Supporting Families Navigating Poverty

Photo of a person reading a book to a baby.
Photo by Picsea on Unsplash

By Megan McQueen

Throughout my career as an educator, I noticed that all families want the best for their children. I have known many families with long lists of needs while still being abundantly full of love for each other. There are many reasons families find themselves navigating poverty – some have had a health crisis, others are refugees. Systemic racism and societal barriers are additional factors contributing to family wealth. Sometimes we know the family’s circumstances, but not always. As educators, our job is to accept the family and support their journey with compassion. Unfortunately, Covid has become a financial hardship for many families, especially those who face racism in our society.

These suggestions for supporting all families may be helpful as you lead your parenting groups.

Lead with empathy. I have grown to realize that my hard work and luck have created my life. If I had been born to a different family or in another place or other body, my life would look nothing like it does. When I work with families, I want to convey respect and curiosity. Greet families warmly and create a community where classmates can connect. It may help families to hear from other families’ experiences. Laughing together and finding commonalities may help everyone connect over time. 

Offer practical supports. Families that attend your class may benefit from learning about local services. Consider compiling brochures or contact information for food banks, clothing giveaways, state health insurance applications, Head Start classes, local job openings, and more. Share this information with everyone and leave pamphlets on tables for people to take so no one needs to work up the courage to ask for this.

Add resiliency exercises to your classes. Often stress and money worries combine. Help counteract negative impacts of stress by practicing stress reduction techniques together. Brainstorm people your classmates can call upon when they need a break. Family stress levels can have adverse effects on children’s emotional development. Giving adults practical strategies and breaks will build family resiliency. 

Advocate together. If your organization allows, spend a few minutes of your class time on a postcard campaign to lobby local, state, or federal politicians for family rights. Families can benefit from child care availability, family leave, health care, food, and housing support. Focus your discussions on policies that are best for families rather than political debate or division. Taking action may empower people and can support resiliency.

Your parenting classes can be a place of respite and joy when you create an accepting community of learners. What strategies and resources would you share with your fellow parenting educators?

Picture Books:

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup. 

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