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4 Ways Psychologists Can Serve Low-Income Families


By Ieshia Haynie (Program Coordinator, Office of Socioeconomic Status)

Don’t let the Dow Jones’ record highs fool you. Widespread and persistent poverty remains a national problem.

The Census Bureau estimates that 46.2 million people now live below the official poverty line; the largest number in 52 years. As if that weren’t disheartening enough, 16.4 million of them are children!

Poverty comes in many forms that have negative repercussions for physical, social, emotional and intellectual growth:

The evidence of a financial recovery is yet to be seen by the hardest hit populations. In fact, poverty rates show no sign of abating. Now more than ever, psychologists need to provide services that are responsive to poverty’s impact on their clients’ well-being and develop interventions that support long-term coping strategies.

Here are four ways to do so:

  1. Advocate for early childhood education programs like Head Start that address and buffer against developmental and behavioral problems in low-income children. Join APA’s action alert network to support our calls for full funding of Head Start at the federal level.

  2. Offer more convenient ways of delivering services to families. Providing services in settings such as clients’ homes whenever possible or near public transportation routes eases access.

  3. Develop an assessment strategy that is comprehensive, cost-effective and time-limited. This helps families recognize the need for specialized treatment for their children by showing what intellectual, emotional or social factors are involved. Therapy that is cost-effective and low on time demands may be helpful to families using medical assistance plans that pay less than other insurers.

  4. Address multiple stressors during sessions. People living in poverty deal with a variety of stressors affecting their well-being. Psychologists can and should help their clients learn better ways of handling these stressors. Clients may need help navigating the complex web of social services or addressing poor or insufficient nutrition, which adversely impacts their brain development.

Do you agree? What are some other ways psychologists can help families living in poverty?

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