To fix child poverty, Utah looks at the entire family

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Photo: Utah Preschoolers
At-risk kids in Utah attend preschool in the Granite School District.

Efforts to help the poor often fall into two camps: programs to help adults and programs to help kids. But the separation of the efforts is a mistake, according to a report released Wednesday by The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report urges government and non-profits to focus on the plight of entire families. That means a major shift -- changes in everything from job training to childcare assistance.

Such a shift in focus has already begun to take shape in Colorado, but Utah’s Office of Child Care began such efforts two years ago with the aim of breaking the cycle of poverty.

Utah Child Care Director Tracy Gruber says the idea came from state Sen. Stuart Reid, a Republican who saw poverty first-hand and introduced new legislation to help families that passed in 2012.

So far, the state has started collaborating among its agencies to create better coordination of care, even when there are issues of confidentiality, funding or regulations.

"[I]f there's a family that is participating in our cash assistance program and we're developing a family case management plan, that family has overlapping interactions with another agency, we're coordinating with that other agency to find whether [...] there's proper ways of coordinating the case management for their family," Gruber tells "Colorado Matters."

Gruber adds that though the new approach is "far from complete," it acknowledges some of the obstacles that families face.

"We're seeing that there's a lot of stress and challenges and really low educational attainment," Gruber says. "And navigating bureaucratic infrastructures is challenging even for those of us who are educated at a pretty high level."

It's too soon to tell whether Utah's efforts are improving the lives of families, according to Gruber. But she says the state will be tracking graduation rates for children, "long-term attachment to the labor force" for adults and other holistic family measurements.

"The good news is that we've started these programs already, at least through some of our agencies," she says.

CPR News' Megan Arellano and Megan Verlee contributed to this report.


This story is part of CPR News' ongoing coverage of kids and poverty, how it affects their lives and the future. To share your thoughts about what should be done to address the issue, visit our Public Insight Network page.