Exploring Pathways Out of Poverty: Support That Empowers Families

Travis Reginal, MPA, Staff Writer, Brief Policy Perspectives

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The US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty (the Partnership), funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is tasked with highlighting the most promising practices to help people in poverty gain economic and social mobility. The Urban Institute staffs and supports the Partnership and in 2016 it invited 24 top academics, practitioners, and others who are leading efforts on reducing poverty to formulate promising practices on dramatically reducing poverty. The Partnership held a webinar on March 22 to discuss two auspicious areas to increase mobility from poverty: coach navigators and evidence-based home visiting. Both work across several domains such as health and education to provide help individuals or families meet their needs and goals. These approaches, one of which I have a personal experience with, are effective at addressing poverty because they meet people where they are and look to assist people, not simply tell them how things should be done.

How is Mobility Defined?

The Partnership believes there are three principles for mobility: a) economic success,  often seen as the main definition of mobility, b) power and autonomy, and c) being valued in the community. All three are equally important. Through over 30 site visits across the country, the Partnership found these principles resonated most with communities.

The Partnership promotes five action steps to increase mobility from poverty: change the narrative, ensure access to good jobs, ensure where one is born does not determine their destiny, provide support that empowers, and transform data use by increasing access to and the quality of state and local data. The Partnership believes that investing in these five areas will reduce poverty. Both the coach navigator and evidence-based home visiting models embrace these principles.

The Coach Navigator Model

A coach navigator partners with individuals or families to assess their environment and their needs, and to find helpful resources or develop skills that will help them deal with collateral consequences of living in poverty. Coach navigators help with goal setting in an individual’s career, education, money management, well-being, and family stability. They provide this support up to and even after the person achieves economic independence, which is defined as earning an income that is 80 percent or more of area median income.

Coach navigators leverage brain science-based tools and approaches, such as enhanced case management and self-empowerment programming, that help those they work with reduce their personal stress and foster resilience.

Evidence-based Home Visiting

Home visits are conducted for a number of reasons, including to help parents feel more confident and to provide academic support to children. They are part of some early childcare programs such as Head Start, where I attended preschool. My teacher would occasionally visit my home and read with me. Those visits are some of my earliest memories and they helped me get a solid educational foundation.

While my mother has always a big supporter of my education, having someone who was a professional help me meet developmental milestones was critical. The job of early child care workers and preschool teachers is very difficult as they work with students during a period of time where their brains are developing rapidly. Studies have shown that the gaps in academic achievement are connected to the preparation students received while they were young. The teacher was not telling my mother what to do. Rather, she lent her professional skills to boost kids’ educational achievement in a home environment. Evidence-based home visits are a good way to utilize the strengths of educators to build or enhance positive, lifelong habits.


The approaches outlined in the Partnership’s webinar are just a few of several ideas they have pursued. Concept papers can be found on their website on topics such as place-based initiatives, financing, and education. These papers provide a great starting point for policymakers seeking to improve mobility from poverty.

After the Partnership completes their recommendation, the next step is to ensure investments occur that humanize those living in poverty, such as creating access to good jobs, improving access to resources for disadvantaged communities, providing “whole child” and “whole family approaches,” and improving the use of state and local data.  While the Partnership’s efforts are a good step forward, a way to better measure outcomes across the three principles of mobility is needed to help further improve current and future strategies to increase mobility from poverty.

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