UNC Children’s joins new anti-poverty coalition

UNC’s Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine is an integral partner in the new coalition tackling the ill effects of poverty in Orange County, from cradle to career.

UNC Children’s joins new anti-poverty coalition click to enlarge Dr. Mike Steiner addresses a Family Success Alliance meeting.

By Patrick James, UNC School of Journalism

Despite Orange County being among the wealthiest counties in North Carolina, some families still struggle to provide necessary resources for their children, making it difficult for them to succeed.

“Orange County is generally seen as—and it is—a relative wealthy county within North Carolina,” says Michael Steiner, MD, chief of general pediatrics at N.C. Children’s Hospital. “But even within Orange County, over the past 10 to 12 years, there’s been a doubling of child poverty. And with that, a high number of children aren’t ready to enter school at kindergarten, and a high percentage of children don’t reach a grade level past third grade. And we have increases in other bad education outcomes, like not finishing high school.”

In an effort to set these children up for success and provide them with the necessary resources to live a healthy life, the Orange County Health Department has developed a coalition of government agencies, heath care and education advocates and community organizations known as the Family Success Alliance.

Steiner, a member representing UNC Children's on the alliance’s advisory council, says there are multiple long-term effects associated with child poverty and that the Family Success Alliance, which is based on similar models such as the Harlem Children’s Initiative, hopes to steer children facing poverty in a new direction.  

“Adverse experiences during childhood can impact everything from cardiovascular risk as an adult to mental health as an adult to social outcomes like success in jobs,” explains Steiner. “So what the Family Success Alliance seeks to do is replicate the Harlem Children’s Zones initiative and use a geographic-based pipeline basically to usher kids from birth to their first job or their first year in college and help ensure success despite adversity they may face related to finances, economics or other things that are causing them to have a hard time making ends meet during childhood.”

According to the Health Department’s website, the Family Success Alliance Council—which consists of nearly 20 members—selected two zones from a pool of six in December to serve in the coalition’s first project. The six zones were recognized by the Health Department as containing the highest number of county residents struggling to obtain basic needs, such as food, health care and housing.

Stacy Shelp, the communications manager and public information officer for the Health Department, says the first two zones will serve as a learning experience for what the Family Success Alliance can do in the future in the other zones as well as throughout the county.

“Because there are six zones—and we’re hoping that eventually we’ll be able to help all six zones—the first two zones that are selected are going to really be piloting and helping us learn and develop and to be able to expand into the additional zones as we go,” says Shelp. “While there’s the initial application process to get us out of the gate, we’re hoping it will also be educational in helping us move forward.”

Shelp adds that while efforts have been made by many different organizations and government agencies to solve various issues surrounding poverty, the Family Success Alliance’s collective impact model will allow all of these groups to work together to provide assistance to children facing poverty in Orange County.

“By working together, we’re able to be more efficient and to streamline our resources, our expertise and our staff in a way that can create this pipeline,” explains Shelp. “Often we have used the term safety net, but safety nets have holes. Pipelines don’t. So what we really want to do is create this pipeline from cradle to career or college for kids where they don’t fall through the gaps and so we can identify what those gaps are and work together as one strong, cohesive unit to create that successful outcome for those children.”

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