Why Higher Education Is A Must For Low-income Mothers

women in college class
Deborah Muscari, at right, teaches a GED class at Del Mar High School Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, in San Jose, Calif. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is getting pressure from members of his own party to spend some of the state’s surplus on welfare, health care, child care and other social programs to assist those who are missing out on the economic recovery. California is currently enjoying an influx of tax revenue but Brown is expected to release a budget proposal Friday that emphasizes restraint and savings for a rainy day. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

More than ever a college degree divides the haves and have-nots in American society. College graduates earn wages 56% higher than those of high school graduates, according to recent data from the Economic Policy Institute. Equally important, employment stability increases with a college degree. A 2017 Report found that following the 2008 recession over 95% of renewed employment went to workers who were college educated. By 2020 at least two-thirds of all jobs in the United States will require a level of education beyond high school – widening the already considerable income gap between those with and without such educational attainments. People without degrees will fall further behind, especially low-income mothers and their families.

Low-Income Mothers in the Labor Market

For decades, low-income mothers have found themselves restricted to chasing opportunities in the low-wage labor market, which offers insufficient wages and few opportunities for advancement to workers and their families. In the United States, children living in poverty or just above the poverty line suffer as much because of low wages earned by their parents as because of any lack of jobs.

And why are so many of America’s low-income mothers stuck in dead end jobs? That fact can be traced not just to blind economic forces, to expanding low-wage jobs, but also to intentional policy choices. Congress’s enactment of “welfare reform” in 1996 explicitly discouraged states from offering poor mothers chances to pursue post-secondary education. The new law called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) called for “work first,” requiring states to push poor mothers into immediate employment. Impoverished female heads of households, among the most vulnerable in our country, were suddenly told to “become self-sufficient” – and were prodded to do that without access to the college ladder. This work first drive ignored decades of research showing that college attainments – not low-wage jobs – are the best route out of poverty.

Despite this history and the obstacles they face in the current U.S. welfare system, millions of low-income mothers are tenaciously trying to complete a degree and escape poverty. Over the past 10 years, the number of student parents has increased by more than 30%. A 2017 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that nearly five million undergraduate students, a quarter of all undergraduates, are parents of dependent children – and more than seven in ten of these are women. In fact, about 43% of the total student-parent population consists of single mothers. But the road to degrees is difficult. Try as they may, only a little more than a quarter of single parents in college are able to complete their degree within six years of enrollment. They graduate at less than half the rate of other students.

A Model for Providing Services to Students with Children

Recognizing the growing importance of helping student parents continue and finish their studies, some universities have established programs to meet the specific needs of this population – much as they have for veterans, international students and students of color. One leading model of support is the program called Services for Students with Children at Portland State University. This program provides counseling, childcare subsidies, lactation rooms, family-friendly study space and a place where student parents can connect with one another as they juggle complicated lives.

In a 2016 interview at Portland State, a 35-year old mom said the program “made all the difference between giving up and keeping on.” Other parents in the program talked about how the climb to graduation is much steeper if you are bringing children along. At the same time, though, some say children are “what keeps me going” as the interviewers heard again and again. Student-parents question why state policies are still focused on pushing mothers into “lousy jobs” rather than supporting efforts “to try to build your future” (as one mother of two put it). Support really matters. As a 28-year-old student confided, “There is no way I will ever be able to support my daughter if I don’t get this degree” yet she was taking the next semester off, because “I’m in debt now, I can’t borrow anymore and I can’t pay for childcare.” Interruptions like this often lead student-parents to drop out.

Lisa Wittorff, the director of the Services for Students with Children program, has watched hundreds of student-parents struggle to graduate: “I see parents who are doing everything possible. They are running from classes to daycare, to jobs and back to the library. At the very least states could count college effort as work effort – and provide fulltime childcare support.” Yet recent research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reveals that funding for day care centers has declined since 2002 at universities and community colleges. “It makes no sense,” Shanda a thirty-four year old mother declared after losing childcare support. “This is my fourth try going back (to get a college degree). I want my sons to see that you can succeed. But if I don’t have a safe place to leave them, how am I supposed to show them that?”

Supporting Mothers in College Builds Social Equity 

A college education is the surest pathway out of poverty, especially as the demand for a more educated workforce accelerates. Of equal value to American society, attending college gives low-income students the chance to explore and develop their talents and interests, helping them set a positive example for their children and pass on new connections and skills.

Yet these valuable effects are not possible unless poor parents who undertake college studies can gain access to reliable family support services. Childcare and income supplements to pay costs of housing and food are essential to the success of these doubly burdened student parents. Providing the necessary supports is a short-term cost to society, but this kind of social investment stretches far into the future. Beyond providing immediate help to individual students and their families, supporting poor students who study for a better future builds a more educated and equitable nation for all Americans.

Tending the Caregivers

Mothers who work as healthcare professionals – physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners – can significantly reduce their stress levels and burnout by participating in close supportive groups at work, according to a new study by researchers at Arizona State University and the Mayo Clinic. The shared experiences in these support groups provide a wealth of nurturance for the women.

The study, “Fostering resilience among mothers under stress: ‘Authentic Connections Groups’ for medical professionals,” is published in the current issue of Women’s Health Issues.

Groups in the intervention provided “comfort, solace and advice as needed, building what some called a ‘secret sisterhood’ of shared experiences with genuineness and reciprocity in the relationship,” said Suniya Luthar, a Foundation professor of psychology at ASU and the lead author of the study. “These factors help build resilience for professional mothers who are under great daily stress, with substantial dual demands at work and at home.”

Senior co-author and collaborator on the project was Dr. Cynthia Stonnington, associate professor and chair of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Arizona. Other authors of the paper are Alexandria Curlee, an ASU graduate student; Susannah Tye, Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Mayo Clinic, Minnesota; and Judith Engelman, a psychiatrist in private practice.

“Women medical professionals who are mothers often face the dual role of being the primary caregiver both for their patients and their children,” said Stonnington. “This puts them at higher risk for burnout than their male counterparts. Our study investigated how this supportive program might help mitigate stresses and promote their day-to-day health and well-being.”

The Authentic Connections Groups (ACG) intervention involved weekly sessions at work over a three-month period. The researchers randomly assigned 40 women at Mayo to one of two groups: either the 12 weekly one-hour sessions of the ACG’s or 12 weekly hours of protected time to be used as desired. The study was supported by a Seed fund from Arizona State University to Luthar, and the Mayo Clinic contributed release time to participate.

The study had several positive results.

It showed that those who participated in the ACGs had significantly greater reductions in depression and other global symptoms of stress than those given free time (the control group). Secondly, relative gains were still more pronounced three months after the program ended. Follow-up assessments showed significant between-group differences not only on depression and stress, but also on almost all other central variables, including parenting stress, self-compassion, feeling loved and physical affection. Participants in the ACGs also showed more reductions than control moms in cortisol levels (a biochemical indicator of stress) at both post intervention and three months follow up.

In explaining why this program worked, Luthar said that, in essence, the ACGs actively and continually fostered the development of close, mutually supportive relationships, and the resulting shared experiences and bonding helped to lower participants’ stress levels.

“Resilience research clearly shows the critical protective power of reliable close relationships,” Luthar said. “In this program, our focus was on developing and strengthening what we called ‘go-to’ committees for each woman. As topics were shared in the weekly group sessions over time, the moms each also shared them with their respective go-to’s. By the end of three months, each woman had developed great closeness not only with other moms in their work setting but also with at least two or three other women in their personal lives.”

A critical factor in enabling this effort was the institutional commitment to wellness. Stonnington reported that the ACG program was implemented as part of an initiative begun in 2015 at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona to address burnout and turnover among female physicians.

“Another major reason for the success of this program is that the groups were implemented in the women’s everyday settings, during their regular work-days,” said Luthar. “That the Mayo administration gave them the one hour per week free time to participate was a critical consideration, given how very packed these women’s schedules can be.”

The U.S. Surgeon General recently stated that efforts to promote the well being of medical professionals must become a major priority among health care organizations. This study demonstrates that facilitated colleague support groups can provide a viable, low-cost preventive way to mitigate burnout among women medical professionals who are also mothers.

More broadly, the authors note that the ACG program has the potential to be widely used in workplace wellness programs, given the high cost of worker stress and depression in contemporary America. Since completion of the Mayo project, Luthar and colleagues have successfully completed groups with military mothers, and are now offering it to women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines, with both new projects implemented at ASU.

“It is our hope that over time, the ACG program will come to benefit women, mothers, and other adults in salient caregiving roles, as they routinely give so much of themselves to others while experiencing high everyday stress,” Luthar said. “It just makes common sense. Those who serve as first-responders, and who offer so much tending for many others, must themselves be tended – with this happening on a reliable and ongoing basis.”

Social Work Research Sparks Calls for Change in Adoption, Options Counseling Process

(AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

A new study by a Baylor University researcher gives voice to women who have placed a child for adoption and suggests changes to the options counseling process and policies that guide agencies and other adoption professionals.

“There wasn’t paperwork. There wasn’t counseling. There was, like, no requirement for, ‘OK, we have to explain X, Y, Z to you.’ It was basically, ‘OK, well, here’s some life books and call us when you have the baby,’” said one birth mother, quoted in the study.

“Nobody ever asked me what I wanted to do,” said another.

For the past two years, Elissa Madden, Ph.D., assistant professor in Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, led a team of researchers who surveyed, interviewed and analyzed the responses of birth mothers who had placed a child for adoption and adoption professionals who work with expectant parents. The two-phase study was funded by The Donaldson Adoption Institute’s Lynn Franklin Fund and conducted in partnership with the School of Social Work at The University of Arlington.

“We were very intentional about this study from the very beginning,” Madden said. “We wanted to make sure that we would be able to capture different perspectives – birth mothers who have lived this experience as well as adoption professionals who work with expectant parents each day and understand that side of the process.”

The first phase of the study (released in November 2016), provided survey results and quantitative analysis of 223 birth mothers who had placed a child for adoption within the past 25 years, as well as 141 professionals who help counsel and facilitate adoptions.

This second phase provides a deeper qualitative analysis based on interviews with 28 birth mothers and 20 adoption professionals.

“Perhaps one of the most sobering findings was the fact that several of the birth mothers indicated that they did not fully understand the impact that this decision would have on every aspect of their lives from that point forward, including their relationships with their family, friends, their future spouse and other children they would have,” Madden said.

This latest phase of the study released by The Donaldson Adoption Institute include the following key findings:

• Many of the birth mothers expressed concerns of being judged and feelings of shame stemming from their pregnancies. For some mothers, the sense of shame stemmed from religious beliefs primarily surrounding having had premarital sex as well as the idea of being an unwed single mother.

• It was common for birth mothers to express concern about their lack of financial stability during their pregnancies. Financial concerns were often cited as reasons why birth mothers first considered, and ultimately elected, adoption.

• Many birth mothers experienced a lack of social and emotional support during and after the pregnancy and after the adoption was finalized. This lack of support often manifested when people in their lives avoided talking about the pregnancy or the adoption.

• Adoption professionals reported the use of different terms to refer to parents experiencing a crisis pregnancy who are seeking information about adoption. Slightly more than half of the adoption professionals indicated that they prefer the term, “expectant parent.” Other adoption professionals indicated that they prefer the term, “birth parent.”

• Much of the information that adoption professionals reported discussing with new expectant parents focused on adoption-related concerns rather than full consideration of all of the parents’ options. Less than half of adoption professionals specifically mentioned discussing information related to parenting their child or methods for helping expectant parents’ problem-solve how this might occur.

• Despite the confidence that the professionals reported feeling about their ability to work and communicate with expectant parents, most offered suggestions that would help them strengthen their practice. More than half of the adoption professionals called for additional training on grief and loss related to relinquishment.

“While some of the women we interviewed had very positive experiences during their decision-making and relinquishment process, others indicated that the information and support that they received from the agency or attorney was insufficient to help them fully consider their options and make the best choice for them and their child,” Madden said. “For these birth mothers, the decision to place their child has had a lifelong impact on them and is one that they greatly regret.”

One birth mother quoted in the study said she felt pressure to sign papers immediately after having the baby.

“It was horrible,” she said. “I can tell you right now, if the lawyer hadn’t shown up in my room when I was in kind of a haze from giving birth, I don’t know if I would’ve signed those papers. I should’ve had time.”

As part of the study, the researchers made several policy recommendations, which include:

• Mandate adoption agencies and adoption attorneys to develop and/or provide free access to pre- and post-relinquishment services for expectant and birth parents. These services should include individual and family counseling provided by a licensed clinical professional.

• Mandate that adoption agencies and adoption attorneys must provide expectant parents with a standardized, informed consent that details the possible outcomes associated with relinquishing parental rights to a child for adoption, as well as potential outcomes that the child may experience.

• Increase and standardize education for expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents about the strengths, limitations and legalities of post-relinquishment contact, including the rights of adoptive parents to decrease or eliminate contact in some states.

• Mandate biannual ethics in adoption continuing education for adoption professionals. This curriculum should address ethical challenges related to working with expectant parents, birth parents, extended family members, prospective adoptive parents and other adoption professionals. The curriculum should also emphasize the importance of options counseling, including full informed consent and access to supportive services.

Indiana State Social Work Students to Help Young Mothers

INDIANA — The Indiana State University social work department has received a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to launch a mentoring program for young mothers re-entering society after incarceration called Next Step 2 Healthy Families.

Robyn Lugar, associate professor of social work, is the project director for this first-of-its-kind grant that creates a university-community partnership to address the needs of young mothers through the Second Chance Act of 2007, which was enacted to break the cycle of criminal recidivism. The $341,000 grant is the first issued through the act and is focused on helping young mothers.

Without proper guidance, the women could return to the criminal justice system for any number of reasons especially with the inability to find resources to adapt to life post-incarceration, Lugar said. “These situations usually happen because of something silly, like they didn’t make an appointment with a probation officer or because they didn’t have childcare or transportation. They couldn’t get there, and they end up getting sent back because they missed that appointment,” Lugar said. “The mentoring and strengthening of young fathers has proven to be a successful model, so we are adopting a similar model for this project.”

The sub-awardee on the grant is the Next Step Foundation Inc, which is a local faith-based non-profit that provides services and programs for those in recovery from addiction. Dana Simons, an Indiana State graduate student who directs Next Step, helped design the programs necessary to fulfill the grant requirements and help to train those that want to volunteer as mentors.

The incarcerated women will require a special kind of mentor. People who are interested in becoming a mentor for Next Step will have to attend training to ensure that they are approaching mentorship from a place of respect and understanding — not judgment. “A mentor is anybody who has a heart for this work and says, ‘Hey, I can give an hour of my time weekly to meet with and walk with a woman who is trying to re-enter society and become a better parent.’ It does require a 12-month commitment, so it is not a small task,” Lugar said. “There are so many barriers that these women have to overcome that it takes a village to help them. It takes the university and the community to come together and do this.”

The Next Step organization was started five years ago and has local support from churches, individual donors and volunteers. Next Step will use its network to reach out to people who might be interested in becoming mentors for this grant program. Mentors will then be matched through special software to assure mentors and mentees have shared interests.

“The university has been so supportive of this. I really appreciate ISU stepping up and contributing the resources to be able to make this thing happen,” Lugar said. The social work department and Next Step will work with Rockville Correctional Facility in west-central Indiana, providing mentorship for women nearing release.

“It’s the social work department reaching out to the community and asking, ‘How can we do social work here, in the Wabash valley?’” Lugar said. The cycle of drug use, incarceration and poverty is generational and difficult to escape, said Simons. “So they go to prison and they get some (basic skills) there, but they coming out — where do they go? How do they live? How do they parent? How do they get a job? How do they manage on the top of that they have a felony? It’s hard,” Simons said.

Next Step will work with re-entry coordinators at the prison to begin mentoring women up to three months before they are released. This year, the program wants to help as many as 50 women with the goal to help 75 in following years, as the program hopefully expands to Vigo and surrounding counties.

Simons says many people’s hearts are in the right place when they become a mentor, but to effectively coach these recently incarcerated women, mentors must understand the world through the eyes of someone who did not think graduating high school was a choice because they have never witnessed it, or someone whose parents never held a job. “We’ll have to train them to understand where some of these women are coming from, how to guide them, and hopefully these women then see that they have choices,” Simons said.

The Struggles After a Miscarriage

During pregnancy, many mothers imagine the face of their future child and start planning the ways they will raise them. After your baby’s arrival in the world you implement those plans. You nourish your child, protect it from harm and encourage it to becoming a contributing member of the society.

But sometimes, life is not that perfect. It does not turn out the way you intended it to be, and you end up losing your child, before you even get to see it alive, healthy and breathing. As reported by American Pregnancy Association as much as 25% pregnancies end up in miscarriage, in USA.  This is perhaps the most traumatic experience any mother can face. Although the father is also understandably hurt by the loss, but somehow mothers are usually the more affected of the two.  It is because the mother has been the closest to the child than the father or any other human being could ever be. The baby has been fed through the mother’s spinal cord, the same food that the woman has been eating. There is no bond closer than that.

Mothers who have lost their children can have the tendency to develop Post traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) or Post-Partum disorder (PPD). PTSD is usually attributed with people who have had their or some dear ones’ lives threatened. It can also happen when the person’s integrity or their physical body is exposed to a risk at any event. So it is understandable if a mother who has had a miscarriage is suffering through these conditions. The woman who has had this traumatic experience is in need of support and someone to bring back her courage.

A mother who has suffered through the spontaneous abortion of the fetus can have flashbacks of the horrific experience through dreams. It can also shatter her confidence of bearing another life in her womb. There is always a fear left in the heart of women such as these that they might have to go through these type of losses again. It is the job of the people who are close to her to assure her that everything is going to be alright. She must learn to be compassionate and self-loving and not feel guilty about what happened.

Therapists can guide a grieving woman to come over the loss in a better way. It’s a therapist’s job to acknowledge that and help comfort the affected person. Spouses or parents of the woman can support her in a group session therapy to help the mother from felling uneasy. Although the Affordable Care act does not cover the insurance for such therapeutic procedures, but therapy is a necessity rather than a luxury in your case. If you don’t have enough finance for a therapist, then have your family members come as often as possible so as to talk and share anything that can help lower the sufferer’s pain.

Any person suffering through depression may have a hard time keeping their appetite. It is vital to a person’s health that they eat correctly and supply their body with proper nutrition. In this case, the spouse should be the more responsible one and keep track of their partner’s eating habits. It is true that being busy might keep a person’s mind away from grievance, but human interaction is always needed. For this reason the spouse needs to take share of the responsibilities that were required from the woman.  When working together the mother would have someone to interact with and talk to when she needs to.  If she feels too depressed, it is better for the husband to take few days off from work and spend his time with her as much as possible.

A child’s death can leave any person in a shock and have a huge emotional impact. All the mothers who have gone through this experience must know that there will always be hope for them. They must take their time to grief, but should also be able to comprehend that their life doesn’t stop there. It is also important for them to realize that they need their family’s and friends’ support as much as possible. So isolation should never be considered as an option for anyone.

Exit mobile version