Half a million dollars in the Erie County budget is being set aside to screen thousands of children in day care for developmental disabilities and enhancing summer youth employment and training opportunities for adolescents and teens from low-income families.
"No child desires to be born in poverty," said County Executive Mark Poloncarz Tuesday. "No teenager, no matter where they may live in this community – because poverty exists everywhere, wants to be poor. They all have dreams and aspirations."
Those aspirations often die because many poor young people start from behind when they enter school and enter the job market, he said.
Flanked by the Social Services commissioner and chairman of the county Poverty Committee established last year, Poloncarz outlined details of how he intends to spend $500,000 in anti-poverty money approved in the 2017 budget.
The two initiatives funded by $500,000 in anti-poverty money next year include:
* Contracting services for a "Help Me Grow" screening program that would ensure roughly 5,000 day care children assisted by the Department of Social Services receive health screenings for developmental delays instead of going undiagnosed until they enter school.
Diagnosed children would be linked with additional support services.
Social Services Commissioner Al Dirschberger pointed out that 85 percent of a child's brain is developed by the age of 5.
"However, 50 percent of children with developmental disabilities are not identified until they reach school age," he said. "That's too late."
The day care screening program would not only evaluate children, he said, but also train day care providers on how to identify children with developmental delays in the future. The County Legislature would need to approve the "Help Me Grow" contract.
* Enhancing the Social Services-supported Summer Youth Employment Program, which serves nearly 700 impoverished youth ages 14-20. Money would be spent to beef up the program by providing leadership, life skills, career coaching and mentorships.
Teens who work stay in school, and stand a better chance of graduating and breaking the cycle of poverty, Dirschberger said.
Poverty Committee Chairman Kinzer Pointer pointed out that these two programs intervene in the lives of poor individuals when they are most vulnerable – early childhood and adolescence.
He also said these first two initiatives are not the last initiatives that will be supported or recommended by the Poverty Committee.
"There's still a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done," he said.
Both of these anti-poverty efforts are only funded for 2017. But Poloncarz said he hopes this will not be only a one-time investment.
"We think this will have a tremendous impact in the long run," he said.