Law Enforcement and Schools Address Childhood Poverty and Neglect in Our Community

December 10, 2018  //  United Way

Lincoln and Lancaster County are not immune to childhood poverty and neglect issues. While our city’s unemployment rate is lower than nearly any other place in the country, employment as a baseline doesn’t necessarily keep one’s family out of poverty. In fact, more than half of Lincoln’s impoverished adults are employed. That number affects not just the individuals themselves, but their families and children, too. It’s a hard truth, but it’s one that we’re working together as a community to understand and resolve.

Today, we’ll look at the community resources within law enforcement and our educational system helping with childhood neglect situations. This is part two of our ongoing series about neglect – if you’ve not yet read part one, we recommend doing so.

In our first article, we examined what neglect looks like in our community, and how much it can differ from public stereotypes and perceptions. Child neglect, by definition, is a situation in which parents are unable to provide for and support their children’s fundamental physical, emotional or financial needs.

So, faced with these issues, who’s helping?

That’s what we’ll look at today – two examples of organizations and individuals stepping up to help our children when they need it the most. We’ll start by looking at what’s being done at a law enforcement level, with insight from Lincoln Police Captain Michon Morrow. Then we’ll look at Lincoln’s schools, where Andrea Phillips is helping kids one-on-one as part of a larger initiative.

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Let’s talk about the concept of “community policing.” At its roots, community policing is just that – working with the community to create better law enforcement.

In Lincoln, you’ll find five Lincoln Police Department teams covering different regions of the city. These teams use a Problem Oriented Policing (POP) style, built around understanding the needs and contexts of each neighborhood. This means they work with members and organizations within these communities to recognize issues and find cooperative solutions.

This style extends to child neglect situations. Teaming up with Lincoln’s Community Response program, LPD can make referrals to caseworkers in schools and the immediate neighborhood of the target area. These workers aid in identifying children and families that may benefit from the support of Community Response, curbing the amount of unnecessary protective service program entries.

Morrow pointed to the unique position LPD officers are in to help. Unlike many other police departments, Lincoln officers work cases from beginning to end, making their connection with community members all the more personal. That’s not typical of most police departments, where instead officers who might take on the initial steps in a case are required to hand over details of the case to another member of the force.

“Compassionate policing builds relationships – not walls,” Cpt. Morrow explained.

The idea that seems to have taken hold: it’s not just about being there. It’s about being there for each other. That’s what community is about.

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Closer to the classroom, Lincoln Public Schools is doing their part, too.

Andrea Phillips is an LPS social worker, dedicated to supporting students’ behavioral health needs. She works to empower them to be successful in the classroom as part of LPS’s commitment to providing at-hand aid for those in need. Typically this provisional care can take the form of anything from individual intervention and help in the classroom, to group interventions, to therapeutic group meetings geared toward improving both health and behavior.

In some cases, outreach to parents and families of students is initiated, always with the goal of connecting those family members to the community support and resources they might need but might not yet have. Often, says Phillips, it’s connecting families with the basic needs support, the kinds we discussed last month like simple food and shelter.

No matter what a student’s situation calls for, Phillips tells us her primary goal as a social worker is to keep kids safe in their communities and their homes.

What’s more, through grants endowed by the United Way of Lincoln and Lancaster County, Lincoln’s school system has been able to extend the outreach they have provided students. Schools like McPhee Elementary are equipped with Community Response liaisons who are able to refer students and their families to outreach programs associated with the Community Response initiative. Social workers in LPS like Andrea collaborate directly with these extra helping hands.

While it might sound simple, having these safety net measures in place is a privilege not many other cities are able to take advantage of, even within the state. Keeping kids in the classroom and out of the system, for many of the country’s metro-areas, may seem only a pipe dream, something to be reached for but never really achieved.

There is, though, still work to be done. While Lincoln’s graduation rate in 2016 was higher than the national average, low-income students in our city (those who receive free or reduced-cost lunches) still trail the average LPS graduation rate by 6%. United Way is committed to providing resources to Lincoln’s at-risk families and to seeing that number improve. Through programs like Community Response, Problem-Oriented Policing, compassion, open and honest transparency, and the incredible work of people like Cpt. Michon Morrow and Andrea Phillips, Lincoln’s closing that gap. For good.

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Stay tuned to our newsletter. In the third and final installment of our Neglect Series, we’ll be taking a look at how policy and legislation affects – and can serve to empower – our at-risk communities.