COLUMN: Here's why One to One poverty-fighting effort can't come soon enough

Things aren't getting better for our littlest kids

CINCINNATI -- After nearly a year of planning and preparation, the Child Poverty Collaborative on Tuesday will announce the details of its new coaching initiative designed to help local families on their paths out of poverty.

Here’s why you should care: Cincinnati has more children living in poverty now than there were a year ago, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey one-year estimates.

That’s even with all the time, energy and effort that local business and community leaders have spent trying to reduce the region’s shameful child poverty rate over the past couple of years.

One of the confusing parts of all this is that the city’s overall poverty rate decreased slightly between 2015 and 2016, according to the data. 

The overall poverty rate in Cincinnati was 27.4 percent in 2015 and 26 percent in 2016. That’s the good news.

But the story isn’t as good for kids under 18.

The percentage of children in poverty under the age of 18 fell a bit, too.  But the number of children living in poverty actually increased.

The Census estimates show that number went from 25,002 in 2015 to 25,537 in 2016.

And the news is even worse for Cincinnati’s youngest children.

The poverty rate for kids under the age of 5 actually increased, from 31.8 percent in 2015 to 44.1 percent in 2016.

The number of those children living in poverty grew, too, from 6,301 in 2015 to 9,738 in 2016.

Keep in mind that these numbers are based on estimates, and poverty rates are impacted by all kinds of things, not the least of which are local and national employment rates.

Lynn Marmer

“This certainly needs a deeper dive to understand what the numbers are saying,” Child Poverty Collaborative Executive Director Lynn Marmer told me.

To make things even more complicated, the Census Bureau’s five-year estimates will come out in December, and experts have told me those figures offer more accurate insights into the region’s poverty rate.

It’s clear there is still much work to do, and the Child Poverty Collaborative and United Way of Greater Cincinnati have a lot riding on the One to One coaching program.

‘One will learn from the other’

Announced last October, the One to One program aims to partner families living in poverty with “life coaches” who can give them advice and point them in the direction of resources and programs that could help the families reach their goals.

RELATED: Lindners invest $500K to fight poverty

Local social service agencies and families have been involved in designing the program and determining how organizers will measure its success, Marmer said.

United Way of Greater Cincinnati CEO Rob Reifsnyder told me in April that the goal is to work with hundreds of families this year.

The ultimate goal of the Child Poverty Collaborative is to help lift 10,000 children and 5,000 families out of poverty within five years.

To do that, the Child Poverty Collaborative will be collaborating with the Cincinnati office of the Family Independence Initiative, or FII, which just launched in August.

FII does not work with families in crisis, whereas the One to One program might be able to help families who are among the city’s poorest, Marmer said.

“I think one will learn from the other,” she said. “You could be in both programs very easily or you could be in just one.”

Vashti Rutledge

FII, in fact, will be one of the 28 agencies working on the One to One program, said Vashti Rutledge, FII-Cincinnati's director. Each agency will receive $5,000 for its first three months of work, she said, and the Child Poverty Collaborative will reevaluate funding after that.

"It's really important to be part of the conversation for us," Rutledge said. "FII is bringing something a little bit different to the table in how we approach our work."

The agencies taking part in One to One will be able to start enrolling families as quickly as possible, Marmer said. Rutledge wasn't sure yet how many FII families also would be taking part in One to One.

Ultimately, One to One could become a multi-million dollar effort, Marmer said.

“I think that’s where it goes over time by redirecting the money that’s being spent today, often with good intentions and often good results. But isolated results,” Marmer said.

She pointed out that the goal for both One to One and FII is to empower local families so they can build the lives they want and lift themselves out of poverty.

If the latest Census numbers are correct -- and we have even more children in Cincinnati living below the federal poverty level -- that can’t happen fast enough.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.

To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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