One out of every four Tennessee children lives below the poverty level. The statistic, which exceeds the national average, is a red flag for those working to prevent child abuse and neglect.

“Income level is the single greatest indicator that a family will experience a stress-related child welfare situation, “ said Annie Stricklin, program manager for Nurturing Home, a program of The Family Center. Most families helped by the center have an annual household income of $15,000 or less, putting them below the federal poverty level.

“Parents raising families in poverty are constantly stressed. They worry about paying bills and meeting the basic needs of their children while working minimum-wage jobs,” explained Daphne Stringer, parent education coordinator at The Family Center’s Rutherford County site. “Their children are stressed both at home and school, where they are teased for being dirty, tired and hungry.”

Children living in poverty are likely to suffer from toxic stress, which derails normal development of the body and brain. Without early intervention like The Family Center’s Positive Parenting or Nurturing Home programs, chronic, long-term stress can have damaging effects on learning, behavior and health across the lifespan.

Women like Sheila depend on the program. After leaving her violent and abusive husband, the working mother of four struggled to afford food, clothes, school supplies, gasoline and utilities. Her children sometimes went hungry. She saw them changing before her eyes. Previously academic stars, they began experiencing behavior problems in school and were often physically ill. Shelia could see that their impoverished situation was emotionally damaging her children.

Desperate, she turned to The Family Center for guidance on how to help her kids through this difficult time. Along with teaching her about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and their consequences, the center’s staff helped Sheila secure additional assistance to reduce the family’s risk for ACEs. The children learned calming and coping techniques to reduce their stress levels, so they could recover and return to being good students.

Every day The Family Center is helping more middle Tennessee parents learn about brain development and ways to reduce the impact of ACEs in their families. Join us in this work.