Building Opportunity, Two Generations at a Time

photo10

CAHS hosted a webinar on December 2nd, 2014 giving a general overview on these programs, going over their basic features and what challenges and opportunities around these efforts in Connecticut.

Nearly half of America´s families struggle to make ends meet. In Connecticut alone, 80,000 families with children age 8 or under are poor or near poor. In 60% of those families, none of the parents have full time, year round employment; in 80%, no parent has an associate degree or higher education.

Two generation strategies have proved to be an effective, bold solution to address these needs: programs that work to reduce poverty not by targeting the kids or the parents, but the family as a whole. Instead of addressing the needs of each member separately, two generational programs work with the family unit as a whole, combining early care and education, professional skills development, parenting classes, health care, adult education and other services to provide true wrap around support to both kids and parents.

  • You can download the PowerPoint presentation here, or watch it with audio below.


Resources from the presentation:

  • The enabling legislation for the Two Gen Policy Group can be found here.
  • The Annie E. Casey Foundation report on two-generation approaches is available here.
  • The Working Poor Families project report on two generation strategies is available here.
  • The Annie E. Casey Foundation has an extensive list of resources and links in this page.

Other reports and resources after the jump.

Continue reading

Two generation strategies for learning: a Kids Count report.

WP_20141112_002The Annie E. Casey Foundation has released a report focusing on two generation learning and education strategies to improve the lives of children.

CAHS and Connecticut Coalition on Children presented the report at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford on November 12th on a community forum that included community organizations, parents, advocates and legislators to talk about the issues facing low income families in Connecticut and the opportunities and challenges a two generational approach to learning can open. Sarah Griffin, Senior Consultant for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, presented the report, discussing its main points and addressing its policy recommendations.

You can download the report here.  You can download the PowerPoint slides on the report  here. Video of the full event here, embedded after the jump.

Continue reading

Link of the day: the case for heavier babies

Have you ever wondered why CAHS´Kids Count Data Book includes information on low birth weight babies? As you probably know, this is an indicator of the health of the mother during pregnancy, and has a strong effect on child development.

How strong? The New York Times published on Sunday a review of a new study linking birth weight and school achievement, and the results are striking. On average a 10 pound baby will score 80 points higher on the 1,600 point SAT than a 6 pound one. This is the difference between being quite a bit below the median (6-pound babies score in the 43rd percentile) or above it (10-pound babies score on average in the 57th).

Poor neonatal health, then, is crucial not just during pregnancy, but has long term cognitive effects. You can find the full study here.

Zbaby

Bold ideas for early childhood

What if we paid our most at risk parents a minimum wage to go back to school to gain a high school diploma or gain employability skills while their children are in preschool?  During the September Early Childhood Alliance meeting Governor Malloy floated this very idea.  Some might find this idea absurd, but Connecticut is at a poverty crossroad and maybe it’s time to consider bold initiatives. ZGov

Poverty in Connecticut is reaching epidemic proportions. Despite various strategies and valiant efforts we are going backwards. In fact, over the past 25 years, childhood poverty has increased by 50%. Today, in Connecticut, almost 30% of the children are living in poverty or near poverty. For many of the most in need parents,  a lack of education and the problem of illiteracy obstruct their personal and economic success, limit the pre-literacy skills of their children and contribute to a  cycle of poverty that repeats through generations. This is not a small problem.  Recent census data show that about 4,000 children are born in Connecticut each year to a mother that has not completed high school. Additionally 5,000 more children are born to a mother who has no education past high school.

When a parent does not have a high school diploma or career skills training then the chances of the family rising out of poverty are slim. In Connecticut 58% of mothers who did not complete high school are not securely employed. A large percentage of these families are living in poverty and receiving state assistance.  The stresses of living in poverty have an effect on family, children and community. With today’s highly skilled workforce, there is little opportunity for career.

What is more disconcerting is that the chances for the children of undereducated parents to be successful in school are significantly impacted. Connecticut eighth grade proficiency tests show that of those children with a mother lacking high school, only 22 % demonstrate reading proficiency and only 14% demonstrate proficiency in math.  40% of these children don’t graduate from high school on time. The cycle of intergenerational poverty continues.

Yet parents living in poverty do not have the means to go back to school.  Their only option is to work minimum wage unskilled jobs.  They are often part time, include odd hours and have work schedules that vary from week to week.  This does not allow for educational opportunity or workforce training that could lead to secure employment and financial independence, hardly a recipe for state prosperity.

So what if we recognize that all parents want their children to thrive and be successful.  What if we take a leap of faith and encourage new thinking to help families navigate a way up and out of poverty?

We can turn a blind eye to our neighbors who have been born into poverty or we can stare families straight in the face and like Governor Malloy, imagine bold solutions.

The high cost of living in Connecticut

The Alliance for a Just Society just released a report comparing living wages acrossseveral states (PDF). Not surprisingly, Connecticut turns out to be a really expensive place to live in: the living wage for a family of four, with one working adult, is $35.18 an hour, only second to New York City in the sample. If both adults are working, the living wage is $24.92 per working adult.

What is a living wage? According to the report:

A living wage is one that allows families to meet their basic needs, without public assistance, and that provides them some ability to deal with emergencies and plan ahead. It is not a poverty wage. Notably, though, it does not account for paying off debt.

In Connecticut´s case, the main components behind our very high cost of living are easy to pinpoint: housing, and childcare. Cost of living

New York City is the only region in the study with higher housing costs; no other place in the study comes close to child care cost. Taxes are also an important factor, but they are (mostly) derived from the fact that the required income to pay for increased housing and child care cost is considerably higher.

The General Assembly approved this session a sizable expansion of the early care and education funding, but these numbers show that we have a long way to go. About housing, we do live in an expensive state, that´s for sure.

You can find more coverage about the report at the CT News Junkie.

New Britain : Hospital of Central Connecticut’s Family Enrichment Center Gives Teen Parents a Voice

Five teenage parents sit in folding chairs at the front of the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) Community Room in New Britain.  Each is the son or daughter of a teen parent; some are third generation teen parents.  Several have graduated from high school; others will be graduating this year. Sitting with them are program facilitators, Jennifer and Troy.  Both were themselves teen parents and now they are using their knowledge and experience to guide and mentor these students.

photo 1aFor the past five weeks these young parents have been participating in a communications and public speaking class at the Hospital of Central Connecticut’s Family Enrichment Center in collaboration with New Britain OIC.  Jennifer Hernandez, Program Manager at the Family Enrichment Center taught the course.  This is the culminating event.   Their final presentations are based on a lifetime of understanding about the issues and concerns facing teen parents.

One by one each young parent stands at the microphone, introduces him or herself and eloquently speaks of the difficulties faced when juggling parenting, school and work as a teen.  Not one asks for sympathy or expects others to approve of their circumstances.  Instead, each voices the reality of being a teen with all of the responsibilities of an adult.

Their messages came from two places, appreciation and advocacy.

Each in their own voice expressed appreciation for the support and mentoring offered by the OIC and the Family Enrichment Center.   From these programs they have found a helpful, supportive community that cares about them and cares about their children.  They have learned about child development, the importance of early literacy, children’s developmental stages and behavior and the value of good nutritional habits. Several spoke of New Britain’s low third grade reading scores and the connection between their own responsibility as parent and the success of their children. The awareness of how their actions impact the well being of their children is far beyond that of a typical teenager.

There was also a call to the audience to advocate for needed supports, especially quality childcare for parents who need to complete their education.  Without childcare, none of these young parents would have the ability to complete their high school education.  Of course, without high school it is nearly impossible to secure employment that would support a family.

As each parents spoke, it became clear that the experiences these teens have had with adults have not always been positive.  They explained the pain when educators and other adults in their lives do not understand their situation.   Whether through comments, actions or just expressions, all of these students have experienced the sting of being judged by adults.  Several parents asked that training be provided for educators, focusing on the circumstances of becoming and being a teen parent.  They hope that this education for school staff would lead to a greater understanding of their situation.

Through it all they show resilience.  What is clear is how much they love their children and how committed they are to ending the generational cycle of teen pregnancy in their family.  They have dreams for their futures and the future of their children.

As parents, educators and advocates, it is our responsibility to listen to their voices, understand their circumstances and provide direction and hope.

In their own Words:

“We must end the cycle of teen pregnancy and take the path less traveled. “

“When I graduate I want to go to art school.”

“We as parents must learn the proper way to take care of ourselves and our children.”

I want to go to college to learn to work with young children.”

“I want to be a beautician. That is my dream”

“Just because we have a hard time juggling between parenting , going to school, working…  it doesn’t mean we are being lazy.”

In the words of Jennifer Hernandez:

“What I would want others to understand is that once our teen parents have decided to parent, the discussion, the interactions…. need to promote success. There is no turning back. The decision has been made and we as a society need to support encourage and motivate these young people to be all they can be. Continuing to place our values, thoughts and beliefs about the morality of teen parenting is senseless once the child is here.  I am not saying to promote teen parenting, I am saying once the decision is made they are not only teens; they are parents who are parenting our future.”

For more information, you can check their website here.

Kids Count media coverage

 

photo(4)Several media outlets covered the launch of the national Kids Count Data Book on Tuesday, with some interviews and in depth coverage of the data presented.

Full video and photo gallery of the event after the jump. Continue reading

How Do CT’s Children Measure Up? – KIDS COUNT 2014

This is a first in a series of posts that CAHS will be doing on the 2014 Annie E. Casey KIDS COUNT National Data Book release. Below is our press release that summarizes the reports findings regarding CT’s kids. Stay tuned for updates – including a recap of today’s release event at the Legislative Office Building (find more information and RSVP here) and posts that take a deeper dive into the 16 indicators that give us insight to the health, education, economic-well being and family and community context of our states’s children. The full report is available now here.

2014KCDB_Facebook_cover03-1

Child Poverty in Connecticut Has Increased Since 1990 despite Education Gains, New National Publication Reports

Number of children living in poverty has increased by 50 percent in the past 25 years according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book

Hartford – The number of children living in poverty in Connecticut has increased by 50 percent since 1990, according to a new report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Nationwide, child poverty numbers are up since the recent recession, with nearly 16.4 million children in families below the federal poverty level. The good news is that both nationally and in Connecticut there have been steady improvements over the past 25 years in the numbers of children attending preschool and a decline in the number of students not proficient in reading and math.

Connecticut is ranked 7th overall on the report’s child well-being indicators that span education, health, economic well-being, and family and community context. The state ranked as high as 3rd in the pre-recession 2006 and 2007 years. The KIDS COUNT Data Book evaluates the latest data on children and families for every state, the District of Columbia, and the nation.

Comparing data collected in 1990, the first year the KIDS COUNT Data Book was released, to the most recent available data, the 25th edition of the national KIDS COUNT Data Book reveals that in Connecticut:

  • Housing costs are a burden to children and their families. Over 40 percent of children in Connecticut are living in families that spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing. This places Connecticut near the bottom of all states (43rd).
  • More children are living in high poverty neighborhoods. The percentage of children living in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty has nearly doubled since 1990. There has also been a significant increase in the number of children living in single parent families. In 1990, it was 1 in 5 children; in 2014 the report finds that it is now 1 in 3 children.
  • Children are progressing in the areas of education and health. Connecticut’s children have improved significantly in education since 1990 – graduation rates and test scores have seen double digit percentage increases, and the state ranks 1st in the nation on the number of children who report a preschool experience. Connecticut also has a comparatively low-rate of uninsured children, and the lowest child and teen death rate in the country.

“This newest report shows us that Connecticut, one of the wealthiest states in the country, is falling behind,” said Jim Horan, Executive Director of the Connecticut Association for Human Services (CAHS). “The report also shows that a strong commitment paired with investment can bring about results. In recent years the Governor and the legislature have prioritized universal preschool access, and this year we were ranked number one in children reporting preschool experiences.”

Horan added, “We need to show this same commitment to our state’s poorest families in other areas – we need to allocate our time and resources to proven workforce training and support programs, greater affordable housing options, and outreach to our most vulnerable neighborhoods.

As the KIDS COUNT Data Book is being released in Baltimore, CAHS will be holding a conversation about the findings of the report, and next steps for the state, at a July 22 event at the State’s Legislative Office Building, Room 1C. The event will begin at 11:00 a.m.

The 2014 National KIDS COUNT Data Book is available in the KIDS COUNT Data Center, which also contains the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of measures of child well-being. Data Center users can create rankings, maps and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and view real-time information on mobile devices.

###

The Connecticut Association for Human Services (CAHS) is a nonprofit policy and program organization that promotes family economic security strategies to empower low-income working families to achieve financial independence. Our mission is to end poverty and engage, equip, and empower all families in Connecticut to build a secure future.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org. KIDS COUNT® is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

 

Helping parents and kids together (CAHS on the radio!)

We will be on the radio this Tuesday, July 15th! Tune in WICC600 in Bridgeport / Fairfield County to hear us discuss two-generation programs live on air. You can listen live through their website here, or using the Rdio app on your smartphone or tablet.  What are two-generation programs, you might ask? See below!5560050395_abe6a15eed-1-390x285

Parents are a key component of children success. We know that kids are more likely to succeed when parents are involved, but their influence goes beyond that their direct support. More educated parents, for instance, for their kids, motivate them, and help them navigate the education system, while creating an expectation for success.

The data is very clear in this regard. A recent study by the Foundation for Children Development analyzing student outcomes for low income kids found that children of parents who have not graduated from high school are much less likely to be proficient on reading and math. In Connecticut, only 22% of kids are proficient by 8th grade, and just 14% are in math. This numbers are borne in part from the support that those kids can receive, but poverty also pays a role: 52% of households where the mother did not graduate from high school are poor, and 58% are not securely employed.

This has prompted many advocates to advocate for a two-generation strategy regarding children´s education. We know that better educated parents can provide a more support to kids in school. We know better educated adults are more likely to have good jobs and provide the stable environments that children need to thrive, specially at a very early age. As a result, programs that focus their work both on the adults and kids of a household are considerably more effective: they are able to provide better learning experiences for the children, while helping parents to move up to better jobs, empowering them. This report from CLASP provides an excellent overview of this approach.

Again – CAHS has been advocating for this kind of policy solutions as well. We will actually be talking about these programs tomorrow July 15th on WICC600 Bridgeport – tune in!

Starting Kindergarten Behind

In a recent article (PDF) Greg J. Duncan, Katherine Magnuson, and Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal examine the effects on poverty on school readiness. They compare how good kindergarten kids are in basic skills like recognizing letters, counting, basic shapes and word sounds, breaking down the results by income. The results are pretty staggering:

Screen_shot_2014-06-10_at_1.31.30_pm

Low income and poor kids start kindergarten systematically behind their peer. Less than 20% of poor kids can be considered proficient recognizing letters, compared to more than 70% for middle class families. This is a huge disparity than exist before most children enter the public education system – and it persists, or even widens, over time.

What are the causes of this gap? The authors review the evidence in depth; Brookings has an excellent post today assessing this issue. The main question is, of course how poverty affects this disparity, and what steps can be taken to reverse this gap. Their policy recommendations:

 

  • Focus on early childhood poverty: If it turns out that poverty is most devastating in early childhood, then increasing the cash flow to families with very young children is a good investment. In a recent policy brief, for example, we proposed making the Earned Income Tax Credit more generous for children under the age of 5.
  • Tie cash to behaviors: One way to deliver cash assistance is by using cash payments to reward positive behaviors such as children’s school attendance or preventative health care. New York City’s Family Rewards program, for example, ties cash rewards to several indicators of children’s education, preventative health care, and parental employment.
  • Don’t cut family income: If higher income expands opportunity, then the reverse is also true. The authors warn that “reductions in the generosity of programs such as the EITC can be expected to reduce children’s success.

That is – addressing poverty is important, but we also need to invest in pre-K education. The legislature just took some bold steps in this direction this year – and we should  keep moving towards universal access to pre-K.