Florida's Growing and Changing Faces of Poverty
The topic of poverty has made the headlines in Florida so often that unfortunately, it isn’t considered anything new. What is new, however, is the face of poverty and the needs of those, who for the first time in their lives, are no longer able to make ends meet.
Patrick McCarthy, President and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation said it this way: “If we expect America to succeed in the coming decades, we must commit ourselves now to an economic strategy that prioritizes the success of our children and their families.”
Through its KIDS COUNT project, The Annie E. Casey Foundation has tracked the well-being of children at the national, state, and local level for the past 21 years. This year’s KIDS COUNT Data Book, America’s Children, America’s Challenge: Promoting Opportunity for the Next Generation, reveals that “we must act now to restore opportunity for all through a comprehensive, two-generation strategy that helps both children and their parents succeed every step of the way.”
Visit Florida KIDS COUNT for more on the Data Book.
The Department of Child & Family Studies, in partnership with Florida KIDS COUNT which disseminates national, statewide and county-level data on key indicators for Florida’s children, reached out to Children’s Services Councils and various state partners to find out what is being done in their communities to support the growing number of children and families caught in the poverty battle. Tyra Witsell, Manager for the Citizens' Commission for Children (CCC) in Orlando, Fl, shared the successful efforts of her agency.
Tyra knows too well about the many new (and growing) faces of poverty. They are seen often at the Neighborhood Centers for Families (NCF), which operate under the CCC to provide assistance to the children and families of Orange County.
“There has certainly been an increase of citizens who have never had to seek help before, and their needs have greatly changed,” said Witsell. “People who have always worked have exhausted all of their benefits and are in need of the basics – food for their family and somewhere to live. Our food pantries are very active and get depleted quickly."
Each NCF, located in diverse communities throughout the country, is made up of partners including non-profit organizations, government agencies, churches, and civic groups that provide a specialized service in a "one-stop," family-friendly and accessible environment.
Director of Quality Assurance Angela Chestang said referrals come in from a multitude of areas – the community, schools, word of mouth, and friends of clients.
“The great thing about our centers is there is no stigma and there is also a 24 hour turnaround,” she added. “Our Mayor Teresa Jacobs and the County Commissioners have been very caring and want to see that services are available and that children and families have some type of stability.”
Residents are actively involved in the planning of programs and services at each of the Centers, where case management, counseling, academic support, parent education, employment skills and health screening are some of the services that may be offered.
A large increase has been seen in the need for employment counseling. Many individuals who were laid off from retail and construction jobs want to be retrained in areas where there are jobs - such as computer repair, electrical work, etc. NCF employment counselors assess individual strengths and make referrals to particular programs. This service has been so successful that additional training programs have been made available through local NFC partners. (photo right: The combined Oak Ridge and Taft Neighborhood Center for Families job fair, held April 2011, attracted hundreds of participants and 28 employers.)
Family counseling is also a large need.
“The downturn of the economy can bring on different challenges for families, and counseling is often needed,” said Witsell. “Children feel what their parents are feeling. When things aren't right at home, they have a tendency to bring that into the school system as well.”
All NFC services are based on the family support model, where the family is treated as the entire clientele.
Witsell says that prevention and early intervention is key. “We get in there as soon as we know a family has a problem and get them back on track quickly. If the problem is beyond that scope, we do everything to link the family to another agency or resource at the level they need. ”
The NFC model has won numerous awards and successes have been many, as has been shown in annual evaluations used to track the success of families. Witsell said that every year counselors hit the mark with their efforts. Evaluation results show clients are able to access resources better, have better coping and parenting skills – all things that help a family become more stable.
“The beauty of this model is that it can be easily duplicated – in a church, strip mall, anywhere, as it is extremely portable.”
For additional information, visit the Orange County Citizen Commission for Children website at http://www.orangecountyfl.net.
The Department of Child and Family Studies (CFS) is a department of the College of Behavioral & Community Sciences at the University of South Florida. Florida KIDS COUNT, housed within CFS, is partially funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Additional support is provided through CFS and the USF Foundation.