Community Assessment Identifies Priority Issues in the Laurel Highlands

Last month the United Way of the Laurel Highlands announced the results of their 2011 Community Needs Assessment Survey, an endeavor used to inform their own strategic planning process. It is also a helpful resource for nonprofits, foundations and businesses operating in or around Cambria and Somerset counties in Pennsylvania.

The report identified the following priory issue areas for the region:

  • Helping Children Succeed, including use of alcohol and drugs, parenting issues, family and domestic violence and  school readiness.
  • Supporting Vulnerable and Aging Populations, including affordable medical care, mental illness and emotional issues, gaps in family support systems and social support systems, and affordable and appropriate housing.
  • Strengthening and Supporting Families,  including affordable medical care and insurance, unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence.
  • Promoting Self Sufficiency, including unemployment and under-employment, job training, drug and alcohol use, criminal histories, credit histories and personal savings.
  • Promoting Health and Wellness, including  obesity, unhealthy lifestyles and affordable medical care and health insurance and drug and alcohol abuse.

The report contains demographic, education, economic and health profiles on Cambria and Somerset counties as well as a discussion of methods to best support and empower individuals and communities in the Laurel Highlands.  It is available for download on the United Way of the Laurel Highlands website.



Emotional Support for Moms Leads to Better Youth Outcomes

A report from Child Trends examines the impact of emotional support for mothers on familial relationships and child outcomes among disadvantaged families. The researchers measured the effect of emotional support – often found in healthly, reassuring relationships – of mothers on the variables of school engagement, school competence and symptoms of depression in their children.  Findings include,

  • The children of mothers reporting emotional support were more engaged in school than those of mothers lacking emotional support. These findings held across three groups – among single mothers (74 percent versus  67 percent), mothers who did not finish high-school (75 percent versus 70 percent),  and in low income families (76 percent versus 70 percent).
  • The children of mothers reporting emotional support were more likely to have social competence than children with mothers lacking support across the same three groups – single mothers (56 percent to 43 percent), mothers who did not finish high school (49 percent versus 38 percent), and households below the poverty line (54 percent versus 41 percent).

Overall, data indicate that youth with mothers who have emotional support in their lives experience better behavioral outcomes than their peers from families lacking this specific protective factor.  The implications of these findings should resonate with nonprofit and community organizations who work with low-income families or in disadvantaged neighborhoods and inform their programmatic offerings.

The report, Disadvantaged Families and Child Outcomes: The Importance of Emotional Support for Mothers by Tawana Bandy, B.S., Kristine M. Andrews, Ph.D., and Kristin Anderson Moore, Ph.D. is available at the Child Trends site.

Pennsylvania Policymakers Examine the Impact of Parental Incarceration on Children

Continuing with the incarceration theme…

The number of children with at least one parent in prison increased dramatically in the last decade and a half. While there are many unknowns as to the extent of this occurrence – especially among youth in foster care – a brief from the National Conference of State Legislatures, reports over 1.7 million children had a parent incarcerated within a state or federal prison in 2007.  Further, between 1991 and 2007, the number of children with a father in prison increased by 77 percent while the number of children with a mother in prison increased by 131 percent.

In Pennsylvania, this growing problem caught the attention of policymakers,  as resolutions in 2009 ordered the Joint State Government Commission to study the impact of parental incarceration on children, including the development of needs assessments, the identification of interventions and exploration of the nature of any barriers to services.  The committee made a number of recommendations, including:

  • training for criminal justice professionals on the numerous issues faced by children with parents in the justice system (from arrest through parole);
  • cross-training for leaders in the  educational, legal, health and social service systems who have contact with youth who have incarcerated parents about impact of incarceration on children and families and to review methods to improving cross-system coordination;
  • establishment of subsidized guardianship programs for kin of incarcerated persons with children where the  removal of  parental rights is not required;
  • improvement of both the efficiency and the cost of visiting and communications policies and practices , including making them more comfortable for children;
  • the addition of programming for inmates and their families to encourage reunification, improve stability during re-entry planning and to reduce recidivism; and
  • more and better data collection, data sharing and cross system collaboration around incarcerated parents and their children.

The 2011 report, The Effects of Parental Incarceration on Children: Needs and Responsive Services Report of the Advisory Committee Pursuant to House Resolution 203 and Senate Resolution 52 of 2009 is available online in PDF format.  Also, another helpful resource for professionals working with children of incarcerated parents is the guide, When a Parent Is Incarcerated: A Primer for Social Workers  from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Nurturing as a Protective Factor

Being a good parent may protect your children from the long-term health effects of poverty, according to a study published in the November 2011 edition of Psychological Science, the journal from the Association for Psychological Science.

The researchers found that children who had been raised in poverty often experienced chronic health issues later in life, however, a small subset of low-income children remained healthy throughout their lives. Closer examination of various factors identified a high level of maternal nurturing as the primary barrier or protective factor against chronic health problems, even more than achieving a higher socioeconomic status as an adult. Clearly, data and long-term outcomes support concern for the emotional well being of children, making it as important as care for their physical needs. Children benefit from being raised in a loving, safe, stable environment.

The study abstract is available online but the full article can only be accessed through a subscription service (check your local or university library system).

Study citation: Miller GE, Lachman ME, Chen E, Gruenewald TL, Karlamangla AS, Seeman TE.
Pathways to Resilience: Maternal Nurturance as a Buffer Against the Effects of
Childhood Poverty on Metabolic Syndrome at Midlife. Psychol Sci. 2011 Nov 28.
[Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 22123777.