The Times West Virginian

February 1, 2013

Our state must stop the vicious cycle of poverty affecting children

Times West Virginian

— Poverty is a vicious cycle.

And we don’t use the word “vicious” lightly.

And when it affects children, and it most certainly does in the Mountain State, we can’t allow a word like “vicious” to be taken lightly. And considering that 30 percent of children under the age of 6 live in poverty in West Virginia, we have got to do more than just collect figures and data. We have to look at the problem and determine how best to deal with it.

Impoverished children often don’t have the support system in place they need to succeed in school or in extracurricular activities. That lack of success not only limits opportunities for advanced training or education needed to start careers, but it also serves as a deterrent from graduating from high school.

With no training or degree, the cycle continues for so many. Children are brought into the equation through teen pregnancy, who are many times left to be raised by grandparents on fixed incomes or single parents not even living paycheck to paycheck.

And unfortunately, that sometimes leads to desperation. Substance abuse, domestic incidents, violence and crime occur at a much higher rate for those living below the poverty line.

And considering that the state of West Virginia pays $23,674 per inmate incarcerated per year, we say the system is a little upside down.

If we combat the issue of childhood poverty now then the soaring and overwhelming cost of incarcerations will eventually decline.

Kids need a chance. We need to invest in our children.

We believe that is starting to happen in our state. Six months ago, the Healthy Kids and Family Coalition started the “Our Children, Our Future: Campaign to End Child Poverty.” The problem is that impoverished families and children don’t have high-paid lobbyists or voices to speak on heir behalf. And when it comes to cuts in budgetary line items, the cuts often come from programs that help needy families with day care, after-school care or health programs.

Volunteers and representatives from programs that help children in poverty met this week to discuss the issues. There’s a forum planned for March in Fairmont when those organizations will speak on behalf of the children and ask for the support of state lawmakers.

“The strength of this is that it’s everybody coming together,” said Stephen Smith, director of the Healthy Kids and Family Coalition. “It was a really lively conversation, and I think ultimately it was a productive one.

“It took a generation for us to get to the mess that we’re in,” he said. “All of these things are in front of us, and if we only work for the next two months it will be a nice little project, but the real question is can we keep this kind of momentum.”

We certainly hope so. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Our village has to be willing to to stop this vicious cycle of poverty and invest money when it could have an impact — early childhood — and spend less resources when it’s too late.