News Journal (Delaware), April 8, 2008: Del.’s child poverty rate rises in ’07

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The News Journal

Delaware’s Child Poverty Task Force wants to cut the rate of child poverty in half in 10 years, but some of the state’s strongest advocates for children don’t believe it can be done.

“I say in 10 years it will … be worse than it is today,” said Helen Riley, executive director of St. Michael’s School and Nursery in Wilmington, which contains some of the state’s most impoverished communities.

For almost four decades, Riley has watched children come and go.

“Mostly what has changed is the faces of the people, not the situations of the people,” said Riley, one of four panelists at a Community Meeting on Child Poverty on Monday night.

Delaware’s child poverty rate rose to 13.2 percent in 2007, up from 12.7 percent in 2006, according to data released Monday.

The Kids Count in Delaware Fact Book 2008 shows that overall, children here are better off than they were a decade ago, with improved rates of infant mortality, high school dropouts and children in one-parent families. But trends in two areas continue to cause concern: Low-birthweight babies and child poverty.

“Poverty breeds hopelessness and despair in families,” said Dale Broome, a St. Michael’s board member who works in the court system. She spoke at Monday night’s community meeting at St. Michael’s. About 30 people attended.

“I see the look [of poverty] every day,” Broome said. “You say, ‘What’s the look?’ It’s a dull, empty look. It’s a look that says, ‘I’m stuck. My life is over. Nobody cares.’ “

The Child Poverty Task Force is hosting six more community meetings to get input on the issue, with plans to release recommendations for action in September. Appointed by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner last summer, its 23 members include representatives from government and nonprofits.

“These forums are critical for the task force to hear what communities and families are saying about their needs,” said Rep. Teresa Schooley, D-Newark, the chairwoman.

At each meeting, participants will gather in small groups to address some of the following questions:

•What current programs and policies are working effectively to fight poverty, particularly concerning children? What can Delaware do differently?

•How can Delawareans move out of poverty and what is the impact on children?

•What are the barriers or problems to moving out of poverty in Delaware? And what are the impacts on children?

•What do you want for your children?

“[One] of the choices people in poverty do have to make is, what are you going to pay?” said Tanisha Brown, 28, who’s lived in poverty for the last decade. “It’s going to be either/or, which sends you into a spiral of, if you don’t pay this bill, it’s going to look bad on your credit. If you don’t buy the food, what are you going to eat?”

Brown, another of Monday’s panelists, is living in a Wilmington homeless shelter while she completes an associate’s degree in social services at Delaware Technical & Community College. It’s the only way she could make ends meet.

“I appreciate all the help I’ve been given, but I would love it if they had a program where we could go to school and we had a stipend,” said Brown, who has three children, ages 9, 7 and 1, and works 15 hours a week at Girls Inc. while attending school. In the past, she’s worked minimum-wage jobs at Target and Subway.

“That way, we could just focus on school. … I’m just now realizing how important education is. Very late.”

Schooley, who has proposed and supports a number of bills targeted at decreasing child poverty, acknowledged Monday that funding isn’t likely to be approved anytime soon.

“We know this year is not the year to push for money bills,” Schooley said, adding that studying solutions for Delaware is a good first step.

Riley of St. Michael’s, who supports the task force’s efforts, said the lack of fiscal resources will sink the state’s efforts to help its children.

“We sit around and we talk about our children, but when will we infuse some money?” Riley asked. “When will we help agencies, organizations, individual people? It takes money to accomplish these things. It really does. … We can’t do it with mirrors and smoke.”

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