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Nelson Mandela, one of the great moral voices of the 20th century, said this: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Indeed, in Philadelphia, and across the country, we have seen dedicated organizations and individuals work tirelessly to help our communities’ young people reach their full potential.
But the need for evidence-based, early-intervention programs for those most at risk of developing serious mental health problems is a significant ongoing concern. In the city of Philadelphia, 37 percent of young people under the age of 17 live in poverty—the highest rate among the 10 largest cities in the United States. Even more concerning is the fact that almost 61,000 of these 126,000 children and youth live in “deep poverty,” defined as an annual income of $12,000 or less for a household of four.
Poverty is associated with material deprivation—food insecurity; unsafe housing; and lack of reliable transportation, health services, and child care. Substantial evidence also indicates that poor children face a host of additional challenges. They risk falling behind in language, cognition, and social-emotional development, and have a higher risk of exhibiting mild to moderate behavioral problems, which their parents often may not fully recognize or feel equipped to manage. These deficits can lead to young children being ill-prepared to enter school and, once there, performing poorly—and, in some instances, exhibiting disruptive behavior, including difficulty interacting with peers and teachers.
And, as reported by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Policy Lab, young people who demonstrate challenging behavior in preschool, elementary, or middle school can be at risk of developing full-blown mental health disorders, which can severely affect their life trajectories.
We now have a significant body of evidence showing that intervening early with these children can prevent more serious mental health problems down the road—which might require more intensive and costly intervention that can be difficult for families to access and afford. That is why The Pew Charitable Trusts supports nonprofit organizations in the Philadelphia region whose prevention and early-intervention programs are guided by research and real-world experience—and designed to reduce the likelihood of long-term behavioral and academic problems.
To highlight just three examples:
There is much work to be done to help our most at-risk children reach their potential, but in Philadelphia these organizations—and many others—are making a real difference.
This post was originally published on CityMinded.org on January 19, 2017.
Frazierita Klasen is a vice president at The Pew Charitable Trusts in Philadelphia, where she oversees Pew’s Fund for Health and Human Services. In March 2016, Pew announced $8,588,000 in grants to 45 Philadelphia-area organizations working to improve the lives of low-income young people and their families, including agencies that provide prevention and early-intervention services to strengthen the social-emotional skills and behaviors of at-risk children and adolescents.