Seeking Info on Best Practices for increasing quality of life for rural low income families
August 21, 2012 11:00 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for Best Practices worldwide for improving conditions for low-income families. Do any of you know of organizations with available data on specific ways that their programs have increased opportunities and quality of life for low income children and families?

I'm on the Board of a non-profit Parent Child center whose mission is to strengthen families with young children and connect them to their communities, with an emphasis on pregnant and parenting teens and families lacking support due to social isolation, poverty, insecure housing, or lack of other vital community resources.

Our center has been chosen to take part in a state-wide project (in Vermont in the USA) working to develop clear benchmarks for success. We are looking for programs that have proven success working with families in rural communities. Some of the areas in which we are seeking "Best Practices" include:

- Improvements in child welfare
- Increased family income
- Increased number of low income adults entering the work force / Decrease in unemployment
- Increase in children's social and emotional well-being
- Increase in school readiness
- Increased rate of graduation from secondary school
- Decreased percentage of low income families
- Decreased rate of hunger

There are undoubtedly other, less conventional measures that could also be useful that we haven't thought of yet. Please feel free to suggest any!
posted by ridingtheranges to Education (8 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
If you haven't already done so, you might want to search for information using the term "protective factors" along with your area terms such as "protective factors children emotional well being"
posted by HuronBob at 11:05 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yep, you're looking for the protective factors. This was championed by the US government several years ago and has seeped down to many states. Here's the Department of HHS' pages on them:

I don't know how specific you're looking to get into measures, but I would caution you that these particular measures are very vague and could be difficult to measure. For example, what exactly would entail "improvements in child welfare"? I work for a human service agency in an urban environment that does similar work to yours and we've spent a LOT of time in the past several years setting outcomes and indicators that are measurable and achievable. Some ideas:
- Increased rate of parents reading to their children daily (this has been proven to be a strong indicator of early literacy success)
- Increased rate of parents meeting at least one goal they set to improve their child's healthy development
- Increased rate of parents working full-time or enrolled in an educational program
posted by anotheraccount at 11:22 AM on August 21, 2012

Better education and better health are two things you want to work on. Take a quick look at Debug the child. Parasitic infections are more common in the U.S. than most people think but aside from that minor point, your main takeaway should be that improving child health does a lot for improved school attendance and has community-wide impact, beyond what you would expect. Improved attendance means improved education, of course.

Pick up a copy of "The tipping point". Here is an online summary. The book explains some things which will be helpful, like why "Blues Clues" worked so well as preschool education and how epidemics work. It also makes the point that communities are more resilient when a small percentage (I think between 4% and 6%) are educated middle-class types. I would think fostering mixed income communities would help restore or create the social fabric necessary to make poor communities function better.

I don't have an article to cite at my fingertips, but I homeschooled and was "director of community life" for a pro bono health and welfare organization during a time when they were trying to make the transition to 503c tax deductible charity. In short, I have read a lot about education and what works. Throwing money at the problem does not work. Community involvement and "neighborhood schools", where most kids can walk to school and bussing is limited, are much more strongly correlated with school success than dollars spent per child.

The best school either of my kids ever attended was a very poor neighborhood school with high community involvement. It was in a small college town to boot, which was a very pro-ed environment. It had won presidential recognition several times, something like three years out of ten. They had some great practices which helped stretch limited resources and which just worked to foster reading and the like.

That's it for now.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 11:32 AM on August 21, 2012

Very helpful, so far. To clarify - I'm looking for leads to information on specific programs that have proven effective and why they worked.

For instance, Michele in California, could you give me a name for the neighborhood school you referred to? It sounds like there would be very helpful info there.
posted by ridingtheranges at 12:37 PM on August 21, 2012

Northview Elementary, Manhattan KS.

My son attended it 18 to 19 years ago. I have no idea how it has changed or if they have a list of best practices somewhere. Everything was downhill from there.

Details I remember:

They made a list of siblings and only sent one copy of announcements home to the parents with the oldest sibling. This saved on wasted paper.

They had designated times when kids could go to the library on their own for a few minutes. As long as thry turned in their old books first, they could check out two new books a day, every single day. This was key to my oldest son becoming an avid reader even though he took to reading a little late (due to being 2xe). They did not limit book selection by grade either.

Something like once a month, they offered free classes for parents after school. I can't think of an example of a topic but it was to help with parenting and education issues. I attended regularly.

This school was a godsend in helping me cope with my oldest son, who was a mystery wrapped in an enigma. They went over him with a fine toothed comb in kindergarten and came up with very few clues but the overall school environment was so great that it mattered relatively little while we were there that real answers did not begin to materialize until he was 11.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 12:55 PM on August 21, 2012

This is a huge question and the rural frame makes it even trickier, but here are a few places to look:

What Works Clearinghouse

Promise Neighborhoods Research Consortium - What Works

Annie E Casey Foundation (which focuses on outcomes for children & youth) publications on rural issues might be helpful.

Coalition for Community Schools

posted by yarrow at 2:29 PM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Some other things to research (I know these have been used in urban environments; not sure about rural):
Ounce of Prevention
Parents As Teachers
Reggio Emilia curriculum for early childhood (similar to Montessori)
The 40 Developmental Assets for Youth
posted by anotheraccount at 6:01 AM on August 22, 2012

I'm looking for leads to information on specific programs that have proven effective and why they worked.

This is, in some ways, the Holy Grail.

But it's not easy. That's why the information you're looking for isn't at your fingertips. What starts out as a simple question is actually incredibly complicated.

In the recent past, there was a push for local community programs to "prove" that they're being effective. Most staff of programs didn't have the program evaluation training and experience to undertake a systematic review of their work (or the time, since they have full time jobs serving the community and actually enacting the programs) -- and it turned out that setting realistic, measurable goals can take years of work. People make whole careers out of it -- and suddenly program staff were being asked to do it without any training or reimbursement for the additional time it takes.

Recently, possibly seeing that agencies, community groups, programs don't have the capacity to both do their regular work and study themselves at the same time, the push is for programs to adopt "evidence-based programs" that have worked elsewhere, as a proxy for "we're doing something we're sure has value".

The problem is that even those "evidence-based programs" often don't have very good "evidence." The gold standard for evidence is a randomized control trial or requires such high numbers (think: 30000 students were served by the program, for example) that very few community programs can meet that kind of standard. (Don't even get me started on the challenge of proving that it was the program itself that improved, for example, students lives and not some other community-wide change, like a sudden increase in jobs.)

And then there's the problem with taking a program that was developed for a unique community, and applying it to your unique community. A rural community in the Northeast (US) that has three stop lights and is 40 miles from the nearest city looks very different from a rural community in Alaska that has no roads and covers 400 miles.

And then there's the problem of implementation fidelity -- proving that you're implementing that evidence-based program exactly as the original program did. Programs now have to measure their work, which can mean program staff spend time scratching their heads on how to measure attendance when their students come to the after school program, for example, at different times (Bobby stayed after school to get help with his math homework, so he didn't get to the after school program until 15 minutes in, Peggy and Sally left early because they have doctor's appts and the units of measurements are 'days of attendance' and 'number of snacks served'). The evidence shows that making sure children are fed after school is important -- so lets focus on getting more children fed before they leave early.

Looking for programs that work, and being inspired by them, and understanding what was effective about them are worthy goals. Being clear about your own goals, and finding a way to demonstrate that you're doing what you think you're doing = also important.

People think data is truth. Actually -- it becomes it's own kind of fiction.
posted by vitabellosi at 6:12 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

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