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Supporting The Home Team

August 1, 2012

I have been spending much of my free time these last few days watching the Olympics.  Besides the pleasure of watching talented athletes compete, two things stand out to me.  First, with some exceptions, these games are dominated by young people who worked long and hard to get there, sometimes through horrific injuries and setbacks.  Second, many if not most had enormous family support to get where they are (the mother of Irish gymnast Kieran Behan, who helped nurse him back from paralysis, surely deserves some kind of medal).

Achievement need not be limited to athletics, of course – most kids will not be Olympians. But the coverage also got me thinking: What kind of support do families need to ensure children’s success over a long, hard haul?

The release of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count report  last week was a reminder that many families in the U.S. are struggling.  According to the report, 22% of children under 18 are living in poverty (less than $22,000 for a family of four), and one in three children does not have a parent with full-time, year-round employment.

So as a donor, what can you do?

For starters, you can support programs and policies that specifically target poor families.   Support for community health centers (as profiled in our High Impact Philanthropy in the Downturn), which provide primary and preventive care regardless of the ability to pay is one strategy.  And in thinking about how to support at-risk children, don’t forget about their caretakers.  Home visitation programs such as  Nurse-Family Partnership (also profiled in our High Impact Philanthropy in the Downturn guide) are in part successful because of their comprehensive approach to addressing both child and parent needs.  Another way to support children’s academic persistence and achievement is to look for programs that take a holistic approach, linking at-risk students and their families up with a range of existing community resources depending on what they need (e.g.,Communities in Schools, mentioned in our Pathways to Student Success).

As any parent knows, raising a healthy, happy, and successful child is not a sprint.  It’s a marathon, with a blurry finish line. Help is definitely needed along the way, and a little recognition is welcome as well.  It needn’t be a medal; some practical support and encouragement goes a long way in helping children and their families succeed.

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