Barrier – A circumstance or obstacle that keeps people or things apart or prevents progress.  Something that impedes, separates, keeps apart, or makes progress difficult.  A law, rule, problem, etc. that makes something difficult or impossible.

Woman in barrierBarriers are life’s obstacles that make it hard for us to advance.  We all face them sometimes, they are a part of life.  However, certain barriers can be more difficult depending on your circumstances.  For someone in poverty, barriers can be crippling.  What would be a slight inconvenience to one person, can be a life changing event for another.  In my work as a Social Worker, there are common barriers I have identified with families living in poverty in the city of Detroit.  I call it “The Big Five.”  They are: Childcare, Employment, Education, Transportation, and Network.

Barrier #1 – Childcare – The lack of childcare is a major barrier to families in poverty.  Although it may seem hard to believe in this day and age, identifying quality childcare is not easy.  There are several factors that can affect access.  Location.  You may know of several great daycare facilities, but where are they located?  A family in poverty may not have transportation to drive their child to the nicer daycare facilities.  They have to work with the facilities that are in their immediate area.  These facilities may not be the best, especially if they are located in impoverished areas.  Finance.  Daycare is expensive!  Daycare costs are usually several hundred per week, even in the lowest quality facilities.  In Michigan, our “welfare” system is called the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).  MDHHS does provide services that pays for childcare cost for families who qualify.  However, these services are not easy to obtain.

kids in daycareIn many of the recent cases I have seen, you have to be working or in school already to qualify for childcare services.  One may say/ask, “you should be working or in school if you are in poverty. And, why would you need childcare if you are not working or in school?”  Welllllll, let me answer these questions for you.  It is hard to get the job without childcare!  How are you going to look for a job if you do not have childcare?  Job search, interviews, career fairs, trainings.  Who is going to keep the children while the mother is actively seeking employment?  Everyone does not have family support to care for their children.

Realistically, times have changed.  Grandmothers are different.  It isn’t like back in the day where all of the kids could stay at Grandma’s house.  People are always so quick to say this is because Grandmothers are younger, ghetto, and still out at the club their own selves!  But, I only half agree with that.  Many Grandmothers I know are working, have careers, businesses, travel, and have a full active life.  Not a ghetto, wild, negative life, but a positive, lively, productive life!  50, 60, 70, is not like it used be.  I know some 60 and 70 year old’s who are smarter, livelier, more educated, and more beautiful than these 20 year old’s!!!  They are not running the streets, they are running the world!  black woman speakerThis may not fully apply to the families in poverty that need childcare, however, I am saying that in general, family support, especially as it relates to childcare, is different now.  We do not all have an old school Grandmother who has done nothing but cook, clean, and care for children her entire life.  Times have changed.

Now, to answer the question, why would you need childcare if you are not in school or working?  The answer is for early childhood development.  Early childhood development is critically important to the overall outcome of your life.

Class of preschool children raising hands to answer teacher

Many studies have concluded that most of our development is set very early on, some say by age five.  Children living in poverty are particularly affected by not having quality childcare because they are not receiving proper mental stimulation at home.  Receiving quality childcare services greatly improves their chances for proper development, and a better life outcome.  This helps the entire community, or has dire effects on the community when they do not receive it.

woman at mcdBarrier #2 – Employment – Employment, or lack thereof is central to quality of life.  Unless you were born into wealth, you need a regular income to survive in this world.  Most of the families I work with have very little employment experience and opportunities.  It is hard for families in poverty to identify employment.  To be honest, it is exhausting!  In addition, most of their employment opportunities are low wage.  So, they still may not be able to support their family on a small income.

woman in classBarrier #3 – Education – Education is directly linked to employment.  Low education rates are common with families in poverty.  The lower your education level, the lower your employment options.  Many of the ladies I work with did not complete high school, much less college.  I can count on one hand how many of the ladies I have worked with over 2 ½ years have a college degree, and/or are currently in college.  And the few who have completed, or are currently in college are typically at a community college.  I can only think of one person who has a college degree from a university, and that is a male.

It isn’t just the lack of education, it is the understanding of education that is the problem.  How important it is, how to acquire it, and the levels of education.  When I ask the ladies about furthering their education, their response is almost always related to community college, a trade school, or a quick training program.  I am not putting those options down.  However, their response is about their lack of knowledge.  They only know about these options, and are usually looking for something fast.  Short term gratification.  They may think that a university is out of their reach.  More so, I find they do not know anything about it.  Again, this may sound unbelievable in this day and age, but most of the women I work with have no idea about how a university works.  The application or acceptance process, tuition, financial aid, levels of college degrees, or how it changes your life.  The education barrier is about low education levels, AND the lack of knowledge about education.

Barrier #4 – Transportation – Transportation is the connector of the first three.  Transportation, or the lack of, affects your ability to access childcare, employment, and education.  When you do not have transportation, it affects every single area of your life.  If anyone is reading this and thinking “just get on the bus.”  To this I laugh…..Ha!  If only it were that simple.  Please read my post How Can I Help? for an example of a mother of four attempting to use public transportation for her daily routine.

Transportation is a daily barrier that many people face.  Public transportation can be unreliable, costly, inconvenient, dangerous, and physically taxing.  Private transportation answers all of those issues except costly!  It is costly to own and operate a vehicle, even for middle class families.

women networkBarrier #5 – Network – Your network relates to your family, friends, professional colleagues, church family, social clubs, and anyone else in close relationship.  Families in poverty oftentimes have a “draining network.”  It isn’t that they do not know anyone, or do not have a family.  The problem is their family, friends, neighbors, etc. are mostly in the same situation as them, and are oftentimes toxic.  You can’t call a friend for help financially who is just as broke as you are.  Or ask family to help with childcare when they have addictions, mental illness, and traffic going in and out of their house.  They can’t help you with transportation when they are on the bus too, or have a vehicle that is barely making it.  The lack of a positive network is a barrier to getting out of poverty.  A positive network is essential to success.  You are going to be like the people you are around most of the time.

fiveSo, that is The Big Five.  Maybe you are in this situation, or you know someone who is.  Maybe you didn’t know these were major barriers to people in poverty, or didn’t realize the extent and magnitude of the barriers.  Whatever the case, it is important to be educated on matters affecting our community.  I am always saddened when African Americans do not know what is going on with other African Americans.  I know too many black middle class people who have no idea what is going on with black people who are poor.

Are we the only race in poverty?  Absolutely not!!!  But I am black, so I am speaking on my concern of the lack of knowledge in MY community.  We often talk about the lack of knowledge of people in poverty, but people living in middle and upper class are often just as ignorant, just in a different way.  That is the definition of ignorance – a lack of knowledge.  Spread knowledge.  Spread information.  Spread kindness.  Spread Love.

Love, Tonia

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