Shameful. Appalling. Staggering.
That’s how some local activists describe the estimated 28.3 percent child poverty rate in the city of Durham – a percentage higher than state and national levels.
But those same activists are trying to change things.
End Poverty Durham and Durham’s Partnership for Children are holding the city’s first “Faith Summit on Child Poverty” on Thursday at Union Baptist Church.
Strategize ways that local congregations and agencies can work together to eliminate child poverty in Durham.
“This is a long-term effort that requires the energies of the entire community,” said Mel Williams, who retired last March after 24 years as pastor at Watts Street Baptist Church.
Now, Williams is the coordinator for End Poverty Durham.
“Our goal for the summit is to produce specific strategies, action steps, that congregations and agencies can take to help lift children out of poverty,” he said.
Investing “social capital” is integral if Durham residents want to end child poverty. That means harnessing local compassion, and resources, to continue forging relationships with low-income children and their families.
Williams is co-chair for the Faith Summit, along with Winnie Morgan, faith initiative coordinator at Durham’s Partnership for Children.
Morgan said more than 300 people are registered to attend from congregations across Durham.
The Faith Summit is co-sponsored by Durham Public Schools, Durham County Department of Social Services, East Durham Children’s Initiative, Healthy Families Durham, Durham Congregations in Action and others.
Many congregations, agencies and nonprofits are already working to eliminate child poverty in Durham. The Faith Summit is a chance for them to share ideas and learn from each other.
Recent statistics show the city’s need for a unified front.
The 2011 American Community Survey, released by the U.S. Census Bureau in September, estimated the city of Durham has a 28.3 percent child poverty rate.
That’s higher than North Carolina’s 25.6 percent, and the national rate of 22.5 percent.
The percentages are one-year estimates, used for populations greater than 65,000. They are not exact figures.
But numbers from Durham Public Schools tell a similar story.
Enrollment in the free and reduced lunch program shows poverty outpacing total student enrollment over the last few years.
As of October, 18,952 children received free lunch in Durham for the 2012-13 school year, and 62 percent of all students received free or reduced lunch.
That’s only up 2.2 percent from 2011-12, but 47.2 percent of students qualified for the program in 2008-09.
That means an additional 4,194 students received free or reduced lunch over the last five years, when total student enrollment only rose by 929.Health consequences
Poverty has long-term consequences for children.
It causes toxic stress, “strong and persistent stress” that activates a child’s stress response system, according to Jan Williams, program director for Healthy Families Durham.
“Toxic stress can actually change the architecture of the developing brain of a young child by activating the stress response system, and leading to a higher resting heart rate, and a high rate of stress hormones,” Williams wrote in an email.
“In fact, multiple adverse experiences in childhood can affect lifelong health and well-being,” she wrote.
Toxic stress may occur in children across the economic spectrum, but mostly occurs in those who live in poverty.
All that stress leads to higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and depression in adulthood.
“In the long run, preventing toxic stress leads to healthier, more well-adjusted and more successful adults,” Williams wrote.