Community Work Groups
Tri-Town Hunger Action Team
Mission: The Vernon Hunger Action Team (HAT) brings together local government, schools, faith groups, businesses, nonprofit service providers and concerned residents to eliminate the problem of hunger in our community.
The HAST collaborates to maximize available resources and work to identify any gaps in service. The goal is to provide workable solutions to ensure that no Vernon resident goes hungry.
The Tri-town Hunger Action team seeks creative ways to engage community members in responding to the need of hunger in our community. Currently the Hunger Action team is overseeing the production of a video which will create awareness around scope of hunger in the tri town community. The intent of this video is to educate and inspire people to become involved.
The Neighborhood Advocate Program
A significant component of the Community Plan calls for a provision that enables neighborhood residents to be able to more effectively communicate with municipal social services and volunteer help organizations, and vice-versa. The Neighborhood Advocate Program (NAP), developed in partnership between the Rockville Community Alliance and the Vernon Community Network was developed with this goal in mind. Engaging community members to help one another eliminates some of the negative effects of poverty.
A Neighborhood Advocate is an individual who is known and trusted in the community and someone who people seek out for help. They are active in our community and aware of services available. The NAP program is part of a partnership between the Rockville Community Alliance (RCA), Vernon Community Network (VCN) & the Vernon Police Department – Community Policing Division.
Meetings are held on a bi-monthly basis. Neighborhood Advocates can be found at many Community events, such as the RCA’s – National Night Out in August and the Ready-Set-School Fair in March.
What we’re measuring!
A. WHAT WE KNOW – Where Are We Now?
Where we live, work, study, and play are critically important for the overall health of a community, and its individual residents, especially for children. Growing up in neighborhoods and communities that are stable, safe, and nurturing establishes a foundation for healthy development. But for too many of our children, their well-being and feelings of connectedness and purpose become compromised growing up in a community that suffers from economic and social disadvantage. Understanding the prevalence of poverty in Vernon is of central importance to all of our children being safe, healthy and productive.
Headline Indicator: % of Vernon Children under 18 Living in Poverty
BASELINE DATA (Census)
Children Under 18 Living in Poverty
According to United States Census Bureau/American Community Survey reports for 1990, 2000, and 2005- 2009, (5-Year Estimates) Vernon experienced a concerning upward trend in the percent of children under the age of 18 who live in poverty. As with other indicators of well-being, a comparison was done with a community similar in size and make-up to Vernon, as well as a neighboring community twice its size in population. Between 1990 and 2000, the percentage of all Vernon children under 18 living in poverty increased slightly. Between 2005 and 2009, the percentage increased dramatically, while surrounding towns decreased during this same time.
IS THIS OKAY?
As of 2009 estimates, there are approximately 534 children between the ages of birth to 17 living in poverty in Vernon. The majority of them reside in the Rockville section of town (Census tracts 5301 and 5302) as shown on the following map, which reflects the percent of people in those areas of Town living in poverty.
The following graphs depict the 1990 and 2000 Census poverty data by age and census tract. (This data is only available every ten years.) During that decade, Vernon’s total population decreased by 2,000 and approximately 600 of these were between the ages of birth to 17. Consistent over time however, is that this age group represents roughly 22% of the whole Vernon population. In the same period, the percentage of children under 18 living in poverty who resided in Census tract 5301 increased dramatically. Also noted is that children under 18 living in poverty in Census tract 5302 remained higher than any other location in town. In both 1990 and 2000, most children living in poverty were those under 6 years of age.
To further understand where these children live, we examined household type, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau (see below graph). In Vernon, the majority of children under 18 living in poverty live in single mother head of households. In each of the two census tracts in Rockville, many also live with married parents.
1. Current Conditions
We know that poverty exists in varying degrees worldwide, within our country, state and local community. We also recognize that there is a higher concentration of poverty in Rockville. While there is no specific data to explain why this is so, there appears to be a connection between:
• Documented changing demographics
• Affordable housing
• Increased enrollment in the state HUSKY insurance program
• Public transportation
Vernon Social Services Department confirms that the most pronounced rates of poverty are in the Rockville section of town. Its residents are the primary consumers of services. Vernon families who live in affordable housing have varying degrees of poverty ranging from low income to working poor and from existing at the federal poverty level to below. These rental properties vary in costs and condition, with the poorest families able to afford units in the poorest physical condition.
Since 1998, the State of CT has offered a full health insurance package (HUSKY) for children up to age 19, regardless of family income. Families pay based on a formula, with two different levels of coverage, commonly known as HUSKY A and HUSKY B. In 1998, Vernon had 1,211 children enrolled in HUSKY A. This number has steadily increased over the years, in part due to outreach efforts. In November 2007, 1,759 children in Vernon were enrolled in HUSKY A. In October 2000, 50 Vernon children were enrolled in HUSKY B while in November 2007 there were 189 enrolled in HUSKY B.
However having HUSKY insurance is not enough to insure adequate healthcare. The number of providers who accept HUSKY has steadily decreased over the years due to the low reimbursement rates. Grant funded services for this population have been implemented but long waiting lists are common.
Areas of Vernon also offer the convenience and affordability of public transportation. This ease of access also allows for families in even poorer communities to improve their quality of life by relocating from urban areas to Vernon.
2. Impact Of Poverty
Simply stated, poverty is the lack of the most fundamental needs such as adequate food, clothing, and shelter. When unmet, children and families suffer. They suffer not only because they lack basic needs, but this impacts their ability to meet higher level needs such as education and work, or to strengthen their social and spiritual connections. If you are tired, cold, and hungry it is difficult to do much else. The LWG understands that the eradication of poverty is not the scope of this plan, instead, it is our purpose to focus on the “culture of poverty” that serves as a root cause for the challenge that impact Vernon’s children and families.
When adequate resources are not available to our families and individuals, the consequences build. Connecticut’s Plan for Reducing Childhood Poverty (October 2009) highlights several of these for children raised in poverty. These consequences can be seen in the arenas of physical development, academic achievement and emotional /social development.
Children living in poverty are:
• More likely to have health problems: This includes low birth weight, stunted growth, asthma, obesity, and poor cognitive development.
• Often under-prepared for the rigors of education: They are 1.3 times more likely to have developmental delays, learning disabilities, and often score lower on standardized tests. By the time these children begin formal schooling, children in low-income families already lag significantly behind their more affluent peers.
• At greater risk for experiencing emotional and behavioral problems: The fatigue of poverty is visible in the emotional challenges of depression and anxiety as well as in self-defeating, destructive behaviors. Children living in poverty may show difficulties with aspects of social competence including self-regulation and impulsivity. These children are also at risk for substance abuse in the form of self-medication.
Bolstering the case that family income effects children, are the findings that with increases in family income, children’s cognitive-academic skills and social-emotional competence improve. However, the greatest impact on the mental health of children (even as young as infants) is the mental health of the parents.
Local experts say the greatest and most common situation they face is that parents suffering from mental health problems often do not have the physical or emotional resources to meet their children’s needs.
Many times this leads to mental health problems for the children:
• Parents with mental health problems often experience chronic stress from their psychiatric symptoms, leaving their level of function unpredictable and their work performance unstable. This jeopardizes employment and financial stability.
• Families living in poverty often live in homes with numerous family members, multiple families or strangers, usually in a confined single living space. Children’s mental health issues can go unnoticed in such often-chaotic environments.
• Living in low-income neighborhoods carries additional risks such as increased exposure to community substance abuse and violence
B. WHAT ARE WE DOING?
While Vernon is a community rich in support services, healthcare providers, and quality public and private education, the current system of response for families and young children is fragmented. Access to services for Vernon children are limited by their families’ knowledge and ability to advocate for themselves. In response, the community of providers formed the Vernon Community Network in an effort to better coordinate and connect existing services to families.
C. WHAT CAN WE DO?
While we will not be able to completely eliminate poverty in our community, we can work towards reducing the impacts of poverty on children and families in Vernon.
1. Develop a coordinated system of need based identification and service delivery designed to reduce the impact of poverty.
a) Determine existing points of intake (e.g. local agencies, schools, hospitals, faith communities, etc.) and inventory existing intake procedures and forms.
b) Inventory available physical facilities in town and those accessible from the Town of Vernon that may serve as a “one-stop” location for service needs and delivery.
c) Research Geographical Information System (GIS) for creation of a virtual “one-stop” location to be available at each partner organization.
d) Create a uniform intake procedure and corresponding documentation.
e) Utilize multi-media venues such as email, internet, and local cable access.
f) Track cases and follow up.
2. Develop a comprehensive mentoring system to provide enhanced case management and social connectedness for children and families.
a) Inventory existing children’s mentoring programs.
b) Identify gaps in mentoring programs and create new resources.
DATA DEVELOPMENT AGENDA
L. J. Hanifan’s 1916 article regarding local support for rural schools is one of the first occurrences of the term “social capital” in reference to social cohesion and personal investment in the community. In defining the concept, Hanifan contrasts social capital with material goods by defining it as:
“I do not refer to real estate, or to personal property or to cold cash, but rather to that in life which tends to make these tangible substances count for most in the daily lives of people, namely, goodwill, fellowship, mutual sympathy and social intercourse among a group of individuals and families who make up a social unit… If he may come into contact with his neighbor, and they with other neighbors, there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the whole community. The community as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of all its parts, while the individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbors (pp. 130-131).”
The LWG is concerned about the lack of connection that both youth and adults expressed verbally and behaviorally in town and particularly in the schools. LWG believes that this is one resultant factor of living in poverty. Since this data does not yet exist for Vernon, a baseline will be developed by conducting a town-wide random sampling survey in 2011.
D. HOW WILL WE KNOW WE MADE A DIFFERENCE?
• How much did we do?
• How well did we do it?
• Is anyone better off?