Low-income families in our region are struggling more than ever to balance family budgets, which are stressed by rising housing costs on top of the already high cost of Bay Area living. Families’ financial worries show up as stress, and extended periods of stress can take their toll on physical, mental, and emotional health. School psychologists and guidance counselors have reported an increase in the number of children struggling with stress because of their families’ financial problems.1 In addition, the longer-term implications of chronic financial stress are even more alarming.
A decade-long study at the Iowa State University Institute for Social and Behavioral Research has shown that children who experience socioeconomic adversity at an early age are at increased risk for experiencing mental health challenges during their teenyears.2 The study finds that young people from poor families are particularly vulnerable to becoming “trapped in the self-perpetuating cycle of adverse life circumstances and poor health.” K. A. S. Wickrama, one of the authors of the study, concluded, “What needs to be done is enhance the kids’ resiliency factors—such as investing in kids’ education and psychological competency programs. The policies and intervention programs need to focus on early intervention.”3
Taking Action To Protect Families
Alameda County Community Asset Network (AC CAN) and First 5 Alameda County have teamed up to hold an event to address the cycles of financial stress and poor health in families. Financial $ecurity for Healthy Families on March 28th is for early childhood specialists who are providing this early intervention with children aged 0-5. These professionals also support the child’s parents to achieve stability so that they can nurture and support their child-emotionally, physically, and also financially.
Better Financial Products
AC CAN member organizations will discuss the safe and affordable savings and credit building products they provide such as lending circles where people come together to make small, regular contributions towards a larger savings goal, and individual development accounts which build a savings habit while guaranteeing a return on savings towards a specific goal. Organizations will highlight products which are available for immigrant communities because these families are especially vulnerable to financial stressors.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance
Member organizations will also teach practitioners about VITA sites where families can get their taxes prepared for free, and the tax credits which many of the families are eligible for such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. Together these credits can total approximately $6,000 which is over 20% of the average yearly income for families using VITA sites in Alameda County. It is crucial that families know about and access the tax credits which they are entitled to, so that they can maximize their yearly income, and address their financial needs.
When families are not able to access traditional forms of credit like car loans or mortgage loans, they turn to payday lenders and check cashers to fill the gap. These high cost alternative financial services trap families in a cycle of debt which increases stress and financial hardships. Once early childhood specialists have learned about the safe and affordable financial products in their community, they are well positioned to connect families to financial resources which will build their financial success.
Register for the event here. To register you will need to create a free account.
1 Brody, Leslie. (2009, September 20). Recession’s toll on children: Parents aren’t the only ones who suffer when jobs are lost and money is tight. Chicago Tribune.
2 Iowa State University News Service. (2008). ISU study finds early family depression has lasting effects on teens, young adults. Retrieved from http://www.public.iastate.edu/~nscentral/news/2008/dec/depression. shtml.