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What are the Psychological Effects of Growing Up in Poverty and How Can Schools Work

to Minimize Them?
Lily Montgomery, Mika Yatsuhashi, and Olivia Lindsley
Research Rationale
For the first time ever, more than half of public school students are living in poverty and
were abandoning them. We watch them struggle in our school systems, struggle in our
workforces, and struggle to remain afloat and we have yet to do something about it. This struggle
arises from the psychological damage that poverty inflicts. The only way to prevent such
catastrophic consequences is to help children while theyre still young and the damage isnt
permanent. Some schools have found the solution, and its time the rest of the country followed.
The psychological effects of poverty are extremely prevalent in children and adolescents.
The type of stress generated by poverty is called chronic stress, meaning that it is persistent and
omnipresent. This stress arises from an individual's financial inability to deal with everyday
problems such as illnesses, car breakdowns, or job losses (Eamon). Chronic stress wears away at
someones coping abilities, which in turn erodes self-esteem and the sense of mastery, control,
and personal efficacy, making it less likely that individuals will engage in the active problem
solving that...prevents depression (Eamon).
Stress also has an impact on depressive symptoms in children. Stressful life events, such
as separation and divorce of parents, are more common for low income families. These events are
extremely damaging to children's mental health, as children whose parents were divorced or
separated had a higher level of depressive symptoms (Tracy et al.). Even poor children who
dont have such stressful life events suffer from depressive symptoms, as in the same study it was
found that, higher mean levels of symptoms [were] reported by children in lower income
families (Tracy et al.). Another study came to a similar conclusion, that consistent poverty
during early childhood significantly increased the risk of high anxiety-depression at 14 years
(Spence et al.).

Chronic stress causes neurobiological changes in a childs brain. Children growing up in


poverty and suffering from these stresses develop lower amygdala and hippocampus volumes.
These areas of the brain control stress regulation and emotion processing (Luby). Exposure to
poverty also causes reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex leading to poor emotion regulation.
This insufficient brain development can also lead to mental illness later in life (Kim). Because
children are at a developmental stage in their lives, their brains are easily affected and once they
reach adulthood these changes are permanent. Many current efforts to help impoverished children
focus on raising their socioeconomic status. This does not change the psychological impact of
poverty. The only way to reduce the effects of poverty is to help children well before they reach
adulthood, and the perfect place is school.
Schools are a unique place where children, their parents, and government officials come
into contact with each other regularly. One way that schools can help impoverished students and
their families is by establishing family resource centers. Family resource centers are places
parents can receive information about public benefit programs and assistance with the often
complicated enrollment processes. A report released by the Center for American Progress
provides several current examples and interesting ideas to expand the role of schools. New
Mexico has implemented family resource centers in five different middle schools, and are already
seeing their positive effects. The family resource centers screen parents for public benefits
programs, aiding families alongside an extended-day learning program and school based health
care. Schools have seen leaps in their math proficiency scores, along with reduced enrollment in
free and reduced lunch, and all of the schools report high levels of parent involvement from
extended-learning students, increased visits to doctors and dentists, and lower absentee rates
among students (Birenda and Moses). The report argues for a nationwide extension of similar
programs as the program exhibited in New Mexico is a rarity.
Another important way schools can help children living in poverty is through dedicated
teachers, ones who are willing to stay at school after the school day is over and ones who care

enough to create a relationship with each one of their students. Los Medanos is a public school in
the San Francisco Bay Area with one of the highest numbers of poor students in the country. The
school has managed to keep up with other public schools with more advantaged students by
employing dedicated teachers and through frequent communication with parents (Noguchi).
Schools offer a unique opportunity to minimize the psychological effects of poverty on
children. Since half of public school students are now impoverished, now is as good a time as any
to begin helping these children. Its absolutely necessary that schools are able to provide students
and families with the tools to succeed. As of now, half of them arent receiving this crucial
information. There are examples all across America of schools that are working towards a better
future for their impoverished children. As of now, those schools are few and far between, and this
needs to change.
The Physical Effects of Poverty on the Brain
Children growing up in impoverished households are subject to certain stressors that may
not be present in the lives of middle and upper class students. This additional stress has a lasting
impact on a childs brain. This section will explain the effect of poverty on brain development and
how these changes affect poor children throughout their lives.
Children living in poverty are more likely to be exposed to stresses that their higherincome peers do not have to deal with. These chronic stressors include violence, separations from
family members, and substandard living environments (Kim et al, 2013, 1). The Effects of
Poverty on Childhood Brain Development: The Mediating Effect of Caregiving and Stressful Life
Events was published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2013. It explains the methods and results of a study
conducted by Joan Luby who led a group of researchers in following 145 St. Louis elementary
school students between the ages of six and twelve. The students participated in annual tests to
measure brain development over six years. The tests also noted stressful life events and subjects
subsequent reactions to them. Researchers also monitored interaction between parents and

children to look for a correlation between brain development and nurturing parenting. At the
beginning and end of this time period their brains were scanned to compare growth over the six
years. Researchers scanned the overall brain to measure white and cortical gray matter, then
narrowed in on the amygdala and hippocampal areas to note their volume. Scientists compared
income-to-needs ratio (which determines if a family has enough total income to meet its needs) to
hippocampal volume to look for a connection between income and brain development. They
found that income-to-needs ratio was in fact a predictor for hippocampal volumes. Scientists then
made the same comparison with amygdala volumes and again came to the same conclusion,
income-to-needs ratio was a predictor for amygdala volume as well. Researchers further
determined that stressful life events and parental caregiving mediated hippocampal and amygdala
volumes. The experiment showed that exposure to poverty during early childhood is associated
with smaller white matter, cortical gray matter, and hippocampal and amygdala volumes (Luby
et al, 2013, 7), as well as overall lower white and gray matter volumes. The hippocampus and
amygdala are brain regions involved in stress regulation and emotion processing.
Effects of Childhood Poverty and Chronic Stress on Emotion Regulatory Brain Function
in Adulthood outlines a study, led by Pilyoung Kim, that further investigated the impact of
poverty and chronic stress on brain development, connecting it to emotion regulation as an adult.
Researchers chose 49 nine-year-olds attending public schools in rural areas of the northeastern
United States. They then visited these students, interviewing them and their families to get data
on their lives, one of the more important points being income. When the subjects were 24, they
returned for MRI sessions so the researchers could study the development of their brains. The
study concluded that the subjects that grew up with substandard incomes exhibited reduced
activity in the ventrolateral and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, as well as increased activity in the
in the amygdala during emotion regulation (Kim et al, 2013, 4). The amygdala activates
physiological stress responses when it detects threats from the environment. The ventrolateral and
dorsolateral prefrontal cortex regulate the amygdala, implementing cognitive strategies involved

in emotion regulation. Decreased prefrontal cortex activity coupled with increased activity in the
amygdala signifies ineffective ventrolateral prefrontal cortex suppression of the amygdala during
emotion regulation (Kim et al, 2013, 3). This means that the amygdala is not being prevented
from activating its physiological stress responses. A person whose brain has developed without
the ability to suppress amygdala activity cannot effectively cope with extreme emotions and
anger could easily trigger violence.
The physical psychological effects of poverty can be seen throughout a persons life.
Various psychological research has shown that children exposed to povertyare at higher risk
for antisocial behaviors and mental disorders (Luby et al, 2013, 2). Pilyoung Kims experiment
on emotion regulation found that the inadequate brain development found in the brains of people
who had grown up in poverty was associated with multiple mental mental illnesses, such failure
of amygdala regulation, in part by the dampened [ventrolateral and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex]
activity, has been suggested as neural deficits in many psychiatric illnesses (Kim, 2013, 3). The
deleterious effects of growing up in poverty on a persons brain have daily implications on his or
her life. Inadequate emotion regulation can cause extreme responses to simple emotions which
makes it hard for a person to relate to others and maintain stable relationships. In addition, these
physical changes in brain growth can cause mental illness which can completely change a
persons life. Along with mental illness comes stigma and complicated programs to treat it, both
outpatient and inpatient.
The study conducted by Kim also concluded that current income had no impact on brain
development. Whether or not the subjects had risen to a higher socioeconomic status by the time
they were 24, their brain development matched that of other subjects who had grown up in
poverty. When conducting the MRI tests, researchers detected no link between current income
level and neural activity during emotion regulation. This proved that the effect of poverty on a
child are permanent, even if they are extremely successful later in life. Lubys study concluded
that the physical effects of growing up in poverty are permanent and the only way to prevent

them is to begin preventive measures before children reach grade school. These studies have
found that once a student enters elementary school, their success and brain development can
already be predicted. The only way to prevent the detrimental impact poverty has on the brain is
by working to counter its impact as early as infancy, starting with parent nurturing and working to
control the chronic stressors inflicted on poor children.
Povertys Effect on Mental Health
There are many studies that explore the relationship between poverty and mental health
of children. It is evident that mental health is impacted by the financial situation of a childs
family. This poverty impacts every aspect of a childs life, both when they are young and as they
get older. Even if children manage to escape poverty, there are long term effects that impact the
child long into their future.
Numerous different outcomes have been linked to growing up in poverty.The Effects of
Poverty on Children appeared in the journal The Future of Children for Princeton University.
Written by Jeanne Brooks-Gunn Ph.D and Gregg J. Duncan Ph.D, it explores various areas
impacted by poverty in a childs life. Brooks-Gunn and Duncan divide the effects into several
categories, some of which are physical health, cognitive abilities, school achievement, and
teenage out-of-wedlock childbearing. Physical health is impacted in a number of ways. An
important one is a lower birth weight. Children born with lower birth weights are more prone to
serious physical disabilities, grade repetition, and learning disabilities[and] lower levels of
intelligence and of math and reading achievement (Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, pg. 58, 1997).
Children born into impoverished families are 1.7 times more likely to be born with a low birth
weight (Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, pg. 58, 1997). Impoverished children are more likely to
experience lead poisoning. 16.3% of poor children experienced lead poisoning compared to 4.7%
of non poor children (Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, pg. 58, 1997). Lead poisoning at a young age is
linked to numerous harmful effects, including stunted growth, hearing loss, impaired blood

production, and toxic effects on the kidneys. Brooks-Gunn and Duncan found that lead levels in
children decline as income increases.
The cognitive abilities of a child who grows up in an impoverished family can have a
large difference to those of nonpoor children. Poor children are 1.3 times more likely to have a
developmental delay between the ages of 0 and 17, and 1.4 times more likely to have a learning
disability between the ages of 3 and 17 (Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, pg. 58, 1997). This adds to
the challenges that low-income children already face at school. Another important statistic is that
impoverished females are 3.1 times more likely than nonpoor females to have an out-of-wedlock
birth. Researchers are still unsure of why this occurs (Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, pg. 58, 1997).
Another important find of the study concerns the gaps in school achievement between poor
children and nonpoor. Between the ages of 5 and 17, poor children were found to be 2 times more
likely to repeat a grade and to get expelled or suspended, and are 2.2 times more likely to become
a high school dropout (Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, pg. 58, 1997). This demonstrates the unsuccess
of the current school system, and further proves that it is not helping impoverished students
enough. A change in these statistics would be monumental, and would represent a positive change
in schools ability to help their impoverished students.
In addition to negative performances in school, children living in low-income families are
more likely to have divorced or separated parents according to What Explains the Relation
between Family Poverty and Childhood Depressive Symptoms?, a study done by Melissa Tracy,
Frederick Zimmerman, Sandro Galea, Elizabeth McCauley, and Ann Vander Stoep. This study
focuses on how children aged 11-13 deal with poverty and the effects that come along with it.
Although the study doesnt explore in depth why more impoverished parents get divorced, it does
support the hypothesis that, financial hardship is likely both an antecedent and a consequence of
family conflict and parental divorce (Tracy et al., 2008). This parental divorce has a lasting
impact on the children, as kids whose parents were divorced showed a higher amount of
depressive symptoms. This is because events, like separation and divorce, put stress on the child.

Any stressful life event, no matter if its positive or negative, has a similar impact on children.
The study found that a higher number of stressful life events over the past six months was
strongly associated with a higher number of depressive symptoms. This was true even in the case
that the life event was largely considered to be positive, such as the birth of a sibling (Tracy et al.,
2008). Children who had a low family income were likely to experience more of these stressful
life events, and therefore were more likely to have a higher amount of depressive symptoms
compared to children in higher income families. How children deal with life events also has to do
with their age. Children at a middle school age are still developing, and any big life event may
serve as a stressor to the child.
Another form of stress, different than individual life events, is chronic stress. Chronic
stress is long lasting, and results from more enduring or recurrent life problems, such as
poverty (Eamon, pg. 257, 2001). Mary Keegan Eamon writes a report that appears in the journal
Social Work for Oxford Journals entitled The Effects of Poverty on Childrens Socioemotional
Development: An Ecological Systems Analysis. Eamon uses Bronfenbrenners ecological
systems model to examine different aspects of an impoverished childs life and their relation to
one another. A main focus and theme throughout her report was chronic stress. Eamon views
chronic stress as one of the most significant causes of distress for a child or anyone living in
poverty. It is important to distinguish between individual stress causing life events, such as a
divorce, and chronic strain, like persistent poverty. Chronic stress requires individuals to
repeatedly adjust their behavior to compensate. Eamon uses impoverished parents as an example,
as this requires daily accommodations as parents strive to meet the needs of their families
(Eamon, pg. 257, 2001). For this reason, chronic stress is thought to be the main source of
psychological problems among the poor.
Part of the reason that chronic strain and stressful life events are so prominent among the
poor is the detrimental impact of poverty on ones coping capabilities. Eamon gives several
examples of coping capabilities, such as obtaining social resources...drawing on psychological

resources...and engaging in specific responses (Eamon, pg. 258, 2001). Yet poverty restricts and
chips away at those coping capabilities, setting off a chain reaction of deteriorating mental health.
Since impoverished families often cannot afford to compensate for common events such as car
breakdowns, illnesses, or job layoffs, the ability to cope can be overstretched and damaged
(Eamon, pg. 258, 2001). Without a strong coping capability, an individual's mental health is
harmed as well. Eamon cites self esteem, sense of mastery, control, and personal efficacy as areas
that are negatively impacted by a diminished coping capability. The sense of of powerlessness
created by chronic stress, the inability to cope with it, and the inability to lessen or fix it is the
root for the psychological problems of both parents and children.
Even if a child only experiences poverty at an early age, this still has a lasting impact on
the child as they reach adolescence. Maternal Anxiety and Depression, Poverty and Marital
Relationship Factors During Early Childhood as Predictors of Anxiety and Depressive
Symptoms in Adolescence, a study conducted by Susan Spence, Jake Najman, William Bor,
Michael OCallaghan, and Gail Williams studied children and their mothers when the child was
three-five days old, six months old, five years old, and fourteen years old. They found that
children who experienced consistent poverty when they were young had an increased risk of high
anxiety-depression symptoms by the time they were fourteen (Spence et al., pg. 465, 2002). This
childhood poverty has a direct effect on the mental health of adolescents. This supports the
previous section, which outlines how mental health and changes in the brain later in life are very
much impacted by poverty at a young age even if the person leaves poverty.
In order to really understand how poverty has such a large effect on children throughout
their lives, its necessary to know the various pathways through which it reaches a child. The
article, The Effects of Poverty on Children by Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Gregg Duncan
explores those pathways. A pathway is defined as a mechanism through which poverty or
income can influence a childs outcome (Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, pg. 64, 1997). Brooks-Gunn
and Duncan discuss five specific ones, which are health and nutrition, the home environment,

parental interactions with children, parental mental health, and neighborhood conditions.
Although Brooks-Gunn and Duncan also list health and nutrition as an effect of poverty, it is also
a pathway. Low birth weights, lead poisoning, and malnutrition have all been associated with
various negative cognitive effects, including reduced IQ and learning disabilities. In this way, the
lack of monetary resources reaches and harms a child through their health and nutrition.
The home environment of a child is another pathway identified. Brooks-Gunn and
Duncan cite the HOME (Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment) scale, a
research tool that measures the comforts and resources of a home environment, as a way to
compare home environments of impoverished children to nonpoor children. Using the HOME
scale, several other studies have connected poor home environments to the gap in cognitive
development and achievement scores between lower income families and higher income families
(Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, pg. 65, 1997). The HOME scale has also demonstrated connections
between behavioral problems and poor home environments. A lack of learning provisions in the
home has been shown to account for up to half of the effect of poverty status on the IQ scores of
five-year-olds (Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, pg. 65, 1997).
The way that parents interact with their children can be another pathway through which
poverty reaches them. Researchers have had difficulty determining whether lower-income parents
are more likely to use harsh punishment, such as spanking, which can damage the emotional
health of a child. There have been studies that support and refute this claim. Nevertheless,
Brooks-Gunn and Duncan write that economic hardship can put significant stress on the
relationship between parent and child. Unemployment, underemployment, and unstable work
conditions strain the relationship between parent and child, and causes conflict. Conflict with
parents may lead to lower school grades, reduced emotional health, and impaired social
relationships, lower school grades, reduced emotional health, and impaired social relationship
(Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, pg. 66, 1997). In poor or low income families, mental health of
parents are likely to be significantly lower than those of higher income parents. This can be

another cause of conflict between parent and child, and is another pathway through which poverty
works. Poor parental mental health leads to less satisfactory emotional, social, and cognitive
development in children, as well as flawed parent-child interactions and less opportunities for
children to learn from their parents (Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, pg. 66, 1997). In addition, divorce
and separation strain parent-child relationships and lead to, less positive parenting and parental
attention, which leads to depression in the child (Tracy et al., 2008).
Neighborhood conditions prove to be yet another pathway. Poor families are much more
likely to live in poor neighborhoods, which can affect a child mentally. Poor neighborhoods tend
to have heightened levels of social disorganization, such as vast unemployment among adults and
increased crime. They do not have as many resources as higher income neighborhoods such as
parks, playgrounds, and health care facilities, which harms child development (Brooks-Gunn and
Duncan, pg. 66, 1997). According to Tracy and her colleagues, characteristics like median
household income and level of violence within a neighborhood are proxy risk factors for
depressive symptoms in children (Tracy et al., 2008). Neighborhoods arent the most influential
factor for mental health in children, although they do have some effect on childrens well being.
What Schools Have Done and What They Could Do
Some schools across the country have made efforts to counter the psychological effects of
poverty but the rest of the education system falls short of what poor students need. Whats needed
to truly help impoverished students is widespread effort across the nation to implement programs
like the ones discussed in the following section. As well as the individual efforts of communities
to support these students and their families.
One of the simplest and most necessary actions schools could take is to encourage mental
health awareness and education. One in five students in the United States suffers from a
debilitating mental illness (Juarez, 2015, 1), this accounts for all students, not just those of low
socioeconomic status. However, as studies by Joan Luby, Pilyoung Kim, and Mary Keegan

Eamon pointed out, impoverished children are more likely to develop mental illnesses than their
peers. Nonetheless, because of its impact on the entire student population, schools have an
abundance of reasons for the need to solve the issue of mental illness in schools. In Lindsey
Juarez November article, State Calls for More Mental Health Awareness Training: New Laws
Designed to Provide Early Intervention, she explains recent legislation passed by the Texas
Congress to address mental illness in their schools. The new Texas law requires educators to go
through mental health education as well as suicide prevention training. Other states around the
country have implemented similar laws and the rest of the states should do the same. There is a
stigma associated with mental illness in this country and its because of a lack of education and
understanding of the issue, talking about mental illness more, especially when it affects children,
will help people understand it and learn how to address it (Juarez, 2015, 4). Also, just as the
previous studies mentioned in this paper, Juarez says that mental health must be address as early
as possible, saying that early intervention has the most success and if one waits too long the
damage could become irreversible. Children growing up in poverty are set up for failure when
they reach elementary school and untreated mental illness only makes their situation worse, if a
person doesnt know how to manage their illness at an early age and doesnt have support, then
the future is very, very bleak (Juarez, 2015, 4).
Juarez mentioned the importance of parental support for children with mental illness.
This idea is supported by Joan Lubys study on the effect of poverty on childhood development
which concluded that supportive and nurturing parenting could counter the psychological effects
of poverty. Parents raising children in substandard living conditions with insufficient income
often feel helpless when it comes to protecting their children from the chronic stressors associated
with poverty.There isnt much these parents can do, but just providing supportive and nurturing
parenting could significantly help their children fight the negative psychological effects that come
along with growing up in poverty. Superintendent Tiffany Anderson, who oversees the Jennings
school district in Missouri, shares similar ideals. She is providing many different programs in her

high-poverty school district to help impoverished children and their families, including a food
bank, shelter for homeless students, a health clinic, and parenting classes. These classes help to
remove barriers to students and families, and along with the other programs in place have
helped to raise test scores (The Superintendent Who Turned Around a School District). Because
parenting has a large impact on the mental health of children, its necessary to help parents
understand what they can do to help. Having these classes available at schools also cuts down on
travel time that would be needed in order to take classes somewhere more specialized. As
demonstrated by Andersons work, it is possible for schools to provide this resource using the
tools available within the school district.
The most obvious physical evidence of the negative impact the psychological effects of
poverty have on childrens lives is low performance in school. In Protecting Students against the
Effects of Poverty: Libraries Stephen Krashen analyzes the results from various studies to draw
conclusions about methods that could be used to minimize the effects of poverty on students.
Most of the studies explain the impact of books, among other things, on the success of students.
M.D.R. Evans, Jonathan Kelley, Joanna Sikora, and Donald J. Treiman studied 70,000 15-yearolds in 27 different countries, controlling for parental education and social class found that
children who had about 500 books in their homes stayed in school three years longer than peers
with more books in their homes. The researchers found that having books in the home had about
the same effect as parental education and a much stronger effect than standard of living. The
study concluded that the impact of access to books on school success is as strong as or is
stronger than economic factors (Krashen, 2011, 2). Douglas Achterman compared student scores
on the California Standards Tests to community factors such as parent education and
socioeconomic status, the credentials of teachers, and the availability and quality of school
libraries. Achterman found that library quality was as reliable if not more reliable as a predictor of
student success as community factors, while teacher credentials had little to no impact on student
performance. Libraries were more reliable as predictors of success as students got older. Overall,

the studies analyzed by Krashen suggested that providing adequate access to books can make up
for the effects of poverty on student performance (Krashen, 2011, 6).
Krashen suggests that the United States Department of Education take the money they
spend on standardized testing and put it towards improving libraries in high-poverty areas around
the country. Many studies have shown that the large amount of standardized testing only hurts
students. In addition, high school grades are a better predictor for future success than
standardized test scores, the repeated judgements of professionals who are with children every
day is more valid than a test created by distant strangers (Krashen, 2011, 6). Also, teacher
evaluations consider a wider variety of aspects of the student rather than performance on a single
test. Krashen proposes that rather than expanding testing, as the Department of Education
currently plans, it should reduce standardized testing to just one test, the National Assessment of
Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP requires no test prep and the test has no consequences
for students who perform poorly. The test is administered to small groups, each one taking a
different portion of the test every few years. The results can be extrapolated to apply to the nation
as a whole. This is an easy way to analyze student achievement and compare subgroups of
students without taking time away from instruction. This method also happens to be extremely
cost-effective, saving money for other important uses, one of them being improving libraries. If
impoverished students are given easy access to adequate libraries, their performance in school
would greatly improve, offering them many more opportunities for their future.
An example of a school system that was able to help their students efficiently is
Michigan. The report Reducing Student Poverty in the Classroom, written by Saba Birenda and
Joy Moses for the Center for American Progress, provides a detailed look at how Michigan
organized their system. After several of Michigans schools failed to meet the No Child Left
Behind requirement, they realized that those schools were often involved with the Department of
Human Services (DHS.) They also realized that students at those schools shared several
characteristics, including high mobility rates for families, high poverty rates, excessive absentee

rates, general education lags, and poor school grade performance (Birenda and Moses, pg. 1516, 2010). The school system decided to take action, and began to establish family resource
centers at low performing schools. These family resource centers provide access to services
offered by the DHS at a convenient location for parents. This way, parents dont have to make
extra trips to unfamiliar places and DHS caseworkers can conduct meetings at a place convenient
to families. Programs that are available to access include emergency cash assistance, food
stamps, homelessness prevention services, and Medicaid enrollment (Birenda and Moses, pg.
16, 2010). To solve the high mobility rates of students, rent subsidies began to be provided to
families who were at risk of displacement. An evaluation of the program after two years yielded
positive results. Higher attendance rates were reached for those students whose families received
rent subsidies, and they performed better on state assessments than those not in the program
(Birenda and Moses, pg. 16, 2010). Schools with family resource centers were also four times
as likely to make adequate yearly progress as non-FRC [family resource center] linked schools
(Birenda and Moses, pg. 16, 2010).
The report Reducing Student Poverty in the Classroom by Saba Birenda and Joy Moses
provides a detailed explanation of family resource centers and central connection points and why
and how they should be implemented at a nationwide level. Our current system for aiding poor
families is disorganized and could be much more efficient. The programs that will help
impoverished students and their families already exist, but often remain behind many challenging
barriers for families. A lot of the time, families arent aware that the programs that could help
them even exist. Many programs require families to apply for services at specific locations.
Often, it is difficult for parents to take time out of their schedules to commute to them. The
applications for the programs is lengthy and drawn out, requiring different information that can
be hard to produce, such as birth certificates and utility bills. To get help from multiple programs,
families have to reproduce the same information over and over to satisfy similar forms and
procedures, when just one form could be used to apply to several different programs (Birenda and

Moses, 7, 2010). People may associate a certain stigma with these programs, and may equate the
need to ask for help with embarrassment, personal failure, or shame (Birenda and Moses, pg. 7,
2010). People may distrust the government and its ability to help them, if theyve tried to apply to
programs before or know people who have and failed.
Central connection points provide an effective and realistic solution to many of these
problems. A central connection point provides one location where families are informed about
the broad range of public benefits available to them, and apply for and participate in programs
(Birenda and Moses, pg.8, 2010). This removes much of the hassle and tediousness of the
application process. An ideal central connection point would be schools, specifically family
resource centers within schools.
Schools are an ideal location because of their unparalleled access to impoverished
students and their families. They are located in neighborhoods where low-income families live,
and parents frequent school property when picking up or dropping off their child, or for parent
teacher conferences (Birenda and Moses, pg. 10, 2010). Schools represent a familiar environment
for families. Since parents often have reasons to be at their childs school, stigma can be reduced
and comfort levels of parents will increase (Birenda and Moses, pg. 10, 2010). Since teachers
interact with their students on a fairly regular basis, they are able to observe and identify issues
that impact student learning (Birenda and Moses, pg. 10, 2010). If the school is equipped with a
family resource center, teachers will be able to identify students who are suffering from the
effects of poverty and direct their families towards the FRC, where they can receive help. Using
schools as central connection points allows the impoverished people to take advantage of
programs that already exist, making the system in place more efficient and productive.
In order for this vision to become a reality, several things must begin to happen on a
larger scale. Birenda and Moses write that better coordination of public benefits programs must
be a priority. There are many departments in the government that manage public benefits
programs, including the Department of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Housing and

Human Development. These programs and others like them must work together to find a way to
combine their application processes and establish central connection points (Birenda and Moses,
pg. 20, 2010). In order to do this effectively, Birenda and Moses recommend the involvement of
Congress, specifically writing that Congress should develop a realistic plan to merge various
public benefit programs, noting the cost benefits. They also recommend federal funding for
community schools that need the extra money to put in the extra effort. Another key to the
success of Birenda and Moses plan is collaboration between schools, government agencies and
nonprofits. In order for schools to provide access to public benefit programs, they will need the
support and help of government agencies who manage the programs, as well as nonprofits who
are helping the impoverished. Agency staff can lend family resource centers in schools their
expertise and advice in applying for public benefits programs (Birenda and Saba, pg. 23, 2010).
This national, more widespread implementation of schools as central connection points can
benefit the lives of thousands of impoverished students and their families, and help to lessen the
effects of poverty on children.

Discussion
Even with schools doing all they can to help impoverished children and their families,
this will not be enough on its own to alleviate all psychological issues that arise. The government
has to get involved by improving current programs and creating new ones. As demonstrated by
the Michigan school system and Jennings school district, however, schools can have an impact on
their students welfare. By focusing on poverty and all of the effects it has on a student and their
parents, school districts have been able to show positive progress in the form of higher test scores
and more satisfied children. There needs to be more school districts working with poor families to
really have a nationwide impact on children who grow up in poverty.

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