It sure is hard to sort out what is happening in the economy this year. It’s up and then it’s down—maybe it’s moving sideways on some days—and the political discussion is not helping much. All I know is that too many people are out of work, and that is bad news for families and children. If you think the economic situation for adults is worrisome, consider these three facts:
- More than one in five American children now lives in poverty. (Source: US Census)
- Poverty is the single most significant predictor of child maltreatment. (Source: CLASP)
- According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, poverty accounts for more than 40% of the variations in reading and math scores among American children. (Source: National Center for Education Statistics )
Sounds pretty ominous. So what can any of us do about it? Not being an economist, I looked elsewhere for answers.
One: connect with vulnerable kids.
The research is clear that the involvement of caring adults has a huge impact on children’s lives, especially those who face multiple challenges. There are many ways to get involved:
- Become a mentor through organizations such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the National Mentoring Partnership or the National CARES Mentoring Movement.
- Be a virtual volunteer, such as an online tutor for a youth. Some examples: Tutor/Mentor Connection and Electronic Emissary.
- Apply your skills as a volunteer advocate for an abused or neglected child. Visit CASAforChildren.org for more details.
- Open your home as a foster or adoptive parent (find resources at the National Council on Adoption or the North American Council on Adoptable Children.) Check out the photo listings at such sites as AdoptUSKids.org, or find other resources for your state at the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory.
It really doesn’t matter which avenue you choose. Children and young people need a trustworthy relationship with a caring adult as much as they need practical help and guidance.
Two: do not be silent.
If there was any lesson in 2011 directly related to the well-being of abused and neglected children, it was that responsible adults must not stand by when children are abused or neglected. Reporting such behavior is a moral and ethical responsibility even if not mandated by law. States vary on who must report maltreatment, but all states permit anyone to file a report. Visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway for information about laws in your state. To report suspected abuse or neglect, call 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453) or your state hotline.
Every child has a fundamental right to be treated with respect. Any child subjected to violence has a right to look to responsible adults for care and protection.
Three: recognize and celebrate each child’s uniqueness
Researchers have found that the adults most likely to have a profound positive impact on young are people who:
- See and celebrate the child’s potential
- Make the young person their priority
- Convey a sense of purpose
- Show genuine interest and concern
- Are motivated to give back to their communities
(Source: McLaughlin, Milbrey, Merita Irby and Juliet Langman. 1994. Urban Sanctuaries: Neighborhood Organizations in the Lives and Futures of Inner-city Youth. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.)
Four: learn what kids need
If you are volunteering or working with older youth, learn about some of the strength-based research that can help you promote the young person’s development. The Fostering Futures project has information on an evidence-based “possible selves” approach that can have significant impacts on the young person’s educational progress and mental health status. More information about the needs of young people is available on the website of the Search Institute.
These individual actions are never going to show up in an economic report or in the numbers of the stock market, but individuals investing their time and energy in these ways can dramatically change the life prospects for a child in need. And every child whose life is changed can become an adult with a chance at a successful future.