Addressing Generational Poverty Requires a Cultural Shift for Public Agencies

Combatting generational poverty and improving outcomes for kids was the focus of the “Reaching Troubled Kids, 2 Generations at a Time” session at the recent MACo summer conference. Audience members heard from an expert panel on practical programs that have shown success in helping to change the cycles that are detrimental to families.

Christina Church is one of only seven statewide Two-Generation Officers in the country. She works at the State level to support implementation of the 2Gen approach in State social service agencies, as well as providing coordination and technical assistance to local agencies and governments for their efforts. Christina explained that the 2Gen approach is a wholistic way to engage families.

“If you’re working with a kid, you must also be working with the parents. If you’re helping a child, you also have to think about who else lives in that household and what help they need to make changes.”

After Christina’s overview of the 2Gen approach and State efforts, three speakers gave a local perspective:

hands of people from multiple generations intertwinedCourtney Thomas-Winterberg, Director of the Allegany County Department of Social Services, discussed the county’s Ruby Payne “Bridges Out of Poverty” program. Allegany DSS was finding that it was providing services to the second and even third generations of a family. The vision of the program is that there is no wrong door for a family to access services. Implementing the program required retraining staff and building buy-in for addressing things that aren’t typically that person’s job. Additionally, they brought in non-traditional partners, such as the Chamber of Commerce, as effective referral agencies. The program has seen strong successes and the Allegany team is looking to expand it to a more regional basis.

Jennifer Dubosq, Director of the Dorchester County Department of Social Services, shared the story of Dorchester’s successful implementation of the Circles USA program. Circles USA gathers middle-income and high-income volunteers to support families in poverty. Surrounded by people who have landed jobs, negotiated a lease, or managed credit card debt, for example, people experiencing poverty are more equipped to achieve long-term financial stability. The program seeks to change the mindset of participants from a culture of poverty to a culture of prosperity. The key to program success is family-centered coaching and having a strong team of dedicated volunteer mentors to assist the program participants in overcoming the cycles that are holding them back.

Finally, Cecilia Knox, Director of College and Career Transitions for Prince George’s Community College, discussed how PGCC has Next Step program has successfully equipped students with skills, experiences, and practices needed to advance their careers and wages for 20 years. Funding is provided by the Department of Social Services and clients receiving Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) and foster youth are referred to Next Step with a primary goal of earning marketable skills and degrees leading to gainful employment. Cecilia discussed two main approaches that have made the program successful: cultivating and sustaining strategic partnerships and promoting intrusive assessment and holistic interventions.

During the Q&A portion, moderated by House Majority Leader Delegate Jason Buckel, all of the presenters emphasized the need for service agencies and partners to make a cultural shift in their thinking to effectively implement a 2Gen approach. Attendees were encouraged to use exercises like poverty simulations to build awareness and understanding of generational poverty and to devote significant time and resources to staff training in order to successfully move a local 2Gen program forward.

More about MACo’s Summer Conference: