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ACAP expands services through ‘Whole Family’ approach

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Nearly a year after a pilot launch of their “Whole Family,” or “two generation,” approach to family coaching, the Aroostook County Action Program has found much early success with helping both children and parents combat the cycle of poverty.

The Whole Family approach combines elements from child-focused and parent-focused coaching to give families greater access to early childhood care, peer support, health services, post-secondary education and employment, affordable housing and transportation. ACAP’s pilot project currently serves 15 families whose children also qualify for early head start and head start programs.

Although ACAP has seen many people benefit from child-focused and parent-focused approaches, Whole Family allows coaches to meet with children and their parents one-on-one and offer services that benefit both generations. Such an approach helps parents gain greater economic stability, which in turn gives children better chances of financial and professional success.

“There are statistics that show that a $3,000 increase in a parent’s income when a child is young can result in a 17 percent increase in a child’s future earnings,” said Gaila Allan, ACAP family coach. “That doesn’t seem like a huge increase in the long run, but small changes can have a big impact on whether both parents and children succeed.”

Allan has been a family coach based in ACAP’s Presque Isle office since August 2017 and is the first to work under the Whole Family approach. She often meets with clients at their homes, due to many having limited transportation options, and has helped them connect with other resources at ACAP such as job counseling, energy and housing programs, and community health.

She noted that the biggest difference between Whole Family and previous approaches is a better ability to serve clients based on their individual needs.

“I might meet with a family one hour each month or three times a week. Some people have found employment while others want to find safe, affordable housing for their families,” Allan said. “They’re the ones making the decisions and I’m just there to help guide them.”

ACAP’s Whole Family approach recently received national designation from Community Action Partnership as one of only 10 agencies to become a member of their Whole Family Approaches to Economic Mobility From Poverty Community of Practice. Starting in 2016, those agencies were chosen to develop two-generation models that aimed at reducing rural poverty, as part of the Obama Administration’s Rural IMPACT demonstration.

Recently ACAP expanded its Whole Family approach to include a Pathways Model for families whose children are past the age qualifications for early education programs. They have hired a second family coach to serve families in the Caribou and Fort Kent regions and are currently seeking another to work out of ACAP’s Houlton office.

Monica Jerkins, ACAP resource developer, stated that the goal of the Whole Family approach is to help families at the individual level in hopes of reducing poverty in Aroostook County. That mission has become more critical due to the region’s poverty rates increasing by 56 percent in the past five years, with 23.4 percent of families with children under the age of 18 and 34.5 percent of children under age five living in poverty.

“The work we do has always been great for people who need it most in our communities, but the Whole Family approach has allowed us to build upon that work and empower entire families as they reach for their goals,” Jerkins said.

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