In our current social service world, we talk a lot about collective impact, of breaking down silos of service, and warn of compartmentalizing the needs of children and their families. But we still too often fail to connect the dots when we consider public policy that has the potential to decrease poverty.
There is a wealth of research that shows the negative impact on kids when families continually struggle to meet their basic needs. Unrelenting toxic stress affects brain functioning and can have long-term effects on children and adults. And there is a wealth of research on the positive impact of raising families incomes and assets by small increments, such as when families receive an earned income tax credit, or a contribution to a child development account.
Since I staff the St. Louis Child Abuse and Neglect Network, my attention is often focused on children who experience maltreatment. Studies by the American Academy of Pediatrics, First Focus and others show that children whose families do not earn enough to meet their basic needs, and especially those living where poverty is concentrated are more likely to be maltreated. The Scholar’s Strategy Network goes on to show that poverty and income inequality have a real effect on child abuse and neglect, and that by decreasing income inequality, we can expect to also lower the number of children reported to child protective services.
Child abuse and neglect is complicated. It is best understood in an ecological framework where family, neighborhood and the larger community are envisioned as contributing to child safety and well-being. To effectively prevent maltreatment, action must be taken on all levels- focusing on the family, the neighborhood and the larger community context.
On August 7, Missouri voters have an opportunity to decide on a statewide issue that will have long term impact on children and their families. Prop A is on the ballot, which designates Missouri as a “right-to-work” state. Census data analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute compares wages in Missouri to its neighboring “right-to-work” states. While we are similar to our surrounding states in most demographic measures, Missourians have consistently higher hourly wages across race and gender. Data also show that workers in “right-to-work” states are less likely to have health insurance and less access to retirement benefits. Is this in the best interest of families? Of children?
Vision for Children at Risk believes that Prop A is step backward for many workers, particularly those with lowest incomes. By saying NO to Prop A we are acting to protect the wages and benefits of families. By saying NO to Prop A we promote greater stability in families through a macro level policy that works to further the safety and well-being of children.