We could go our whole life without knowing people in different social circumstances. We want to see families who are strong step in and show them a different way. —William Duncan, director of the Sutherland Institute Center for Family and Society
SALT LAKE CITY — A new committee began a difficult trek on Monday.
David Burton described members of the Intergenerational Poverty Advisory Committee as pioneers on a journey to end intergenerational poverty in Utah.
"We're at about milestone 50 on a 1,500-mile trek," the committee chairman said. The "trek" will be difficult and the committee may not know exactly where it's going, but he told the members they have the "chance to make some magnificent differences and changes."
During its first meeting, the committee discussed getting others involved, creating focus groups and providing social training to help end poverty. The committee is composed of members of advocacy groups, academic experts, faith-based organizations and local government representatives that focus on childhood poverty or education.
The meeting began with introductions and a review of the 2012 Intergenerational Poverty Report which shows that 364,822 people — or 13.2 percent the state's population — live in poverty. The number of children in poverty is 136,751, or 16 percent of Utah's child population.
The committee members also reviewed SB53, which created their committee and a state commission. The commission's role is to develop policy recommendations to end intergenerational poverty and dependence on public assistance programs. The committee was created to help the commission in its efforts.
One of the major discussions of the meeting was the need for more information and statistics so the committee knows what works in overcoming intergenerational poverty.
Bill Crim, senior vice president of Community Impact and Public Policy for United Way of Salt Lake, said the committee should focus on geographic pockets with high poverty to better measure achievement gaps, kindergarten readiness and Title I schools' ability to succeed.
Karen Crompton, president and CEO of Voices for Utah Children, said when it comes to children, her group knowS what works, such as early childhood education. She suggested using the information they have as a benchmark and create focus groups in the six ZIP codes most effected by intergenerational poverty that have at least 1,000 children and measure test scores and graduation rates.
Crompton also said the committee should keep tabs on upcoming legislation that aligns with its vision.
David Patton, executive director of the Utah Department of Health, said the Intergenerational Poverty Advisory Committee needs to get to root causes of intergenerational poverty.
"What I'm cautious of is jumping to conclusions or solutions," he said, adding that the committee needs to have focus groups and ask individuals about the causes of intergenerational poverty and what they see as potential solutions.
"I think this committee is really good to get good perspectives, but we need a few others," he said.
Another issue discussed was the need for the committee to better understand the people whom they are trying to help.
Price Mayor Joe Piccolo said there is a "total lack of understanding for what we expect" from those effected by intergenerational poverty.
He suggested the need to focus on social training to end misunderstandings and reinforce the idea to children that they "can become whatever you want to be in this country."
Palmer DePaulis, executive director of the Utah Department of Human Services, said trauma is a key issue that should be part of the group's policy direction.
"We know that we have to focus on the person. We have to be recovery-oriented," DePaulis said.
Many committee members expressed the need to get others besides themselves involved in their efforts to end intergenerational poverty.
William Duncan, director of the Sutherland Institute Center for Family and Society, said getting more people involved, "not just agencies but individuals," will help the committee's efforts.
"We could go our whole life without knowing people in different social circumstances," Duncan said. "We want to see families who are strong step in and show them a different way."
Crim also said the world is naturally isolated, making it harder to get systems to work together. But collaboration would mean success in the long run.
"No single institution, no single organization can solve these problems by themselves," Crim said. "It really does require an effort that brings together resources and organization. In less than five years, and certainly within five years, we ought to be able to see big systems aligning resources in some way."
D. Ray Reutzel, Utah State University professor and director of Early Childhood Center, said education is key to changing the current pattern and he wants to see childhood development as well as adult education.
"What are we going to do to try to help these mothers get the skills and have the opportunities to get those skills in the future?" he asked.
Reutzel said parents are their children's first teachers and remain their teachers throughout life.
"They look to them as a guide for how they'll live their lives," he said. "We have to teach both of these populations and give them the opportunities to lift themselves out of the situations they find themselves."
Reutzel also suggested adding an urban planner to the committee and said they should move informational resources into places where they normally wouldn't be found.
He said on State Street near the Department of Workforce Services where the meeting was held, you can easily find tattoo parlors or bars.
"You won't find a bookstore on this street," he said.