Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Young and younger, special needs and our special focus

Last Friday Rosemary, Debbie and I visited the Y2Y Shelter at Harvard Square - the only student run shelter in the country for young adults between 18-24 experiencing homelessness. In Boston that about 150 a night. It’s a cohort with special needs, unlikely to feel safe in an adult shelter. Y2Y has 30 beds, serves dinner and breakfast, and offers counseling to connect young people to social services. Boston has only one other facility for young adults, with 12 beds.

Founders Sam Goldstein, age 24 and Sarah Rosencranz, 25 gave us a tour while half a dozen Harvard students scrubbed bathrooms, cleared breakfast tables, and loaded a mountain of dirty laundry – bed sheets and towels - into 3 of the 4 working machines.  Some volunteer as much as 20 hours a week on top of a full course schedule. 

About 36% of the guests have previously been in the foster system. 32% have spent a night in jail.  Approximately 30% are LGTBQ who left home once they came out to their parents which today happens at a younger age than before. “Our goal is to help them break the cycle so they don’t become chronically, permanently homeless” says Sarah who explains that 89% of their guests say that they have a concrete plan out of homelessness after their stay at Y2Y.  See https://tinyurl.com/zcrx3yq

From there we went to record a podcast with chef Ming Tsai and Dr. Debbie Frank from the Grow Clinic at the Boston Medical Center. Dr Frank’s patients are mostly under two years of age. She says “public policy is written on the bodies of the babies I see … Some come in with rickets, from lack of vitamin D, which causes a bending and bowing of their legs.”   But not everything lends itself to an “eyeball diagnosis” Dr Frank tells us.  She described an 8 month old whose mother didn’t understand why he was failing to thrive. She’s been feeding him a cornmeal and sugar water mush and he wasn’t complaining but was getting sicker. “They were saving on food costs because they anticipated their landlord evicting them soon – not for failure to pay rent, but because of the need to make space for one of the landlord’s family members.”

Our morning and afternoon conversations had a common thread: the young – from college students to infants and toddlers -  are vulnerable in unique ways most don’t appreciate, and fail to adequately serve.  That’s why children have been our focus at Share Our Strength and why we need to be especially vigilant in the days ahead as those we serve could be impacted by potential changes to Medicaid, SNAP, and other policy shifts.

            (Also, because national security advisors are in the news this week, it’s worth noting that former President Bill Clinton’s national security advisor Anthony Lake who is now the Executive Director of UNICEF,  wrote an op-ed called Dark Days For Children about the tremendous suffering on the global scale that made 2016  “one of the worst years for children since World War II.”   He  underscores the need “to harness innovation to expand our capacity to reach children who are cut off from assistance in besieged areas or communities” https://tinyurl.com/gmknmb5 )

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

433,000 More Kids Getting Off to a Better Start Each Day

 “More low-income children than ever started their school day with a healthy breakfast in the 2015-16 school year" With this sentence, the Food Research and Action Committee’s annual breakfast scorecard released yesterday confirmed the historic progress that has been made over the past ten years, the period of time in which Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign’s number one priority has been expanding school breakfast to all kids who need it. For the full report, see @ http://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/school-breakfast-scorecard-sy-2015-2016.pdf

            433,000 more children were getting school breakfast last year than the year before, increasing the national average from 44% in 2006 to 56% in 2015-16, a clear majority of eligible kids getting the food they need to succeed.

            433,000 kids, in your neighborhood and mine who are getting off to a better start each day. 433,000 kids making America stronger and more competitive thanks to government policies that enjoy bipartisan support and are both compassionate and pragmatic. 

            The progress described above did not come easily. Nor was it due to any one organization. Just the opposite.  Every time the larger anti-hunger community encountered an obstacle to kids getting breakfast, we worked together to knock it down. Thanks for the hard work and support that enabled our team to play such a meaningful role.

            Poverty and food insecurity are still way too high in America. But by virtually every measure childhood hunger is decreasing. Childhood hunger is a solvable problem and the new breakfast scorecard is evidence that public-private partnerships are solving it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Challenge of Prioritizing The Most Vulnerable Children of All

Every year the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University publishes basic facts about low income children in the U.S.  Their latest report shows that out of all age groups children are the most likely to live in poverty and that nearly 300,000 more children are living near poverty today than at the height of the great recession. http://nccpblog.tumblr.com/post/156627439877/americas-youngest-children-most-likely-to-live-in

Several facts stand out:

n  While 30% of adults have low incomes, more than 40% of all children live in low income families, Including 5.2 million infants and toddlers under 3


n  More than 60% of black, Hispanic and Native American kids live in low-income families compared to 30% of Asian and white children – a ration largely unchanged in recent years.


n  infants & toddlers under 3 are particularly vulnerable: 45% live in low-income families (approximately $48,000 or 200% of the federal poverty line), including 23%, (2.6 million kids), in families below the poverty line (approximately $24,000 for a family of four)


n  Food assistance, public health insurance and other programs have had a mitigating effect on poverty but in the U.S. kids have nearly a one in two chance of living on the brink of poverty

Outside of the small community of child poverty advocates, the annual report, like others of its ilk, gets little attention.  Such reports don’t constitute the “click bait” that drives websites and children don’t have expensive and well connected lobbyists or PR agencies to put their case in front of media influencers or elected officials.  Those of us who have a voice need to raise ours on their behalf.

One of the things that’s amazing to me is how little is done, publicly or privately, to prioritize the 2.6 million children under the age of three who are arguably the most vulnerable of all. Such prioritizing is easier said than done. Toddlers don’t live in isolation from older and also needy siblings or from parents whose needs must be addressed if they are to have a chance of effectively providing for their kids. Establishing priorities implies accountability for achieving them and that entails risk that may be uncomfortable. Still, these 2.6 million should become a priority for public institutions and private organizations. It’s a manageable number and a solvable problem and solving it would provide the greatest return on investment of nearly any other social challenge.  All of us need to better understand how we target and triage on behalf of those who are most vulnerable and voiceless of all, to move them from the back of the line to the front of our conscience and concern.