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How safety net programs improve children's performance in school

Life in the United States can be difficult due to the unequal distribution of resources like housing, healthcare, and education among racial and socioeconomic classes. Survival depends on generational and environmental resources that are not always readily available. A child’s survival is highly dependent on their family for care to keep them healthy and happy. When family support is unavailable, governmental systems step in. Researchers at the Brookings Institute report, “If our capitalist system is going to be fair to children and families—if it is going to hold out any meaningful promise of equal opportunity—then a new social construct is needed.”

All children have the potential to be whomever they dream, but achieving that dream begins with the appropriate education. Children who live in low-income households are among the most vulnerable populations frequently living in unsafe neighborhoods and attending underfunded schools. Unfortunately, there are large education gaps between low-income households versus high-income households that begin as early as preschool. Low-income families frequently juggle household expenses, and basic needs like food and childcare. NC Child found that “Children have the best chance of thriving and living full lives when they have access to physical and mental health care, education, nutritious food, safe housing, and high-quality childcare. Our state legislators have a responsibility to make wise policy choices that support children and families at all times—and especially in time of crisis.” Many low-income children come to school hungry and underdressed. When a child comes to school hungry, sick, or inadequately dressed clothing they are distracted from learning and they can have challenges socializing with their peers. These factors create difficulties for students to succeed academically even if they attended well-funded schools. Safety net programs have become principal to allow low-income families to present a brighter future.

Government-run programs like Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) help promote the growth and development of poverty-stricken children and families. In particular, WIC and SNAP allow families to purchase healthy foods that support bone development and growing bodies. Regular consumption of processed food can result in malnutrition, fatigue and low energy. Unfortunately for many low-income families processed meals are often their only affordable food option. Three well-balanced meals a day allows children to maintain the nutrients their bodies need to develop and function properly.

Every adult and child should have the right to affordable healthcare. Yet, approximately 27.5 million Americans do not have health insurance due to the rising costs of premiums. Medicaid helps to ensure better health outcomes for those who cannot afford private healthcare insurance.

Head Start programs provide comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and families. Many of these programs offer options for expectant family’s, home-based school, and school year center-based toddler classes. The outcomes for these children are plentiful and gives them the foundation for realizing their greatest dreams. Regina “RK" Barrett and Deion Warren are head start graduates of Choanoke Area Development Association of N.C., Inc. (CADA) and are now a published author and professional singer, respectively. With the strong educational foundation provided by Head Start, the pair have fulfilled their dreams and achieved financial success.

Our children deserve to thrive and feel confident about a limitless future. We must continue to close the gaps and focus on community mobilization to support our most vulnerable population.


Kelley Traynham is a writer in the North Carolina Community Action Association’s

Fellows Program. NCCAA Fellows are students or recent graduates pursuing a career in communications, graphic design, IT, public policy or a related field. They receive a stipend for their participation in the program. For more information on the NCCAA Fellows Program, please contact Yvette Ruffin, NCCAA chief communications officer.

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