The Annie E. Casey Foundation is calling for a more comprehensive approach to lift children out of poverty in the face of statistics that indicate the number of poor children in the U.S. is not declining.
In a special policy report released Wednesday, the Casey Foundation calls for helping parents with job training and child care plus extending tax credits to stabilize families and to improve children’s lives.
“We jumped into this report because half of young children in America today are being denied the American dream,” said Patrice Cromwell, director of strategic initiatives for the Casey Foundation. “We know now more than ever before that poverty can affect a child’s future. So today, we’re looking at new solutions.”
Nearly half — or 17 million — of children in the United States are growing up in low-income households, the report says. To lower that number, agencies and state and federal programs that work to help poor children must also help poor parents by adopting policies that will provide job training and extend or expand tax credits, the report says.
The report, called “Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach,” recommends three broad actions. The first is the creation of policies that provide parents and children with the income and skills they need to succeed. The foundation recommends the federal and state governments strengthen policies that give parents more flexibility at work. It also urges an increase in the child tax credit for low-income parents of very young children and an expansion of the earned income tax credit to increase the income of noncustodial parents.
The second call to action is to “put common sense into common practice” by making sure that child- and adult-focused state agencies consolidate their data to ensure that an entire family is considered. As an example, the report suggests that federal policymakers take advantage of new legislation and reauthorization periods for Head Start and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
The third prong is to build strong evidence for proven ways out of poverty for entire families. It also recommends strong partnerships among housing programs, home-visiting and job-training programs.
“For too long, the focus has been on the parent or child, but not both. This is recognition that it’s about helping the entire family,” Cromwell said.
One reason for the shift, she explained, is a growing recognition — and body of research — that indicates that lower-income families are experiencing much greater stress than middle-income families.
If low-income parents have $3,000 more income, children experience better educational outcomes and develop better bonds with parents, Cromwell said. Also, family stability improves.
“This is really important,” she said. “When children are very young and developing, the stress level greatly affects them.”
By building up the entire family, not only is the stress level lowered, but children can focus more on the business of being a child, learning to read, developing social connections or doing homework, Cromwell said.
The foundation is concerned that fewer and fewer children born into poverty are able to break the cycle, she said.
The report shows that about 17 million children in the U.S. live in low-income households and that about a third of children age 5 or younger in low-income families have parents with concerns about their development. Also, it shows that 45 percent of low-income families with children 8 and younger are headed by single parents, compared with 17 percent of middle- and upper-income families. In four of five low-income households with children, parents do not have a post-secondary degree.
Ed Walz, vice president of Washington, D.C.-based First Focus, hailed the report for its emphasis on helping parents caught in poverty and low-income lifestyles.
“What they’re basically saying is that the focus needs to be on the families and that we really need to invest in programs that work with the whole families,” he said. He mentioned the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, as an important example of a dual-generation initiative.
“It’s a lifeline for families,” Walz said. As such, it is also an example of a federal program whose funding needs to be extended.
Debbie Weinstein, executive director for the Washington-based Coalition on Human Needs, also praised the report. “With parents trying to work, or look for work, if the programs that their children go to could offer job training, it would make so much sense.”
She was also pleased that the report highlighted tax credits and flexible work hours.
“I’m so glad they talked about income supplements and that they remembered the basic fact of life — you can’t be a good parent if you can’t be there when your kids are sick,” Weinstein said.