The consequences of poverty are clear for those who look. The results of not addressing the causes of poverty in our own community are dire. United Way believes we need to act now to Break the Cycle of Childhood Poverty (Break the Cycle), and create cycles of family stability for a future that will be happier, healthier and provide more opportunity for all of us.
Why childhood poverty?
Even top-level statistics speak to a growing crisis:
- 17% of Lincoln County residents live in poverty
- 22% of Benton County residents live in poverty
- Child care costs in aggregate account for 59% of the budget of a Benton County family earning minimum wage & 57% of the budget of a Lincoln County family earning minimum wage
- 67% of children in our service area are at risk of poor developmental outcomes, based on the definition of risk from the Oregon Department of Education
- Nearly half of children growing up in poverty remain impoverished as adults
Conditions of poverty also strongly tend to repeat themselves across generations. As a community we have reached a tipping point where we must disrupt the trajectory of the poverty cycle. Otherwise, we will not be able to meet the cost in the years to come.
United Way’s research shows a need to create a cycle of family stability within our core impact areas of interest: Income (Financial Stability), Education and Health. This will only occur by tackling root causes (prevention) in addition to continued support for immediate needs (intervention).
Breaking the Cycle encompasses four needs:
- Affordable, quality childcare;
- educational supports for youth;
- life and job skills training for youth and young adults; and
- financial literacy.
Where do we start?
Through years of research, assessments and conversations with key stakeholders, we identified critical issues and determined priorities for United Way’s potential resource allocation, thus creating a trajectory for community-wide change.
It begins, as it always has, with helping families meet their basic needs. Once that occurs, and parents have the ability to obtain affordable, quality childcare, children can attend school ready to learn: they are properly fed, have a safe place to sleep, and can build on a strong foundation of early socializing and learning.
Give students educational supports they need as they pass from elementary to junior high, junior high to senior high, and post-graduation, and they have an enhanced ability for success in school and in life. Teenagers and young adults also need life and job skills training for adult success, and the ability to be competitive and engage fully in society.
A successful infrastructure to achieve these ends begins with the understanding that outcomes in one field of concern affect outcomes in another. For example, high school dropouts are twice as likely to live in poverty as high school graduates and three times more likely to be unemployed than college graduates.
The process will take time to pay off, but by using best practices already driving success in other communities, the return on this investment will be noticeably large. It will change the trajectory of poverty in Benton & Lincoln Counties.
How do we fund this?
Our research showed our previous one-track funding model wasn't adequate to appropriately address meeting need today (intervention-oriented programs) WHILE AT THE SAME TIME keep problems from happening in the first place (prevention-driven projects). Becauses we value building long-term, population-level change, but not at the expense of protecting emergency response, we implemented a two-track funding model in fiscal year 15-16.
- An intervention/crisis-based funding cycle--Meeting Basic Needs-- to support emergency and/or transitional services, with Benton County priorities based on Corvallis City Policy CP 00-6.05 section 6.05.050. Lincoln County priorities are based on Granting Committee deliberations, and local assessment tools.
- A prevention-based funding cycle--Breaking the Cycle--to support collaborations aligned with our overall goal of Breaking the Cycle of Childhood Poverty.
The majority of our funding historically addresses the results of the poverty cycle. We now add a second, wider effort to attack its root causes. This allows us to fund not just programs, but solutions as well. In fiscal year 2015-16, United Way's community investments will total more than $800,000.
How will we measure results?
The success of this initiative will be measured by many yardsticks. The United Way Vision Councils pored through many collections of data in preparing their recommendations. They paint a picture of great stress and burden for a signficant fraction of our community. They outline a need for continuing intervention, but show patterns that can be addressed with sytem-level prevention initiatives. As we move through the first few years of Breaking the Cycle, specific baseline data developed through our research (i.e. poverty rates, graduation rates, hunger statistics) will be monitored, and new data sets will be developed in conjunction with our partners. These will be reported periodically to the community.
Stable families build strong communities. Strong communities are full of people who are able to enjoy their rights, achieve their full potential, and participate as full and equal members of society. When families have what they need to grow and thrive, they break the Cycle of Childhood Poverty, and we all benefit.
By engaging and aligning with the community’s needs and vision, United Way is mobiizing a transformational process.Progress will not come overnight, but, as with all momentum, small, slow starts will pick up speed and energy over time. It is a bold vision, but one that is essential for us to achieve.
As a community, we can’t afford not to.