Mike Terry, Deseret News
Mary Louise Long sorts donated clothing at an event providing lunch and clothing for the homeless which was a cooperation between Subway restaurants and the Salt Lake Rescue Mission in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011. Years ago, Mary Louise was one of the hundreds of homeless benefiting from such events. Now after overcoming addiction and poverty, she and her husband Ron work for the Rescue Mission and help others turn the corner to recovery and independence.

Want to break the cycle of poverty? We have a state lawmaker who wants to do so.

Sen. Stuart Reid wants to know why one-third of Utah adults on public assistance were also on public assistance as children. It's encouraging to see a legislator want to deal with causes rather than symptoms.

The public assistance program known earlier as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) is now called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

The original intent of the AFDC program was to help mothers keep and raise their children in their own home. However, the main mission of the 1996 TANF in Utah appears to be to have mothers take any job, while dismissing the importance of early child development. Such emphasis on the parent leaving the home to work has not reduced the number of Utah children in poverty, rather it may play a part in its increase. TANF ignores the importance of early child development and may play a part in today's generation of children who have no sense of attachment, no appreciation of human life, no security and who are prone to violent and impulsive behavior — the children who have no sense of tomorrow.

A 1993 Carnegie Corporation study found scientific evidence about infant brain development showing the importance of prenatal and postnatal care in a child's first three years. Brain development is completed before birth, thus making childcare and bonding between mother and child critical, especially in the formative years. Parent-child "bonding" is where the personality development of a child acquires a sense of identity, love, security, frustration tolerance and the value of human life and societal values.

Such findings provide evidence of the importance of the protection of infants and children in preventing school failure, violent behavior and improving the chances of the individual making a successful adjustment as an adult.

The study also points out the importance of preventing teen pregnancy and of intervening early to protect the child where parents are unable to provide the necessary nurturing. New evidence shows the wisdom of such a public policy, especially for today's social conditions.

However, the Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS), responsible for administering the TANF program, continues to require mothers to find a job with little attention to the negative effects on children with such a policy. While Reid's bill is to collect data to study the problem of inter-generational poverty among TANF participants, he has said he wants to determine how best to help the adult meet the needs of children and stop the cycle of inter-generational poverty, the initial intent of the AFDC program.

That will require DWS to renew its mission to promote the healthy development of infants, children and families by holding parents accountable for meeting the social, psychological, educational and economic needs of their children and to support them in that effort. Further, the study should provide a review to determine to what extent DWS is organized and staffed to work with families, rather than simply helping the parent seek employment. The study ought to examine what happens to children on TANF. For example: do they receive prenatal and postnatal care; is there a decrease in child neglect/abuse, teen pregnancy and delinquent behavior; and is there improvement in school performance?

Reid's commitment to breaking the cycle of inter-generational public assistance with early intervention by assuring the healthy development of infants and children will go far in reducing the social, health, education and economic problems of children and families. His family approach should be viewed as an important step in breaking the cycle of poverty and be commended and supported.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education.