Nearly half of the families in the United States with children under the age 8 are low-income, which exposes many of those children to stresses such as lack of access to child care, poor-quality housing and schools, and a lack of enrichment activities.
Tackling those problems means supporting both children and their parents, according to a policy report, “Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach” released Nov. 12 from the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation. The foundation is well-known for its annual Kids Count report, which measures the welfare of children nationwide using several different indicators.
For this policy report, the foundation used statistics drawn from the report to show the complex challenges faced by poor families with children.
For example, 45 percent of low-income families with children are headed by a single parent. Half of low-income families have no parent with full-time, year-round work. And 79 percent of low-income families with children have no parent with an associate’s degree or higher.
Job-training programs that take into account child-care needs, and giving parents greater access to flexible, high-quality day care, are examples of several ways to support entire families, said Laura Speer, the foundation’s associate director for policy reform and advocacy.
“If we’re dedicated to making sure children are getting the best early-childhood experience possible, so much of this depends on the parent and what’s going on at home,” Speer said.
The report pulls out several examples of what it considers to be positive steps taken at the federal, state, and local level to support families.
For example, the New York City-based Educational Alliance, which provides Head Start services to children, also offers a “College Access and Success Program” in partnership with New York University and the City University of New York. The program allows parents to continue their education on a schedule that accommodates child care. And my colleague Sarah Sparks wrote a front-page article in August that describe additional multigenerational approaches to supporting families.
The report’s recommendations include supporting policies that provide job training, encouraging states and businesses to adopt family-friendly scheduling policies and paid time off, and asking states to adopt a “no-wrong-door” policy that connects families with programs. Louisiana was pulled out as one example of this: The state uses food-stamp eligibility to automatically enroll children in its state health insurance program.
The report asserts that programs focusing just on the needs of children or adults aren’t enough to break the cycle of poverty, the report says. “Children succeed when their parents succeed,” Speer said.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.