United Way-sponsored program in the Bay Area, where "Spark Action Centers" for parents are located in some public schools.

"A parent can come in, work on budgeting, improving their credit," she said, "so at the same time they're dropping their child off at school, they're working on ways to strengthen their overall financial stability."

Cromwell said programs and services for children or parents have the best intentions but often are fragmented. She said a more family-centered approach also helps parents set good examples for their children as they work to build a more stable household.

The report, "Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach," is online at AECF.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - CA