Monday, June 6, 2011

Child Poverty: The End to Poverty Begins with the Young

Child Poverty: The End to Poverty Begins with the Young
            The problem with poverty is just not in definition itself.  It is not just the fact that a person has a low income.  The problem is that poverty is the root of many problems in various areas of today’s world and affects nearly everyone.  Poverty issues deal with poor health and nutrition, weak family structure, and substandard neighborhoods.  Many of these problems occur in urban areas where there is a permanent underclass that “suffer from high rates of unemployment, alcoholism, drug addiction, illiteracy, juvenile delinquency, and crime”.  These areas see deteriorating schools and a lack in services such as police and fire stations, as well as health care facilities (Rubenstien, 2008, p. 449).   It also takes a psychological toll on a person and leads to a “culture of poverty”, a “view that lower-class people form a separate culture with their own values and norms, which are sometimes in conflict with conventional society” (Siegel, Welsh, Senna,  2006, p.108).  This stops a person from believing that he or she can ever overcome poverty, and in actuality, it is very hard to do so.  In the end, it becomes the children who are hurt the most by poverty.  They become victims of it. In fact, in 2007, 18% of children 18 and under lived in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007, p.3).  Growing up, all these children see is poverty.  It surrounds them in their homes and by their parents’ attitudes and actions, as well as in their communities.  Poverty becomes a cycle, in which few are able to escape.
            From birth, parents are usually the main influence a child has in his or her life.  Parents instill their beliefs, values, and morals in a child.  Much of what children learn come from the actions of their parents, and it is no different in poverty stricken households.  The passing on of poverty related circumstances creates the pattern of poverty which is one of the factors that keeps poverty from diminishing.  Under this category falls two main problems, teen pregnancy and single parent families, and often they go hand in hand. 
In an essay by Carol Mendez Cassell, she states that “poverty is the single biggest determinant of pregnancy among teens” (Edwards, Crain, Kalleberg, 2007, p.205).  She goes on to talk about the link between young teen mothers and the number of children living in poverty.  Poverty not only can result in early parenthood but become a cause of a mother and her child living poorly. While in recent years teen pregnancy has been on a downhill pattern, recent statistics still show that nearly 850,000 teenaged American girls, that is one out of three, get pregnant each year (Edwards, Crain, Kalleberg, 2007, p.205).  80% of these pregnancies are unintended (Edwards, Crain, Kalleberg, 2007, p.205).  There are several reasons why pregnancy rates among adolescent girls who come from low-income homes are higher than those who come from high-income homes, other than the fact that well-off teens can afford abortion.  One reason is that there is a lack of social and economic opportunities, like good schools, safe housing, and job opportunities, which would lead to a better life to teens and give them reason to delay pregnancy.  Without the promise of a successful future, teens do not see a point in postponing parenthood and having a child only limits their life options.  It makes any chance at higher education, well-paid career, and chance of getting out of poverty even harder.  Also important to note is that many teen mothers come from homes where their moms also gave birth at a young age.  Some teens also become pregnant because of neglect they felt in their own homes, and find comfort in their relationship with their sexual partner and with the baby.  More times than not, the father also comes from a low-income neighborhood and has little money and cannot offer in terms of child support (Edwards, Crain, Kalleberg, 2007, p.206).  Regardless, many of the fathers do not even bother to stick around.  These “deadbeat dads” are rarely tracked down to even pay child support (Rubenstein, 2007, p.450).
            This leads to the problem of single parent families.  The majority of inner city children, 80%, live with only one parent (Rubenstein, 2007, p.450).  Most single parent families are headed by the mother.  Another statistic shows that in 2006, 42% of female-householder families lived in poverty.    The combination of poverty and a single-parent family can have a dramatic effect on a child.  These types of families live in communities that are often not child-friendly.  The kids grow up in areas surrounded by crime, drugs, and violence.  Child-care services are often inadequate.  This forces the parent to decide whether to stay at home and take care of the child, or try to work and supply to the other family needs (Rubenstein, 2007, p.450). A specific example is of a pregnant teen in high school, who is less likely to graduate from her peers.  This causes the problem of her ever finding a well-paid job (Edwards, Crain, Kalleberg, 2007, p.207). The working parent still can not afford good health care and proper nutrition for the children, leading to chronic health problems.  Those who make enough to put them above the poverty line do not receive government assistance, despite the fact that they can not provide a secure environment for their family. 
            This can lead to emotional and behavioral problems in the child.  First off, a child living with only one parent will miss out on the male of female guidance of the missing parent.  If the child is often left alone because of a working parent, they may feel neglected.  They may learn how to “fend for their own” and build up their own defense mechanisms that may be destructive because they did not have proper parental guidance.  Instead, they learned from an un-nurturing neighborhood.  The child will not learn the normal values and attitudes of society.  Broken homes also often lead to anti-social behavior in a child, putting them even more at risk to turn to delinquent behavior.  Other problems children face more often when growing up in poverty-stricken homes include witnessing violence, or family conflict, and abuse, which may lead towards feeling of hostility of low self-esteem.  (Siegel, Welsh, Senna,  2006, p.202-210)
            The next problem child poverty leads to is education, which is also affected by family influences.  Adolescents from low income families face numerous difficulties in school.  The first set of problems deal with their home lives.  Looking back at single-parent households, trouble arises when that parent’s educational experience was limited.  Unstable families also have tendencies to move around a lot, causing the children to attempt to adapt to different schools.  The home environment may also be very chaotic, especially for older children forced to take care of their siblings while the parent is at work.  This all prevents a child from being productive in their studies and getting homework done.  Any health related issues that may be caused by malnutrition poses difficulties as well, either causing an adolescent to miss school or making it difficult to concentrate.  (Gilbert, 2008, p. 51)
            The second set of difficulties of education for young people living in poverty deals with the schools themselves.  Many schools in the United States get the majority of their funding from local property taxes.  Considering that fact, schools in rich areas will have a strong environment, with new materials, a wide-array of extracurricular activities, and students who are well-prepared by educated parents.   Conversely, schools in poor areas are located in rough neighborhoods, have less than appealing classrooms, sometimes falling apart, and shabby or even out of date materials.  Extracurricular activities mean more money, and therefore not much of an option for students.  This leaves a child feeling unmotivated to go to schools, feeling as worthless as their surroundings, and open to any possibilities the streets leave for them.  (Gilbert, 2008, p.51)
            The end result is an education stand still.  Academic progress equivalent to their richer peers is extremely difficult to achieve.  In the end, 21% of students 16-24 dropped out of  high school in 2001 from the lowest income quartile, compared to 4% in the highest income quartile That means poor students are 5 times more likely to drop out then rich students (Karelis, 2007, p.17)! 
            In the education process, the next step after high school is college.  There are already 21% of poor young adults who won’t make it as they already dropped out of high school.  For the rest, it is still often considered to be an unrealistic dream, if it is ever a dream at all.  In the article Setting Kids’ Sight on College, Chris Burns-DiBiasio, a previous Wilmington school board member, she states that many underprivileged kids have already eliminated the possibility of college by the time they reach middle school.  To explain why, he says “They come from families either say, ‘We can’t afford it,’ or, ‘That isn’t what this family does.’  Or someone has already told them they aren’t good enough for college” (Schultz, 2009).  In many cases, the child’s parents have had limited schooling and have no clue about the college process and how to get their child there.  Few have ever heard of FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and believe that affording college is a complete impossibility (Schultz, 2009).  Unfortunately, they are not completely wrong.  College tuition keeps rising, but financial aid has not kept up.  In 2005, the main type of federal assistance for low income students, Pell grants, only covered 34% of college costs.  When the rest of the 66% of the cost is considered, it is much more practical the family to put it towards survival needs (Gilbert, 2008, p.55-56).
This leads to a major consequence.  College is now considered to be the ticket to the middle class.  However, as more and more upper class young adults attend college, fewer and fewer poor young adults do (Gilbert, 2008, p.56). So they cycle of poverty continues.  Without a college degree, the poor continue to only get minimum wage jobs that provide them with only enough to survive and little chance towards advancement out of poverty. 
It is clear that family, education, and a child’s environment all play major factors in keeping a person in poverty.  More poverty is not the only result of these hardships.  Juvenile delinquency is also a key result of poverty.  That is not to say all juvenile crimes are committed by lower class kids.  Rich and middle class kids still have their share of problems in the juvenile system.  Still, research shows that poverty does play an influential role of juvenile delinquents who come from poor neighborhoods.  Tom Connors, an assistant professor of justice studies at North Carolina Wesleyan College states that “although everyone is born with a potential for violence, violent behavior is learned and reinforced by the influences of a child’s family and environment, such as poor, gang-infested neighborhoods where guns and drugs are plentiful” (Connors, 2000).  In accordance with Connors, Mike Males, a sociology instructor and a senior researcher with the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice at the University of California, Santa Cruz , claims that “most violent juvenile crime occurs in communities where the average income is below the United States poverty level” (Males, 2000).  The question now is why juvenile delinquency is highest in poverty stricken areas.
One theory goes back to the American Dream, a dream the measure success by material wealth.  With that in mind, youths who lack material wealth may use crime as a way to achieve their goals (Siegel, Welsh, Senna, 2006, p. 42).  Concurrently, Gilbert Geiss, a criminologist, explains that we live in a society of wealth.  If that wealth goes unattained, a person’s self-esteem is lowered (Males, Docuyanan, 1996).  A specific example of how poverty is tied to juvenile delinquency is found in Los Angeles County, where in 1996, 200,000 impoverished adolescents lived.  The county was home to one in fifteen adolescent murderers in the United States.  In 1994, L.A. County held 459 teen murder arrestees. Mainly responsible for this statistic is most likely the attributed to the number of gangs in the area, which goes over twenty.  Nevertheless, juvenile delinquency is not solely tied to material gratification in impoverished kids.
Going back to low-income families, it is also possible to relate teen crime to their home lives.  Saving Children from a life of Crime categories family factors in six ways: “criminal and antisocial parents and siblings, large family size, child-rearing methods (poor supervision, poor discipline, coldness and rejection, low parental involvement with the child), abuse (physical or sexual) or neglect, parental conflict and disrupted families, and other parental features (young age, substance abuse, stress or depression, working mothers)” (Farrington, Welsh, 2007, p.56).  Much of this relates to the previous discussion on parents influencing poverty on their kids.  For example, if the parent has poor morals, the child will most likely adopt those same morals.  In other words, if a parent has no problem stealing money from neighbors, the child will have no problem stealing from the store, the parent, or the neighbors.  Likewise, if a parent is abusive, the child may take on either an aggressive nature towards other, or develop antisocial skills that could result in drug use.  Single parents can also attribute to juvenile delinquency. For one, they are often not home enough to give their child all the attention they need.  This leaves the kid open to outside influences.  If they live in a crime infested neighborhood, it is possible they will take in the negative qualities of the neighborhood and turn into a criminal themselves.  A prime example is the Katrina victims in New Orleans.  The majority of victims were poor, black, and women and children.  Supporting evidence is concluded in the statistic that 76% of births to Louisiana’s African Americans (probably above 80% in New Orleans) are to unmarried women (Leo, 2005).  A commentator, George Will, believed this contributed to high crime in the area by saying that the single mother household “translates into a large and constantly renewed cohort of lightly parented adolescent males, and that translates into chaos…” (Leo, 2005).  The same article also reports from a study of 20 cases that 19 found evidence that children who come from single parent or non-intact families had a higher rate of delinquency.
Adolescents living in poverty are not just criminal offenders.  They are also victims. Children are victims of poverty in that they are born into it, and its affects hit them from birth.
Sadly, some are also the victims of crime that happens in their neighborhoods.  Sometimes they fall victim to other teens, as in with gang shootings, though some gang members are older than the juvenile level.  However, adults are offenders too.  60 children (more often located in low income areas) out of every 1,000 from single parent families experience violence.  The risk is 50% less in two parent families.  Additionally, they are more susceptible for neglect from parents who are preoccupied and abuse from parents, some struggling from alcoholism or drug problems, who take out their own aggression from personal failure on the children (Siegel, Welsh, Senna,  2006, p.54-55).  Rape is also a problem in poor areas, which actually partially explains the numerous amount of teen mothers.  In a study conducted by An Ounce of Prevention found that “60% of teens who experienced a first pregnancy by age 16 reported that their pregnancy was the result of being forced into sex; they were victims of incest, molestation, or rape” (Edwards, Crain, Kalleberg, 2007, p.210).  Last, teens have been used as “scapegoats”.  Juvenile Acts are often multiplied by the media, and the fact that thousands of American kids live in poverty is ignored and they continue to get hurt by its affects (Males, 2000).
            The next problem revolves around reducing juvenile delinquency, particularly in low income areas.  In recent years, government authorities have not focused on prevention or rehab programs for juvenile delinquents. Instead, they have focused on punishment, building more jails to take in more juveniles, often along with adults.  Similarly, kids are being tried in adult court at lower ages and more often.  This is the cheap solution the government uses to make people feel that they are dealing with the situation of juvenile crime and making things safer.  In reality, its as if people are giving up on the young.  Oklahoma is one of the major states increasing its punishment on adolescents.  If it were really true that harsh punishment was the solution to less crime, Oklahoma should be almost safe-haven from crime. In reality, figures in the last decade (as of 1996) showed arrest rates for juvenile violence skyrocketing at twice the national pace.  To make it short, increasing and harsher punishment on juvenile delinquents has not proven to be an efficient mean to ending delinquency (Males, Docuyanan, 1996). 
            One thing that needs to be dealt with is the children who are already labeled as juvenile delinquents.  Since increasing severe punishment has not worked, the next proposal revolves around some type of rehab programs for the kids, which is the original reason the juvenile court system was created (Filler, Smith, 2006).  Rehabilitation makes sense as compared to punishment, considering that these kids have only learned what they have been influenced by and their brains have not fully developed as with adults.  It makes more sense to set up a system where juveniles will realize the extent of their crime and its consequences, and set up a system that involves his or her family, school, and community.  That will help one adjust to a healthier lifestyle.  Another important piece that is essential for full rehabilitation that should be included is an intervening psychologist to decide whether or not the child has any mental issues and help them cope with the current stresses of his’ life.
            A better solution to the problem would be to prevent juvenile delinquency all together.  Since a considerable amount of crime comes from children and teens in low income neighborhoods, a good place to start would be with poor teens, as well as reducing poverty altogether.  Wayne Thompson of Oklahoma City agrees.  He says “Intervene, then trace the pathology back to its source”, the source being “the low social, educational, and economic status of the families and the communities” where most violent youth are located (Males, Docuyanan, 1996). 
            There are programs that have been developed with preventing teen crime and stopping the cycle of poverty in mind.  Unfortunately, not all these programs succeed because of lack of support.  One such program was Amer-I-Can Foundation for Social Change, founded by Jim Brown, a Cleveland Brown’s legend.  The program aimed to “steer city high school students away from trouble” by teaching “self-determination” (Ott, 2009).  It helped eleven Cleveland schools, with a current enrollment of 800 boys and girls, keep the surrounding areas relatively calm.  Amer-I-Can involved classes (the held academic credit) that students with grade, discipline, or attendance problems were referred to.  The classes let students vent their feelings, talked about attitude, and involved goal setting, job searches and financial stability. In addition, three Peace Squad members kept tabs on the community.  Lester Fultz, district security chief, claimed the squad helped “prevent neighborhood clashes from kindling in school corridors” (Ott, 2009).  While the foundation no longer exists in the Cleveland area, it is still running in other Ohio cities, other states, plus England and Belize. (Ott, 2009).
            Despite lack of general support, there are programs that persist with the purpose of keeping kids out of crime and reducing poverty.  Successful programs usually include several key elements.  Carol Mendez Cassel states that the two fundamental principal to effective programs for teenagers are: “teens need a map and caring adults to guide them through the challenging maze of adolescence” and “parents and ‘parents plus’ need to be actively engaged in the planning and implementation of programs” (Edwards, Crain, Kalleberg, 2007).  With that said, the assumption can be made that having parents actively involved in a child’s life in a exemplarily manner is a key aspect.  If that is the case, the parent(s) may need to have special training courses for them to teach better parenting skills. The book “Saving Children from a Life of Crime” outlines several different types of prevention to turn children away from delinquency followed by examples of programs based on those types of prevention.  Most of the programs are risk based, or focused on kids who are potentially more susceptive to crime.  In addition to family influence, they also focus on education, peer, and community factors.  Basically, school programs should start in preschool, specifically to children who come from low-income families as their parents are unlikely to provide them with all the proper enrichment skills.  An eye should also be kept on children who show underdeveloped social skills.  A school duty includes providing students with a safe and stimulating environment that encourages growth and learning as well.  Peers, or friends, are often sources that lead to good or bad behavior.  A child who surrounds themselves with delinquent peers will follow suit positive and intelligent peers will guide the child in that same direction.  However, peer based programs do not exist by themselves but can incorporated into other plans.  Good role models can be the strongest effect for kids, which is enforced by programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Communities, as discussed previously, can be very harmful to kids living in impoverished areas, as they are full of crime and at a standstill in terms of growth.  For instance, regarding the peer issue as well, poor areas are often gang infested, and kids are often led into gangs by their so-called friends.  Neighborhoods that offer social institutions, such as recreation and afterschool programs, churches, and clubs, will have a higher success rates for children staying out of crime and escaping poverty. (Farrington, Welsh, 2007) 
            Case studies have been done on each type of preventative program to measure its’ success.  These cases inadvertently focus on the poor.  From the first area of need, or element the influences children, is a parent education plus daycare program called the Syracuse University Family Development Research program of Ronald Lally, Peter Manigone, and Alice Honig.  Most of the sample women were poor, pregnant African American women who were single mothers.  They were provided with help in child-rearing, health, nutrition and other problems.  Free full-time day care with aims to strengthen the child’s intellectual abilities was given to the families as well.  The follow-up done 15 years later showed that the group of children in the program were less likely to become delinquents and the girls had better school attendance and performance. In addition to enhanced intellectual ability of kids, programs similar to this lead to better jobs and family functioning as well. (Farrington, Welsh, 2007)
            There are four different types of school based intervention which include: “school and discipline management; classroom or instructional management; reorganization of grades or classes; and increasing self-control or social competency using cognitive behavioral or behavioral instruction methods” (Farrington, Welsh, 2007).  Project PATHE, or Positive Action Through Holistic Education is a program that focuses mainly on school and discipline management.  Its four main aspects focus on shared decision making in schools, increasing the competence of teachers, increasing the academic competence of students (like teaching study skills), and improving school climate.  The program seeks to help kids feel like they belong and are important, which is often a problem of schools in poor cities.  Project PATHE has been able to reduce crime, alcohol/drug abuse, and antisocial behavior. (Farrington, Welsh, 2007). 
            Another problem young adults in poverty face in terms of education that was discussed earlier is that there was little prospect of them attending college because they had problems affording it, were uniformed, or simply told they could not make it anyway.  While “the College Club” is not necessarily a preventative program in keeping youth out of trouble, it does help kids realize college is possible, and a college degree leads to better jobs, and therefore an escape from poverty.  Tony Staurbach is the founder of the program who graduated from Wilmington College, where almost half of the students are the first ones in their families to attend college.  Starurbuch, volunteers, and staff (primarily Wilmington College students) helps kids understand the college process, what it is all about, and explain the type of degree they might want to attain based on what their career interest is.  Better yet, as most of the staff came from the same background as the kids they speak to, they serve as great examples that say “you can do this too.”
(Schultz, 2009)
            Communities play a key role in schooling as well.  If the community is poor, the school reflects that.  Worse, the community seems to accept the crumbling school and poor education of its youth.  Hugh B. Price believes that cooperation between community and school will lead to a higher success rate in children.  That is why he, as a head of the National Urban League, created the National Achiever’s Society.  The society started in Florida, where children who earned B averages or better were inducted into a community-based honor society by ceremony.  With the support of the community, the young students were proud of their achievement.  This idea reinforced that fact of hard work and good grades leading to success.  A community that promotes academic achievement will help put children on a path to greater opportunities. (Edwards, Crain, Kalleberg, 2007). 
            The Boys and Girls Clubs of America has been a long lasting non-profit organization for communities to provide after school services of the young.  The club was founded in 1902 and has grown to include more than 1.3 million youth.  They provide programs in six main areas: cultural enrichment; health and physical education; social recreation; personal and educational development; citizenship and leadership development, and educational development.  Their most common services include reading classes, sports, and homework assistance.  At times the club also offers preventative substance abuse programs such as SMART Moves (Self-Management and Resistance Training).  The Boys and Girls Clubs of America have lowered juvenile delinquency rates and less substance abuse in its practiced areas. (Farrington, Welsh, 2007)
            All these programs can, and have, made a difference in the lives of children in poverty.  Still, the fact of the matter is that these programs are not enough.  Child poverty still exists in alarming numbers all over America.  Something bigger needs to happen.  The entire nation needs to take part for children to really get out of poverty and for the cycle to end.  It needs to include ways that will to get poor children better schooling and more attention, so their education and developmental growth can equal that of their better-off counterparts.  That is not to say no efforts have been made.  The “No Child Left Behind Act” was a step made to improve education and hold school accountable for the students’ knowledge, but it has not been enough (Edwards, Crain, Kalleberg, 2007). The government also needs to establish a plan aimed at preventing youth crime (Farrington, Welsh, 2007).  In order for a national strategy to work, there needs to be cooperation between all states and areas of government, from local and federal to national. To be able to accomplish that, citizen need to be better informed on child poverty and willing to enter the fight against it as well.
            The start of eliminating child poverty will most likely prove to be the beginning of amending many other problems as well.  Crime will begin to reduce in almost all areas, meaning safer communities.  These flourishing cities will only make that states, and then country, stronger.  As these children receive better education and job opportunities, they will fight their way out of poverty.  There families will then too have a better chance of remaining above the poverty line.  The more well-to-do people there are means smaller and smaller areas of low-income neighborhoods in cities. These flourishing cities will only make that states, and then country, stronger.  This leaves open the possibility of the cycle of poverty being stopped, and the end to poverty in America. 



Works Cited
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Siegel, L., Welsh, B., & Senna, J. (2006). Juvenile delinquency; Theory, practice, and law. Belmont: Thompson Wadsworth.
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Males, M. (June 12, 2000). Leave the kids alone; Poverty is their real problem. In These Times, 89-93.
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Ott, T. (2009, March 4). Out of money, amer-i-can project closes. The Plain Dealer, p. A1, A6.

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