A crisis is an upset in a steady state causing a disruption or breakdown in an individual’s or family’s usual pattern of functioning. A family may move from a stressful situation to a full crisis when two or more of the following contributing factors interact. Factors include 1) experiencing a stressful situation, 2) having difficulty coping 3) showing chronic difficulty meeting basic family responsibilities and 4) having no apparent sources of support.1 Services for families in crisis are generally a response to the specific family responsibilities they cannot meet. Initial resource and referral services provide families with connections to shelter and housing resources, employment assistance, health or mental health treatment, and financial assistance and counseling, among others.
The Great Recession
Families in poverty – and those near poverty – are at the greatest risk of crisis, as any amount of strain on modest resources can result in drastic changes to the family’s quality of life. Increasingly, however, families who had considered themselves in fairly stable situations are finding themselves unable to provide for their basic needs.
Late in 2007, economic recession began to unfold amidst an unsuspecting populace of US families. Where economists have measured the progress of recession with inflation-adjusted gross domestic product and housing market growth, families have measured it in terms of foreclosure, job loss, and bankruptcy. Most St. Louis area families have had to “cut back” in one small way or another, but more and more families have faced “crisis-level” stresses brought on by a dramatic loss of income, loss of a home or personal possessions, or a major revision of their plans for the future. Recent statistics are showing some improvement; St. Louis metro area unemployment remains very high at 11.0%, but the city is performing just better than the US average in gross metropolitan product and in housing prices.2
While family crisis is not confined to economic recession – health crises, grief and loss, and financial struggles are all part of family life – the current environment has magnified the intensity and the scope of hardships. An estimated 1 in 7 American children, or 10.5 million children are living with an unemployed parent, a figure that is double the pre-recession figure of 5.5 million children (December 2007).3Children with an unemployed parent are at increased risk for experiencing poverty, homelessness and child abuse. They are less likely to complete high school or college, and more likely to experience poverty as adults.4
Community Crisis Intervention
In the era after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, greater national attention has focused on emergency and disaster preparedness services and plans to administer to individuals, children and families in the event of an acute, wide-scale community crisis. Locally, county departments of health, local law enforcement and first responders, and statewide, the MO Dept. of Public Safety and the IL Dept. of Public Safety develop and carry out emergency response and help coordinate provision efforts for affected families and children.
1US DHHS, Office of Head Start. Assessing Family Crisis.
2Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. (First Quarter, 2010).MetroMonitor: St. Louis, MO-IL: Tracking Economic Recovery in the St. Louis, MO-IL Metropolitan Area.
3Isaacs, J.B. (January 15, 2010). The Recession’s Impact on Children. The Brookings Institution.
4Isaacs, J.B. (January 14, 2010). Families of the Recession: Unemployed Parents & Their Children.