Government programs ‘don’t have to be demeaning’

When after school programs are designed in a certain way, they can actually help mobilize families to become more involved in their communities, argues Carolyn Barnes. Above, an after school program in Detroit in 2017. (Credit: City of Detroit/Flickr)

Government-funded after school programs for poor families can empower politically motivated parents, says researcher Carolyn Barnes.

Barnes grew up in poverty. Her family survived on church pantries, clothing closets, food stamps, and her disabled father’s social security check. When Barnes was a teenager her father died, and without his insurance—which went toward rent—their family ended up homeless.

Years later, she stumbled upon a book containing interviews of people on welfare and how they felt. Inspired by the book, Barnes decided to get her PhD and focus on public programs and poverty. She is now an assistant professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

“I guess my goal as a researcher is to figure out how the state can better serve families,” she says. “These programs don’t have to be demeaning.”

If a parent feels demeaned by a government-run program, there are consequences. Research shows people who have negative experiences with government programs often become “demobilized.” They are less likely to be involved in their communities or be politically engaged.

Recently, Barnes spent two years researching three different after school programs in Chicago. She argues that when after school programs are designed in a certain way they can actually help mobilize families to become more involved in their communities. She is the author of the book State of Empowerment (University of Michigan Press, 2020).

In this episode of the Ways & Means podcast, hear first-hand from staff and parents about how these programs have inspired change in their community, and learn what elements build effective programs:

A transcript of the episode is available here.

The episode also includes Marcie Curry, senior director at Breakthrough, and Brenda Taylor, a parent in the program.

Source: Duke University