Nearly Half of Montana’s Young Families Struggle to Make Ends Meet

November 10, 2014

MISSOULA With almost half of Montana’s children growing up in low-income households, a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation calls for a coordinated approach to lifting kids out of poverty by delivering high-quality childhood education while simultaneously providing parents with access to job training and career paths that enable them to financially support their families. 

The KIDS COUNT policy report, “Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach,” outlines how the public, nonprofit and private sectors must work together to reduce poverty among the 10 million low-income families with young children in the United States. 

“For too long, government programs and agencies have viewed parents and children separately, instead of as a whole family impacted by the same challenges of living in poverty,” said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation. “Now is the time to move forward with common sense practices that can disrupt the cycle of poverty.”

According to Thale Dillon, director of Montana KIDS COUNT at the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, the report identifies three major challenges facing today’s low-income families: inflexible and unpredictable jobs that do not offer high enough wages to support a family; lack of access to high-quality, reliable early child care and education; and increased stress levels for parents and children. The solution: connect families with the tools and skills that will help them overcome each of these obstacles and, ultimately, build better futures for themselves and their children. 

The Partnership Project in Bozeman is a prime example of this two-generation approach, Dillon said. The home-visit program is a collaboration between THRIVE, the Gallatin City-County Health Department, the Gallatin Mental Health Center and high-quality child care programs. Together, they are working to coordinate services so young, primarily low-income parents can get the skills and tools to become stable and self-sufficient. 

All Partnership Project home visitors do developmental screening to make sure the children are on track. In the U.S. nearly one-third of children age 5 or younger in low-income families have parents with concerns about their development, and the sooner an intervention is put in place, the more effective it is, Dillon said. 

While the child is in child care, the young parents set goals with their family support worker. The family support worker then connects the parent with partnering programs that provide mental health and public health services, as well as education and job training.

  The Casey report also emphasizes the need for programs and agencies to work more closely together. The Montana Best Beginnings Advisory Council is one example of a federally funded effort to bring together agencies and organizations that serve young children and their families. The council was tasked with creating a plan for a comprehensive early childhood services system to meet the needs of young children and families in our state.

The Casey report outlines three broad recommendations to build opportunities for two-generations:

  • Create policies that equip parents and children with the income, tools and skills they need to succeed as a family and as individuals. State and federal governments should strengthen policies that expand job-training, educational and career opportunities; adopt policies that give parents more flexibility at work, such as paid time off; increase the Child Tax Credit for low-income parents of very young children; and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to increase the income of noncustodial parents.
  • Put common sense into common practice by structuring public systems to respond to the realities facing today’s families. State and federal governments should use interagency commissions and innovation funds to promote collaboration and align policies and programs.
  • Use existing child, adult and neighborhood programs and platforms to build evidence for practical pathways out of poverty for families. Early childhood, K-12, home visits, job training and supportive housing programs could partner with one another to connect parents with financial coaching, job-readiness assistance, education and other tools to achieve financial stability, while ensuring their children have access to high-quality care and schooling.

“Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach” will be available at 12:01 a.m. EST, Wednesday, Nov. 12 at http://www.aecf.org. Additional information is available in the KIDS COUNT Data Center at http://datacenter.kidscount.org. The center lists the most recent national, state and local data on hundreds of indicators of child well-being. The Data Center allows users to create rankings, maps and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and to view real-time information on mobile devices.

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Contact: Thale Dillon, director, Montana KIDS COUNT, UM Bureau of Business and Economic Research, 406-243-5113, thale.dillon@business.umt.edu.