Half of Maine’s Young Families Struggle to Make Ends Meet

But Public and Private Efforts to Connect Low-Income Families with Early Childhood Education, Job Training and Other Tools Can Remove Barriers to Opportunity

Augusta – A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that half of Maine’s young children are growing up in low-income households and calls for a comprehensive effort to lift kids out of poverty. The report focuses on the importance of delivering high-quality early childhood education while simultaneously providing parents with access to job training, career paths and other tools that enable them to support their families.

The KIDS COUNT® policy report, Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach, outlines how the public, nonprofit and private sectors must work together to reduce poverty among the 10 million low-income families with young children in the United States, with over 40,000 here in Maine. The report’s recommendations propose integrating state and federal employment, education and child care programs for parents and children to create better opportunities for the entire family.

“This report should be used by policy leaders and decision makers in Augusta and across the state, inspiring  all of us who care about children to work collaboratively so that together we can remove obstacles that prevent thousands of Maine families from putting their kids on a path to success,” said Claire Berkowitz, executive director of the Maine Children’s Alliance. “To break the cycle of poverty, we must work simultaneously with children and adults, equipping them with the tools and skills to get on a path to opportunity and potential.”

The Foundation’s two-generation approach seeks to equip families with the tools and skills to get on a path to opportunity and overcome some of the obstacles they face, such as inflexible and unpredictable jobs that do not offer high enough wages to support a family; lack of access to high-quality, reliable early child care and education; and increased stress levels for parents and children. The report describes specific strategies for addressing these challenges so that parents can fully nurture and support their children and, ultimately, build better futures for themselves and their kids.

The report outlines three broad recommendations:

    • Create policies that equip parents and children with the income, tools and skills they need to succeed — as a family and as individuals. State and federal governments should strengthen policies that expand job-training, educational and career opportunities; adopt policies that give parents more flexibility at work, such as paid time off; increase the Child Tax Credit for low-income parents of very young children; and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to increase the income of noncustodial parents.
    • Put common sense into common practice by structuring public systems to respond to the realities facing today’s families. State and federal governments should promote collaboration and align policies and programs through interagency commissions and innovation funds. For example, child- and adult-focused state agencies should consolidate their data to look at the whole family. Federal policymakers could take advantage of new legislation and reauthorization periods for Head Start and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, among others, to bring together child and adult programs.
    • Use existing child, adult and neighborhood programs and platforms to build evidence for practical pathways out of poverty for entire families. Early childhood, K-12, home-visiting, job-training and supportive housing programs could partner with one another to connect parents with financial coaching, job-readiness assistance, education and other tools to achieve financial stability, while also ensuring their children have access to high-quality care and schooling.

The report shines a spotlight on two-generation approaches, essential work that is already happening in communities across Maine.  For example, Educare Central Maine (ECM) serves 200 mostly low-income children from birth to age 5. Service is designed to prepare children to enter kindergarten engaged, healthy and socially/emotionally ready to succeed.  Parent input, education and needed supports to help their children succeed in education and life are key program components. Children and families enrolled at ECM receive an array of early childhood development, health, nutrition and family support services.  More information about ECM can be found at www.educarecentralmaine.org.

The Somali Bantu Youth Association of Maine (SBYAM), located in Lewiston, is a community-based organization built by the visions of young men and women who fled the repressive conditions in their adoptive homeland of Somalia. SBYAM was formed to educate, support and empower immigrant and refugee youth in Lewiston/Auburn area. SBYAM offers youth academic support, soccer programs, mentoring opportunities and more. One of their most important programs is the Citizenship Program, in which parents study for their citizenship exams. Focus is on the literacy portion (reading and writing) of the naturalization process. SBYAM also sponsors literacy classes for parents, where they practice and study important skills such as job searching, parenting, along with more advanced reading, writing and speaking skills. More information about SBYAM can be found at www.sbyam.org.

Finally, the Community Caring Collaborative (CCC) in Washington County is a rural grassroots collective of diverse state, county, and tribal partners dedicated to improving outcomes for children and families by creating responsive, strengths-based supports that are informed in poverty, trauma and substance abuse.  The CCC recognizes that children can only achieve their potential when their families’ issues are addressed and barriers are removed. All of the CCC’s programs are two-generational in approach. The CCC in Washington County serves as an incubator for shared, responsive programs.  A number of these supports/services have gained statewide and national recognition. They include:

  • Bridging – the CCC’s most intensive intervention for families with infants and young children with medical or developmental needs and women with high-risk pregnancies, Bridging offers wraparound services and early interventions that prevent challenges later.
  • Early Childhood Consultation and Outreach (ECCO) – based on Mental Health Consultation, ECCO offers parents, teachers, and childcare and Head Start providers with strategies and training relating to developmental and self-regulation challenges for young children.
  • Hope Fund – a financial resource for families working with CCC partner agencies that builds capacity and addresses one-time financial issues relating to housing, transportation, medical/mental health/dental needs or emergency issues.
  • Family Futures Downeast – a post-secondary Family Studies certificate program for parents that will offer core curriculum college credits, and multi-level supports including on-campus quality childcare, family meals, free tuition, transportation and technology resources, and comprehensive coaching supports.

Marjorie Withers, CCC director believes, “Children living in poverty can only be truly successful when services address their needs in the context of their family needs. Our direction has to be two generational and created to remove the barriers imposed by poverty. It requires that communities, agencies, and government understand the toxicity of poverty and its multigenerational impact. Helping children means helping the family.”

More information about CCC can be found at www.cccmaine.org.

Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach will be available Nov. 12 at 12:01 a.m. EST at http://www.aecf.org. Additional information is available in the KIDS COUNT Data Center, which also contains the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being. The Data Center allows users to create rankings, maps and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and to view real-time information on mobile devices.

 


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