Seeing is Believing: Notes from a UK Study Visit on Child Poverty (Part 2, Liverpool)
Roberto Viramontes (Former Staff)Poverty & Family Economics
When it comes to the impact that poverty has on education outcomes, our visit to Liverpool presented our delegation with multiple models of how to mitigate the adverse effects of poverty and concentrations of poverty in schools on student performance. In concert with reaching the national child poverty target in the UK (my colleague, Megan Curran, detailed the UK child poverty target in part 1 of this series) the Liverpool’s city region has been hard at work at implementing a child poverty and life chances strategy that in most cases, consisted of supplying the whole family with integrated, wrap-around supports.
By visiting local organizations and schools that were on the front line of Liverpool’s child poverty and life chances strategy, we saw the entire continuum of child care and education — from Home Start Wirral’s local, volunteer-led breastfeeding network to improve the health of newborns, to the Tranmere Community Project (TCP), which offered alternative education programs to youth who faced challenges in coping in traditional school settings. The great thing about TCP is that it focused on youth (ages 12-19) who have disengaged from learning and has redefined learning in a way that meets their comprehensive needs, develops confidence and a permission to dream and to aspire to better things through learning.
From there we visited the Vauxhall’s Children Center, located on the same site of a primary school with comprehensive services for the child and the parents (an early childhood setting connected to the K-12 system with supports for the whole family, including job training and placements for parents and assistance in filing for family tax credits…what a concept).
We were also treated to a dinner and reception at the Blackburne House, which currently stands as one of Liverpool’s leading social enterprises and educational institutions. Serving as a critical partner in reducing the city’s region’s child poverty and life chances strategy, the Blackburne House is one of the leading women’s education providers with a range of award winning social enterprises (from running a spa to producing and marketing their own honey).
Finally, we toured Stockbridge Village, a formerly designated ‘deprived area’ currently being targeted for redevelopment and being equipped with community resources as part of a community regeneration and safer school community initiative. We visited the new Stockbridge primary school (already in operation but still under construction), and heard from local police on how to integrate the community safety element of community development with new technology – using, for example, text messages to communicate with local residents about local safety concerns.
Concluding the visit was an opportunity to participate in the Liverpool Region Child Poverty and Life Chances Commission autumn meeting at Knowsley Council, hosted by Member of Parliament, Frank Field, where we really felt that strategy development for tackling child poverty was constantly at the forefront of their policy priorities. It is the only way that this region, or any region in the world for that matter, can achieve a long-term shared vision for reducing child and family poverty and maximizing opportunities for children and youth.
While the US and the UK have a lot in common in terms of the poverty challenges they face, there are stark differences in their respective approaches to addressing the needs of children and youth during such difficult times. In the UK, Liverpool in particular, they pursue a dual strategy of ensuring that an ever growing proportion of children and youth are school-ready while maximizing family resources (comprehensive supports for the students and assistance with job placement for the parents). In the US, not only are we so willing to cut discretionary programs (education) but our rhetoric often overlooks poverty’s impact and focuses on test scores, economic competitiveness, international testing comparisons and shortages of STEM professionals. Since 2002, our education policies have been dominated by test-based accountability with the expectation that it will close achievement gaps. Meanwhile, the UK is investing more in evidence-based reforms that include comprehensive supports for social-emotional learning.
Rather than focusing on how well we match up to other nations on international test-score comparisons, our public policies should be better focused on poverty and the comprehensive needs of families (something Dr. Pedro Noguera has advocated for). So, maybe the next time someone mentions Liverpool, while it may trigger thoughts of the Beatles, the Mersey River, the Cavern Club, and even the Liverpool Football Club or Everton Football Club, be sure to add their steady and impressive commitment to reducing child and family poverty.