Saturday, December 1, 2012

Resource: Children in Poverty

The PBS documentary program, Frontline, takes time to really go in-depth and explore topics, often filming over months or even a year to get a more thorough view of an issue.  A few weeks ago, they aired a program about poverty amongst American children.  Did you know that:
  • 1 in 5, or 21.6%, of America's children were living in poverty based on Census figures
  • Federal spending on children in 2011 fell for the first time since the 1980's by $5 million 
  • 47.6% of children living with a single mother live in poverty
  • The poverty rate for White and Asian children is below the national average (21.6%), while the rate for Black children is at 38.2% and Hispanic children is at 32.3%
  • 45% of those who spent at least half of their childhood in poverty were still in poverty at age 35 (source: 2011 Census Report)
  • Only three other countries in the developed world have child poverty rates higher than that in the United States (source: 2011 OECD Report)
The documentary, Poor Kids, follows six children and their families in the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois.  Through the program, you follow their struggles with housing, food, clothing, unemployment, and depression.  Additionally, there are some themes that emerge that directly pertain to our work as school counselors:
  • Loss: In the documentary, one family has to take their young girl's dog to the pound as they can no longer afford to keep her, plus they are moving from a house into a hotel room where they can only have one pet.  Children in poverty are constantly having to say goodbye, whether it is to their home, friends in a neighborhood they are leaving, pets, or even family members.
  • Hunger:  Almost every child talks about being hungry at points in the program.  We know that children who are  hungry do not perform as well in school, thus we have a national school breakfast and lunch program.  However, those programs only go so far, and are not always able to address meals outside of school and on weekends.  Thus, while a student may be full and able to focus in school, homework to be done on the evenings and on the weekends may be more of a struggle, as children need a lot of nourishment through their growing years.  One program that is highlighted is a backpack food program where kids get food on Friday that can fit into their backpacks to take home over the weekend.
  • Educational Impact: They do not really get to this until the end, but if you have worked in a school long enough, you have probably observed this directly.  Kids in poverty are often moving around, as they are able to get into a house but are then evicted, move into a hotel, back into a house, then an apartment, etc.  Thus, they can be in one school or school district's boundaries one minute, then in another one the next.  One of the young girls in the documentary does not go to school for a few weeks, knowing that they are in a hotel for only a short time and will be moving into another housing situation, which puts them in a different school district.  Thus, kids in poverty run a higher risk of missing pieces of their education while they move around, even if it is within the same general area.  It is vitally important that you check with your school system to see what provisions have been made for students that may fall into the category of homeless.  There are Federal guidelines for homeless students that clearly define what constitutes a student as homeless as well as guidelines for specific concerns such as registrations, transportation, and looking out for the "best interests" of the students in these particular situations.
  • Educational Aspiration: Several of the kids in this documentary speak to the fact that they know, even at the young ages of 8 or 9 years old, that education is their ticket out of poverty.  They look to school and good grades as a pathway to college and a good job.  As school counselors, we are tasked with helping all of our students succeed academically and move on to a post-secondary option that is congruent with 21st century skills and careers.  This is reassurance that our children in poverty expect and deserve no less from us than any of our other students.
You can watch the documentary for yourself below:
  

Watch Poor Kids on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Watch Poor Kids on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Watch Poor Kids on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Watch Poor Kids on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

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